Lessons from the Scene: Anatomy of a Sports Photography Assignment

 by Stanley Leary

The last time I covered Boston College’s victory over Georgia Tech in Atlanta, it occurred to me to share some thoughts on my approach to shooting the assignment.
First, when covering a football game, I like to stand behind the end zone so the team I’m focusing on is facing me. That way, I am already where they are trying to go.  There are two types of photos you can get of a team from this vantage point — defense and offense. The great thing is you can see the players’ faces, which for me is very important.
In Figure 1, Boston College wide receiver Kevin Challenger spins loose from Georgia Tech defensive back Avery Roberson, setting up Boston College’s first touchdown. The viewer can see Challenger’s face, along with the defensive player he left in the dust and the ball.
In sports with a ball, I am typically looking for three things: (1) peak action, (2) the ball and (3) competition. Sometimes you can’t get all three in a picture, but if one element stands out, the photo will still work.
In Figure 2, BC receiver Rich Gunnell is tackled by Georgia Tech safety Djay Jones and teammate cornerback Pat Clark, after a catch. While you cannot see the ball or their faces, the peak action of the players’ feet off the ground communicates the effort.
After one team is ahead in a game, I often begin to focus on the other team to see if there is a play that changes the whole game. If the game is close, this can happen at any moment. With a blowout, the latter part of the game is harder to cover since not much will happen to change the outcome of the game.
After you shoot a game, it’s important not to editorialize in your captions — but to provide concise descriptions of what’s taken place. Write concise captions, but chock-full of information.
Today, databases require the captions to be written so the software can pick keywords from the caption and editors can find the photos. One thing to remember, list both teams in the caption to eliminate any confusion on which game it is. It is common for editors to search for a few photos and then put them in a folder. Well-written captions help them with the necessary information.
Here’s a caption for Figure 3:
Sept 15, 2007; Atlanta, GA, USA; Georgia Tech running back Tashard Choice (22) cuts on Boston College linebacker JoLonn Dunbar (40) during first quarter at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Getting a great moment in the camera is only part of the story. It’s the caption that fills in the rest.
Note, all these images are taken at night, which is a bit more difficult. But it communicates all three elements: He’s carrying the ball, it contains peak action, and you can sense the competitive pressure he probably feels from the defensive player pursuing him.