Team photos are a classic part of sports participation, whether it be the official team photo of the New York Yankees or the souvenir shot from junior’s little league team. While these images make for wonderful reminders of past athletic endeavors, it isn’t as easy as it might seem to create a winning team photo.
There can be all sorts of challenges to photographing sports teams, not the least of which is that the people involved may have other priorities than getting good photos (such as warming up for the game). A good bit of planning is necessary to give yourself the best chance of getting a good shot.
Team photos can be shot on game day, or you can set up a team photo day. A lot of it depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. If you’re just after a picture of the team, game day is probably easier for everyone involved. If you’re trying to do individual portraits too, then a special team photo day is probably a better choice. Let’s look at some of the considerations for each of these scenarios starting with the game day shot.
If you’re looking for tips on how to photography specific types of sports, check out the following articles:
Game Day Photo Planning
While it’s logistically simpler to get the shot on game day (the team’s going to be there anyway, everybody’s in uniform, you’ve got their gear around if you want to use props) there are some very important concerns you should be aware of. Here’s a list of things to consider when photographing sports teams:
- Advance notice — Always try to get advance notice to the manager or coach if possible and get their agreement ahead of time. Showing up right before the game to take a team photo without doing so means you’ve got a good chance of being told "Sorry, today’s not good for us." Remember, coaches, managers and athletes strive to develop consistent routines, anything that interferes with pre-game rituals is a nuisance as far as they’re concerned.
- Plan to shoot before the game — You should always plan on shooting a team photo before the game rather than after it ends (and it’s a good idea to communicate this to the coach or manager). There are many reasons why this is important; uniforms and athletes will be clean, chances are higher that everyone will be there (in some sports, individual athletes may leave early because of other commitments) and the team will be in a predictable frame of mind. If you plan on shooting the team photo after the game is finished, there’s always the possibility that the team will suffer a disappointing loss and won’t want to pose for the photo (it’s happened to me more than once).
- Show up early and come prepared to shoot — As noted earlier, teams tend to have a routine they prefer to stick too. Once part is getting warmed up for the game itself. It’s better to try and get the shot before the team begins its on field warm-ups because at this point no one really wants to bother with posing for an image. They’re all too busy getting ready for the game (you also have the problem of uniforms getting mussed and dirty). If you’re there early it also gives you a chance to meet with the coach before he/she gets caught up in their pre-game duties. A coach is much more likely to be helpful at this point than at any point after this. One potential problem is an athlete may show up late and miss the shot (or the coach may be concerned about this happening). Usually explaining to them that you’re worried about getting the shot done and it’s better to get as many members of the team as possible rather than not getting the shot at all helps. If the coach doesn’t agree ask them to let you know when you can get the shot. (Then every now and then try to make sure they can see you hanging around so they don’t forget about you or the photo.)
For more tips on photographing sports teams, please continue on to the next page.
Team photo day planning
In many ways, setting up a team photo day is much easier as far as getting good photos goes. Unfortunately, from a logistical standpoint it introduces a number of new problems, most notably, getting everyone to show up and on time and properly dressed (wearing the correct uniform too). Once again, good planning can improve your chances of success when photographing sports teams. Here are some things to be concerned about:
- Participation — It takes effort to get everyone to show up for a team photo day. Make sure important individuals (such as the mom or moms who are really involved in things) are contacted and enlisted to help get people to participate. Send notices to everyone on the team via email and letter (don’t rely on just one message) and make sure the athletes are informed too (the coach can do this). If there’s a league or team newsletter or schedule, see if you can get the date posted in that too.
- Choose a good location — Usually the first choice is the playing field where games are usually held, but don’t feel locked down by this. If there’s a better location it might well be worth shooting there instead. (You may need to work with team officials to make sure they’re okay with this idea.) Location considerations include what kind of backgrounds and settings the site provides, availability of restrooms and changing areas, whether or not the site will be used by other organizations while your shoot is going on, and your ability to get permission to use the site for the shoot.
- Image planning — Are you shooting both a team shot and individual photos? If so, plan on shooting stations, at least one for the team photo and another for the individual shots.
- Manpower — Are you going to have any help for this? At least one photographer’s assistant will make your life easier in many ways, particularly if you’re doing individual shots too.
Please continue on to the final page of this article to learn composition and posing tips, as well as suggestions on how to set up the shot when photographing sports teams.
Setting up the shot itself
- Have a plan — You have tons of time before the shoot to visualize things and get prepared. Once the team is gathered in front of you, it will make your life easier if you’re ready to get started immediately. Once people get the idea that you don’t know what you’re doing, your job gets a lot harder. Some things you can have figured out ahead of time include what you’re going to use for a background, whether you’re going to use props or not, where you’re going to put the coaches, team captains, or seniors, how many rows you’re going to have to create, and what sports photography equipment you’ll be using.
- Ask for help — Let’s say you’ve decided you want to line everyone up from tallest to shortest to help you figure out where to place people, ask one of the coaches to do that for you; the athletes will respond more quickly to the coach than they will you and it frees you up to worry about other things.
- Consider composition — You need to arrange the team photo to fit the camera frame (and more importantly the final image dimensions) properly. Do a quick count to see how many people you’re going to be posing and figure out how many rows you’re going to have to work with.
- Work quickly — You’re not going to get a lot of time or patience from your subjects since they’re going to be thinking about the game more than the photo. Get the shot set up quickly, make sure your gear is functioning properly and do a quick test image to make sure your settings are okay and your gear is working as expected. Resist the impulse to chimp (view) every shot because it will slow things down considerably. Make sure you take at least half a dozen photos or more (someone always blinks) and then take a quick look at them (be careful not to take too long at this). If you have any doubts at all, take a few more photos.
Posing and composing
Once you’ve got everything set up and the team assembled, it’s time to actually arrange the athletes and pose them. Depending on how many people you’re photographing there are several things you need to consider such as how to fill the image frame and how to make sure you can see everyone’s faces.
Posing benches can make your life easier if you have them. If you don’t, you still have options. One approach is to have the first row of athletes sit on the ground with their legs crossed. Have the second row kneel right behind them and the third row stand behind the second row. This, by the way, is where your arranging people by size helps out. You can take advantage of size differences to try and make the difference in heights between seated, kneeling and standing rows work in your favor. Often this means saving the shortest people for the standing row and using the tallest for the kneeling row, but this depends on the size differences of your athletes.
Next make sure each row is offset from the one in front of it so heads aren’t blocked by the people in front. Making sure you can see everyone’s faces is one of the most important parts of getting the team photo. While you’re at it, either make sure the team isn’t wearing its ball caps, or, if they insist on wearing them, make sure the hats don’t obscure faces. You should be planning on using fill flash no matter what, but be sure to aim the flash so it cleans up any shadows from the bills of the ball caps.
Take a careful look at the background too. While it’s nice if you can use something sport related as a background, that isn’t always an option. If you have to work with what mother nature gives you, make sure it’s as clean as possible (no branches or parking lots).
Photographing sports teams doesn’t need to be difficult, just follow these tips and you’ll be happy with the results!