How to Break into Sports Photography
you can ask me a lot of people and how do I get into this business? And it's a good question. I have no hard and fast way to break into sports photography, but I could tell you how I did it. I went to school, uh, at a college, and my college didn't really have any photo, played sports, played football. And there was one class photo class and I took it, and I really liked it. And I thought to myself, How do why Hideaway work it where I can be comfortable doing it, at least to start. And that was my subjects, where the guys I played ball with and so I would go to different sports other than what I was playing in a photograph, the guys playing and I like the joy in their face when I would show them a print off the picture of them playing, you know, and that's what got me from there, worked at the school newspaper in the town newspaper, and then when I got out of college, I got a job at a small magazine called the Ring magazine, which is a boxing magazine, and I worked in their dark room, ...
and I know that's not really a available job anymore. But I was the doctor boy and I would process film 89 hours a day and print print everything in a dark room from film coming in from all around the country from different boxing matches. And the company also had a couple of wrestling magazines like Hulk Hogan and Stuff like that. So on. And then occasionally I will go on shoots to boxing events on I would be able to photograph the boxes sometimes he said. A portrait to them, and I learned that way. You know, a lot of it was on the job experience, which is again, I'll get to that. I'll get to that later as well. What is what would help you a lot? Um, And as I said in the beginning of a presentation, So how do you separate yourself? There's so many photographers at all these big events, you know? I mean, sometimes you just stuck in a box and that's me at the Olympics, like Day you're exhausted. You know, you're working hard and you put in a lot of effort in, but you just got to keep going, and you got to keep thinking about how am I going to separate myself from all these people that is sitting right next to me? One thing is to change position, go away from the pack. You know, sometimes you can't do that. You just got to think while you're in there, What else you can dio. Um, and I started and again it Ring magazine. I started shooting boxing, and I really liked it. Actually, my first sports memory is when Mohamed Ali for Joe Frazier at the Thrilla in Manila was just a kid I watched with my dad on television when there was no pay per view was just ABC Wide World of sports. You know, that's what I watched. And immediately I just was amazed by boxers. They are brave, courageous. They they are people I really respect humble away from the ring thing. Some of the nicest people you have a meat. Um they go through the pain that it comes with boxing, you know, and you see it all You really dio the blood, the sweat, it's all over you at ringside, you get you get it all falls on you you confined in a ring, you know, in the ring and you're just shooting on these ropes and it's a tough sport. It's very humbling to try and photograph a boxing match. Sometimes I go off and do stories myself. You know, I found the small, arena famous arena in Philadelphia called the Blue Horizon, and I suggest going to smaller things. I still enjoy going to smaller things because eight is less photographers around Teoh have to compete with and be. You were able to move around and do what you want to do. You know, does that make sense? And rather than just jump into the Super Bowl jumping toe Tyson Holyfield, you just go to like a small event. And then that's how you work you craft. That's how you build your portfolio. That's how you work out all your eye beers and make your mistakes. Then and then when you bring them to a bigger event, you're more ready and prepared. You know, I'll always look for a little something different. You know whether it's shooting a Mike Tyson fight back In the days of Mike Tyson's Our rule over the heavyweight division, a lot of opponents will be shaken in their boots before the match on a newspaper ran that picture like that. You know, Bucks. It was scared. Sometimes I go to a gym and try some different things. This is a project. Just found an up and comer over in Staten Island, and he's become one of my favorite subjects the photographs in his Marcus Brown up and coming light heavyweight. But let's me do whatever I want. You find yourself a subject that's willing to work with you, and you could disguise the limit. You know, I just attached to go pro to his train, his head. I set up some two lights from Home Depot. You know, you don't need to go buy $1000 heads. You know, you could just go buy some painters, lives from Home Depot, light up the gym, and then get going, you know? So, you know, you just gotta improvise if you have a small budget. Same thing here, you know, just a small set of lights get you're going find a a local person training or young pro, or it could be Mike Tyson, you know, training with the sun just coming through the window. Sometimes amateur boxing is the way you want to go, just to try and get into a smaller event and then work work on different pictures in the corner. All kinds of stuff happens in the corner. It's like a mini emergency room boxes, a cut, their noses, a broken amounts bleeding tooth got knocked out. They've just been knocked down. And trying to train is trying to bring him to trying to get air, trying to get water to these guys shout instructions. You only have a minute in between, and it's all happening in the corner. It's like chaos controlled chaos in the corner. This particular trainer kept, kept with his towel. He kept going like this with the box, and I just thought, Okay, he's got a blue jacket on its red ring ropes. He's wearing red. The backgrounds black, three colors Ole in. You know, if you think about it, you're eliminating all your colors and you're trying to set a scene there and then also get creative. So I tried, like all through the night, trying to work on this photo and finally got one. It took. It took me a couple of years to get this Really? Where I wanted it to. Something like that. Same thing. Fast forward to an Olympic event. And I applied what I thought happened in that photo to this. And this training would take water and throw it at the boxes face every time he sat down. And I just thought, Okay, I'm gonna try and time the flick, And then I shoot too early and I shoot to read it. And then the boxer would move his head. So it was too blurry. And then one frame, I was able to slow the explosion down 1/4 of a second. His head was still the water to splashed on him and splashed back. And so that's where you get the streaming of water going back and forth the other way. Did I lose you your role in All right? Good. Still here, Right. All right. Early on, we did a lot of black and white film, which was cool, Sugar. I landed in his twilight of his years. Sometimes boxes do great celebrations again, going back to the blue horizon, Just just running around the back of the dressing rooms do. Whenever I wanted, it was fantastic time for me. It was mid nineties 95 94 maybe, and I was still feeling my way and trying to learn and work in and just coming up with some ideas. You know, in between shooting action or if you know the deal with Boxes is trying to feed their families on, you could see on the back of this guy's on his back that there's his whole family and and he's taking punches for his family. So in my head, I was going, like, in time, a punch when the guys getting punched in the back or on the side. Try and get that idea put forward out to the public that a lot of these guys are fighting for $100 not millions of Floyd Mayweather dollars just trying to feed their families and get by. This isn't undercard bout. I never knew what happened to the guy. Hopefully, he's doing well, but that's kind of the idea. You know, use all different lenses when you're shooting boxing wide angle tightening tight lends. You can go from, ah, a big pay per view fight where the Wayne is sold out in a 20,000 seat arena. Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather fight. I set up a remote and I sat over here in the middle, like here somewhere, and fired the remote with a radio transmitter that's attached to the camera on the receiving end and a transmitter on there. And it's just a way to get to the pictures and again we'll get into that. From there. I left Ring Magazine like around, and I would go back fly to California to a company called All Sport, and at the time they were shooting a lot of different sports all over the world. They were a real boutique sports photo agency. They shot mostly slide film. It was a great place to learn because you had to get your exposures right right away. And if you messed up, if you're over, you're under Ah, Slide film is very unforgiving, and you really needed to know your exposures. And it got to the point where I was able to figure it out in my head. Basically what I was shooting at today. It's a lot easier because you could just look at the back of the camera and I'm not saying I wish for the glory days. But I will say it got me more disciplined for shooting, which I do now s o. I went there, California in the early nineties. I work for all sport. Got a job there and I was like a junior photographer, and I I sleeved up slide film. I answered the phone and took photo orders. I worked in that dark room. I worked on the picture desk. I assisted the other photographers. So again and always working, always working, there was like, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The job never ended. I would go into the office and do away off the stuff. Then afterwards, I go out and go shoot. So that's kind of how I I made my bones. I just worked really hard, and I came. Came back to New York in the nineties, early nineties, shortly after that, and got into different sports. And I go to the Yankees Mets here in in New York. All the local teams and I shot baseball. You know, it's not always on the field that's in the dugout, you know, and I hung a GoPro into the dugout one day and David Wright turned and looked at me or I go up in the stands, wait for a big home run and old Yankee Stadium. I'd be over at some arena shooting football or anywhere else. You know, you take advantage of your weather, you got to be ready for all kinds of weather. This was a real cloudy day. It's just a simple little photo. But again, balance composition you're looking for, you know, where am I? What's my scene? How is this gonna make? Show me. Show me what's going on at the moment bed, where the game Simple huddled and the goalpost tells you to Football game with players. Sometimes things happen in front of you. But again, this guy was taken a beating all day. He wasn't right on his knees, limping around during a playoff game. This is Robert Griffin, the third during his rookie year at the Washington Redskins, and it pretty much ruined his career for two years when he tours me up and he got fumble the ball as he got hit, so that was a big picture. Sometimes. Celebration. Big deal. Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl last year, and again we're looking for a cleaning clean type backgrounds amidst the celebration did this two days ago at the giant game. I was over at the game at the metal ends on that life stadium, and what I'm trying to do now is mixed studio lighting in real time situation. So had a assistant with me hold a battery light. And then I just tried toe hone in on one of the players as they as they ran by onto the field. So I'm slowly working through my latest idea what I want to do. But this is kind of what what I'm working on now that I'm home after the Olympics in the U. S. Open promotes are a big deal in my business. You know, you want to be where you can't get too. So we set up a remote overhead. I noticed the floor was all full of crisscrosses, and I thought that would be really nice background background to work on. So you set up a camera remote again. I'll show you later. As we go through here, you aim it down, and then from the floor, you can fire it. Uh, now this is from the floor underneath the basket as well. So what you do is you kind of focus on an area, and you really need somebody to fall down and fall almost into the camera, which is what this guy did. So sometimes you don't get anything, and sometimes it happens right away. This is a remote in the net, and this is the all time winningest goalie in the NHL. Martin Brodeur, fantastic goalie. And after the game, all his teammates just stood around and class to him with the number of how many games he needed to win during the third period, somebody kicked the camera housing and moved it and actually worked out perfect because you got the net and then broke door. And then the school board. If the camera housing was this way, probably would have missed bro door. So sometimes I'll say this couple times during a presentation. Happy accident. You know you wanna set up for what you want to get, but sometimes something happens, which I'll take it. I noticed this kid was very bored during the game, and it really doesn't know how lucky he is to be so close to a hockey game. But I wanted toe. Convey that somehow in my picture and you try and tell a story, sometimes all in one photo and the Plexi glass is the barrier between what's going on for Riel and then the fans, and it's a fine line. You're that close to the action on this kid just couldn't be bothered. And sure enough, somebody got checked into the boards. Pure joy happens all the time in sports, and there's nobody graded a photograph with pure joy when it's all going well. Serena Williams. She is absolutely spectacular to photograph. She is full of emotion. She's a rumbling ball of energy on I. I always try and make it my business to photograph her. And in any given moment, on the opposite end of the spectrum is a guy named Roger Federer, and he's one of the best tennis players to have a wolf on the court. Hey plays tennis like strolling through the park on a Sunday. He is just spectacular photograph, and he gives it up when he when he when he plays, he just gives all the effort. So from the back of the net, looking out onto the court, he just did a big stretch this year at the Open, I was playing around with the tilt shift lens. You know, sometimes you gotta change things up, and this is during the men's final. Until chip lenses. It changes the plane of focus, and you have to manually focus. And so it's a little bit hard to get, which is what you're trying to get sharp, so you miss a lot of photos, but when you get one, it's good. So you wait for a stretch here in the middle, and then everything else goes soft around it. You know, a lot of people use instagram filters and all that stuff now and every now and then. I like to go back to what I was. What I learned on this is a picture of taking advantage of your knowledge of what a player does their tendencies. Every player in tennis serves a different way. Every player in tennis has a different look when they sir, there's a position at the U. S. Open tennis where you could look down right on the players and this young lady was playing and I know from experience every time she served her mouth goes wide open, and she brings the rocket behind her head, just a matter of timing it right and being able to get the picture in the right light in the right moment with the racket. Because when they do that, the rack, it goes really quick behind the head. Having said that, it took me two tries, and the good thing about tennis is again. It's repetitive, so you could work on a shot, work on a shot, working a shot. And when you go out into the world and you're trying to work on a picture, whatever. If it's your local tennis court or local soccer game or your kids baseball game, you know these air sports that a kind of repetitive you know the same thing happens all the time. They swing the bat, swinging the racket, a lot of sweeping sports. You know you can do it over and over again, so I kind of takes me back to when I would do all that stuff, work on a Little league stuff on my own, or go to a local park. You know, it's a scene principles applying to now I'm doing it at the US Open And now I'm doing at the Olympics. Now I'm doing at a football game or the Super Bowl or um, at the US Open here. And I knew Rafael Nadal from past tournaments would throw himself on the floor and any given moment of winning a grand slam. So here I am at the US Open in the finals, and I'm going back and forth from either side of the court. And the good thing about the Open is in these little holes here you could shoot through and they're on either side of the court now. It's not always like that, but it's a one good spot of the U. S. Open and I would run from one side to the other as the match was getting close. And then finally, I knew it was gonna get right to match point, and I hoped that he would throw himself on the floor, shuras hacky through his racket in the air. He fell on the floor and then he almost like I said, Hey, can you roll my way? You know, he rolled right into me, and at the same time Novak Jackovich is walking in the feet towards him. so sometimes pictures workout, that same position where the girl was serving. You know, you can also do stretch coaches, and you could work a shadow in there. And it's a clean background again with tilt shift lens. This year at the Belmont, I was playing around with a remote picture from overhead. Or you can put a remote picture at a question event. You look for a cool angle with, you know, this happened the water, and it was a beautifully lit sky day. Beautiful, and it was hidden in the bushes, and I had to just move the leaves just so and just the lens was right there, and you fire it from from off off the angle somewhere else. Oh, this was here in the harbor, I think over there somewhere was in the water and America's Cup sailing came through and I had a housing and I was trying to get the Freedom Tower in the background for two days, and it was terrible, terrible couple of days. It had a rain rain the whole time, and I kept dunking the camera and trying to take the picture as the sailboats would go by and it was having all kinds of problems because the boat would move and I would splash myself of water. And I was soaking wet. But one picture came out of this over the two days I was pretty happy with it was swirl the water had the sailboat in the Freedom Town. So in my mind, the picture in my mind came out into my camera into the frame again. All right, so how do you get started doing all this? One weighs photography school. You can go to college and go to classes and take journalism. Take fine arts. You can goto several schools around the country there. Really good. But what if you're someone like me who didn't go to school for photography or if you're starting late in life and you don't have money to go back to college? And you know, this is one of the professions where you could actually just learn on the job and get hooked up that way, if you are in school, I suggest doing internships. Internships are invaluable to any school you'll go to, uh, you can work with professional photographers, room this business for a long time, and if they're willing to, and if you get the right person, they will show you the ropes. They will guide you. You know, if you're in with a newspaper for in with my company a Getty images will, we could show a young photographer how toe how to how to do things. And there's no better place to learn that in the field. Honestly, you know, you could see here in the studio. I could tell you how many times you need toe take so many frames. But really, until you do it, there's no other substitute. I suggest also coming to things like this. Workshops. You know, there's a lot of workshops around the country that will again try and help you along, whether it's something that you week at portrait photography, sports photography, fine arts, food is always a workshop for something. And if you don't want to go to school for it is try and try a workshop and you doing the right thing. All you hear, uh, whatever you're going to do in life in photography, this is not gonna hurt you. It's only gonna help you. So those are my three suggestions were getting yourself going again Like I said this the whole time you guys set yourself apart from from the other person. You gotta think Use your head. OK, don't just stand with everybody and take the pictures. One of the ways I would do that is trying challenge myself and make myself uncomfortable in readers that I'm not really comfortable with. One of them is lighting. I'm not great at it on and I stick my told me, and every now and then I stick my toe when every now and then and it's like learning all over again because a lot of my stuff is event coverage. So but then every now and then I will have have an idea and then I'll try and put forward. One of them is wanted to follow boxers from when they're little kids all the way to win their older. And when Polaroid film was still in business, they had this film called Type 55 4 by five camera and it was half positive and then it would make a negative. You don't you shoot the picture and process it right there and it would come out as a Polaroid and then the negative is the important part because then you could scan a big and have really good file. Unfortunately, Polaroid went out of business, and that film doesn't exist anymore. But while I was there, I worked on this. Think simply let one light, but I went around the country. Wherever I was doing a job, I would try and squeeze in, find a boxing gym, and slowly I would follow a young kid and then find somebody the next level amateur, you know, or 12 year old or a nine year old to like a young amateur. And then I would just opposed them. You know, with my little four by five camera and my one light set up. And then slowly they get older and what you notice is that the boxes grow up. Things thought to change that was more scarring. You know, you become champions. They get hard, they get hard. Where the kids trying to look tough. Now they are tough. You know. These people have seen it. You know this is Christy. Morning. She was one of the great women world champions. There's another guy named Montero Gadi, rest in peace. But he was one of my favorite box to photograph pure blood and guts. All courage, all, all out all the time. Mike Tyson familiar face. But we just kept. I kept at it, kept at it every time I would go somewhere. And now we're on the other side of the fence where the box is retired and now you see the marks of what happens from boxers as they changed. They just they don't look the same, you know, it's from all of the years in the ring, and every time I would say to them, Give me that look. All of a sudden they just switch it on and just give me that look of getting ready to fight. So I found that in all the boxes, even a guy like Carmen Basilio from the 19 fifties world middleweight champion who beat Sugar Ray Robinson, he just snapped to He was in his eighties, and then I went. I was doing the World Baseball Classic in Puerto Rico, and I kept passing this arena, this cock fighting arena, and I just thought, Let me just go in there and see what it's all about. Now I'm a pet person and what you're about to see is just a couple of pictures that might make you uncomfortable, So just gonna let you know ahead of time. Um, but I found this very similar to boxing, except the chickens didn't have a choice. They had to fight. And what happens here is just a practice in doing a picture story. I'm not gonna show you a ton of them, but, you know, this was just what they did, you know? And this is a way of life down in Puerto Rico. Cockfighting, Um, and I went back again and I went back three, I think two or three times and went into different arenas around the country around the Puerto Rico and just just worked on a picture story that I did for me, basically, and as an exercise in photography and trying to make myself go to places that are uncomfortable. And this was a very uncomfortable story for me. I wanted to jump in there and save both chickens every time, but it made me I don't know what the word is, but it made me not happy about what was going on. It was uncomfortable. I'd almost want to say that, Um Maybe someone covering conflict would have that same feeling. I don't get this feeling covering sports. You know, it was something that made me uncomfortable. So I don't want to say guys go out and do something that makes you, you know, sad or whatever, but more uncomfortable is the word. You know, we I don't not sure if I could do this. I don't know if I could like this correctly, but there's only one way to try. You know, you make no mistakes. You're not really trying. Do you understand? You have to go out there and try If you're going to set yourself apart from other people.