My newspaper and I follow and cover sports all year long, and we are about to dive headlong into spring sports playoffs: tennis, golf, softball, soccer, baseball, track and more.
Photographing these sports is great fun, but it comes with some unique challenges. Foremost is the fact that all these activities are played on large fields, and to fill up the frame with the players requires a long telephoto lens. A positive side of that is most of these events are during daylight, so the apertures and shutter speeds are generous enough that we can use those telephoto lenses that are usually too dark (having a smaller maximum aperture) for night football, wrestling and basketball.
But that’s just equipment. What really makes the most difference is narrative. When we make pictures of these moments, are we really telling the story of what happened? I certainly have no problem with the obligatory group photo of a team holding their regional consolation championship trophy, but images like that are about as inspiring as a roster. They tell who was there but say little about what they did and how they did it.
My formula is like that of most professional photographers: Record the intimate moments and drama of competition — moments of conflict, moments of emotion, moments that will never happen again.
Not all of the images I make during playoffs are happy. In fact, all the teams will eventually lose except one (the champion), and those losses are bitter pills to swallow, particularly as teams get closer to the gold trophy. It’s oddly ironic that I have never taken a photo of a team that was happy to be accepting their giant silver trophy. Despite being the second best team in their class in that state at that moment, all they wanted was the gold.
So I would encourage you to keep your eyes on the action and emotions in play as you enjoy spring playoffs.