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A day in the life of a sports shooter.
  
 
SargentRay
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p.1 #1 · A day in the life of a sports shooter.


Been wanting to do this post for a little while now since i joined you guys a few months ago. I wish to share my experience as a sports shooter mostly with all of you out there just starting out or thinking about getting started as a sports shooter maybe looking to buy more equipment to do so or trying to get your first paying gig. A text that will most probably not be of interest to the pros but any additional input of you guys will certainly be appreciated.

I'll spare you my photography background but suffice it to say i only went digital 3 1/2 years ago and got my equipment with the goal of following my 14 y.o. son in his sport, Football. So i got a D3s right from the get go knowing 70% of the games were to be played at night. Like many i suppose i learned from trial and error, reading tutorials, asking questions to the pros and so on. After the 1st season i had learned a lot namely that it was always better to shoot in raw format in order to make better pictures once in post processing. Then i learned one had to know his sport to be any good at it and be able to predict the plays. No problem i had followed my son at football for years.

So after the first year of this and after posting some of my work on a few local photo forums such as this one, i started to get noticed and one day i received a private message from this guy who needed to hire sports shooters for many sporting events, mostly soccer. I was so flattered i called him back right away, the guy explained in details that he was mostly a lab guy, he had owned several film and paper labs back in the day but went digital about 6 years earlier and being a big soccer fan he started doing sports shooting but his business was now expanding and he needed help He also told me a full day of sports shooting would bring me anywhere between 300 and 350$ sometimes more. Wow ! Me getting paid to do something i love, it was too good to be true i accepted on the spot. Sure enough he called me 2 weeks after that and told me where to meet him and that he would brief me on the field before starting. Man i was so happy finally after a year of shooting just for fun and investing a lot of time and money i was finally going to get rewarded for all my efforts. Would be easy money i thought to myself.

So as agreed i got on the field way ahead of time, i remember i had an hour drive just to get there. So the guy came to meet me, he handed me 5 envelopes with 5 cheap 4 gb CF cards. There was also a schedule for each game i had to cover and a list of instructions for each game. As i was trying to make sense of all that was written on the pieces of paper he started explaining what he wanted.

And then the fun began;

He said he had 5 other photographers scattered on different fields across town in order to cover the whole tournament. He explained he was going to pick up the cards every hour, run to the lab print the shots and get back to the field where he had people assigned to the sales of the pictures. Hmm that doesn't leave you much time to post process the shots i replied. he smiled and said: "Oh i don't do any post processing you have to crop and expose perfectly i just feed the cards in the machine and print them". Ok i said, as blood was slowly starting to get to my head.
So you have to shoot in JPG small, don't worry everything is printed in 6x9 in.
OK
so you have to take 45 shots of each game, try to have every player twice with the ball and take a few team shots for every team. Each team has 11 players, each half time lasts 25 minutes so you have 50 minutes to make your 45 shots but you need to finish 5 minutes ahead of time, in order to find the next teams and take the group shots. (at this point my legs were starting to feel numb, i was trying to do the numbers in my head and i always came up with less than a minute per player to make 2 shots of him WITH THE BALL). Anything else i dared to ask ? Oh yeah don't use the motor drive just use single frames, you won't have time to sort and delete the rejects anyway, and no auto iso please everything has to be around the same iso, it's better for the machine. And oh yeah it would be nice if you could file your shots in different folders sorted by teams. At this point i couldn't feel my legs anymore below the knees...

So i started shooting still flabbergasted with all the parameters i had to remember. After 5 minutes i couldn't remember which player i had shot, since they had no numbers in front of their jerseys and couldn't see squat on my rear screen in full sunlight. I was getting more and more stressed. But i managed to get most players but not all and realized i had like 2 minutes to make the group shots of the next team. They were each at the opposite ends of the field, so i ran to meet the first team and i will always remember the coaches reply; " no time for that maybe after the game" Are you shitting me ? i spontaneously said. I don't have time for that i'll be running for the next teams at the end of the game, besides i do the shots for the parents not for you friend. He mumbled something and gathered his team and i took the shot as quickly as i could. But then the ref whistled and the game was about to start. Didn't have time for the 2nd team. And it was like that for the whole day, always a coach not wanting to let me do my job, for no good reasons might i add.

As a first assignment i had only 5 games to cover, and my salary was to be determined according to my performance. Since i was already short on the shots i was thinking i was going to work my butt off for almost nothing.

When the boss came for the first pick up i told him how my day was going so far, man he laughed so hard everybody on the sidelines were looking at us.

So i managed to finish all the games, with both a headache and a backache. The boss paid me the day after the end of the 3 day tournament and gave me 180$ out of the 200$ possible. Wasn't so bad i figured for a 1st assignment, minus gas and lunch money i had about 150$ left for 5 hours work.

He said he was overall happy with my shots but i had to be careful to take all the team shots (where the money is for him) and not to take the same player 4 or 5 times like i did,(really me i did that ?)

On the other hand i also work for another guy who hires photographers to do soccer portraits. It is a completely different workflow when working for him. He follows a dozen team from the same association and takes care of all the action shots during the season, and only hires help during 2 or 3 tournaments where the portraits are done. All the photographers line up on a line and install their working station and there is always a few assistants to help us with the positioning of the kids, directing the teams in the proper line behind the assigned photographers and such related tasks. The only thing the boss insists on is that every photographer work with a studio lights and bring enough battery power to last 5 hours or 300 to 400 hundred shots.

It is less stressful but it is still quite demanding because more things can go wrong technically and since everybody doesn't have the same equipment you can only rely on yourself if something goes wrong. I had a Pocket Wizard failure once (brand new unit) but i had taken the precaution of leaving my old Chinese triggers in my bag and it saved my life when it happened. You also have to bring some sort of clear plastic bags to cover your equipment if it starts raining. I always cover my flash head even if it's sunny just in case. It is not worth ruining a flash head over a few hundred bucks.

So all of this being said, i have to say yes it is possible to make a decent living being a sports shooter especially if you make it big someday and get a job with Sports illustrated. But most likely like the majority of us you'll have a few regular gigs and a lot of occasional/freelance ones. But mostly you have to be willing to work very, very hard.

The only useful advice i can give you are the basics for any sport shooters;

1-) Know your equipment
2-) Perfect both your RAW and JPG workflows
3-) Be mentally and physically ready when you get to your assignment
4-) Be prepared to deal with the human factor; parents,boss, co workers.
5-) Be prepared to deal with all sorts of weather conditions both for your health/comfort and your equipment (sun screen/bug repellent/camera and lens sleeves etc)
6-) Bring all you need to sustain yourself; food and water
7-) If you can, have a back up of everything
8-) Plan your route ahead of time to get to your assignment, check for planned road works, weather conditions liable to make you late on the job
9-) Deal your working conditions; salary, copyrights etc ahead of time
10-) Always have personal business cards with you on every assignments, never know who you're going to meet
11-) Make a check list of all you need and use it the day before the shoot.
12-) Expect the unexpected

Hope this might be helpful to some of you out there. Remember the most important part is to have fun while doing it even when the going gets tough sometimes.

1-)


2-)


3-)


4-)


5-)


6-)


7-)


Edited on Sep 16, 2013 at 01:37 PM · View previous versions



Sep 15, 2013 at 01:04 AM
P Alesse
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p.1 #2 · A day in the life of a sports shooter.


... Yup.




Sep 15, 2013 at 02:58 AM
lhryshko
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p.1 #3 · A day in the life of a sports shooter.


Thanks for taking the time to write this Ray, it was an enjoyable read. Great shots as well!


Sep 15, 2013 at 03:18 AM
Paulthelefty
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p.1 #4 · A day in the life of a sports shooter.


Love #5, I have seen that so many times and it always makes me laugh.

Great story, thanks for sharing!

Paul



Sep 15, 2013 at 04:23 AM
Carl Auer
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p.1 #5 · A day in the life of a sports shooter.


Yeah, I stress to people to stay away from gigs like this. You are giving your copyright away, and honestly, 5 hours work, that is a day rate for me, and you got paid a 1/3 of a day rate, plus have no images to add to your portfolio...not that you would want to keep small jpgs....

As for your posted images, there is something unnatural about them. It looks like they were over processed, maybe too much noise reduction?



Sep 15, 2013 at 06:22 AM
SargentRay
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p.1 #6 · A day in the life of a sports shooter.


Thank you to everyone that posted a reply, my goal was to share my personal experience and maybe try to show the other side of the coin to the new or would be sports shooters out there. I mean when your an amateur (and we were all amateurs at some point) and you go to a sporting events as a spectator and you see the "pros" walking on the sidelines carrying 3 pro bodies and monster lens, thinking what a wonderful life it must be. You know get to see all the action from up close, take great pictures and get paid for it, it seems like the dream job right ?
Well in my view and in my Canadian reality only a handful of sports shooters make it big or make it at all. In 3 1/2 years of doing this i got to meet 95% of them, seeing and talking to them on one assignment or another.

What strikes me the most about these guys is their lack of passion anymore. I mean they've been everywhere and done everything it's just a job now. Add to that the fact that 80% of these guys mention their backaches problem sooner or later in our conversations. I even saw the La Presse photographer ( Our biggest newspaper here) shoot a pro golf tournament with a Nikon V2, he explained it was more than sufficient for the thumbnails pictures that would be published the next morning in the paper, but mostly that it was so much easier to carry around than the usual 2 x D4s and big lens rig. I doubt very much he was thinking about inserting any of these shots in his portfolio. Like he said himself once he presses the send button on his lap top he forgets completely about the pictures. Some editor receives it at the office and inserts a few of them which he chooses to his taste in his sports column.

@Carl Auer,

Hello Carl and first off let me tell you i respect your point of view and i am a big fan of your work. This being said i feel i should clarify a few things, just so we compare apples with apples.

1-)
I do not give away my copyrights, ever i always clarify that from the get go on any assignments. The fact that i post them here, proves that i still have 100% ownership rights on my work. But your right JPG small files are useless to me aside from showing people the end product of an otherwise crazy workflow.

2-)
The example i stated in my text was for the 1st shooting i did for this guy, since then i did maybe 10 other such shootings and i was always paid around 300$ for about 7 to 9 games per day.
The way i see this in my regular job i get paid net 1,100$/week for a 5 days/week job. For a gross income of roughly 100,000$/year. Now i don't know about the american reality but here in Canada less than 3% of the working population makes 100 tho a year salary. I's is closer to Canadian 2 person average income which is just a little over 100 tho. So everyday's work bring me 225$/day or so. So when i get home with 300$ in my pocket for a day of taking pictures i must say i am happy.

Agreed it is peanuts compared to what a pro photographer makes for a comparable days work, but then again i don't do it full time and most importantly i do not have 40,000$ worth of equipment in my bag. This is the paradox to my 3rd and final point.

3-) You are right of course in stating that the quality of my shots here is not perfect far from it. It is actually my point to show just how unimportant and unachievable it is in this particular context. The boss will print the shots in 6x9 in format making noise and poor overall quality less obvious. Besides 99% of the parents who buy the shots for 10$ think they are awesome. But let me explain my set up and work process just for the sake of clarity.

I have a D3s ( i still think it is an awesome pro body even with the arrival of the D4)
Since i do not own a 300 or a 400mm i shoot with my 70-200mm f2.8 VR II (great lens too imo)
But it is obviously not powerful enough for soccer so i add to that the TC20e, which brings me down to an f5,6 aperture. So when it gets darker i work most times at isos over 1,000 and sometimes 2,000.
But it is still not enough to isolate one player on the big field so i use the DX format, which brings my original 12,3mp count to 5.6. And after all that i still have to crop in body before delivering the final shot. So most time i hand in a less than 4mp picture taken at 1,000 iso or more.
To put it simply there is very little definition left in my pictures. Here the shots that i have posted are all taken this way except the final portrait which was shot in RAW format. I do shoot at 14 bits instead of 12 bits in order to retain a little more color and tint quality. I applied no noise reduction on the shots in Lr4, but did apply a light 30% noise reduction in CS6 using neat image. But even without it the shots always appear soft and without much details because of all the beating my files take after such a terrible forced shooting process. I'll even go further in adding my shots are usually better than the rest of the team and i am always one of the first shooters to be called on these assignments. Sometimes i am present near the selling tents, i always see the kids and parents leave with a big smile on their faces. Are the pictures perfect ? of course not but folks still get a lot of happiness for 10$. On volume the boss will make anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000$ at each tournament after paying all expenses, he does about 5 such tournament every summers and man does he work hard for it. The rest of the year especially during winter he does some basketball and volleyball meets but mostly gets by with the picture printing part of his business coming from either his sports shooters or other occasional clientele. Remember here we have terrible winters and aside from a little indoor sports, such as hockey, B-ball and V-ball theres not much going on sports wise. Some will specialize in ski and snowboard but not many do it i assure you.

Finally i totally understand you might get paid 3 times what i get for your work, but do you do it everyday of the week ? if so you make more than a 150,000$/year. If it is so you are certainly very lucky i doubt the average pro sports shooter makes that much money even in the U.S.
But if i'm wrong please don't hesitate to put me in my place, i can take it :-)

The way i see things i want to retire in 3 years when i reach 55 years of age. I will then have 27 years on the force. For us Montreal cops the magic numbers are 30 years seniority for 70% salary at retirement. With 70% once you have no more income tax and union fees to pay you have almost the same amount weekly in your pockets. But since i joined the force at a later age i want to hand in my papers 3 years earlier so i will have about 150$ less/week than most retirees so i like to think i could easily make the difference by doing 1 sports shooting assignments/week. I don't know what the future holds for me (who does?) but that's my retirement project for now.



Sep 15, 2013 at 11:05 AM
Frank Lauri
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p.1 #7 · A day in the life of a sports shooter.


Ray...I agree with Carl on the processing. The just appear too smooth or "plastickey". Regarding your story...it was a nice read. You'll find that different employers will have different requirements and expectations and normaly you should be able to get all of those details before the actual event to know what is expected way in advance.


Sep 15, 2013 at 12:53 PM
SargentRay
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p.1 #8 · A day in the life of a sports shooter.


Frank Lauri wrote:
Ray...I agree with Carl on the processing. The just appear too smooth or "plastickey". Regarding your story...it was a nice read. You'll find that different employers will have different requirements and expectations and normaly you should be able to get all of those details before the actual event to know what is expected way in advance.


Hi Frank, yes i agree with you, probably shouldn't have applied any NR at all, but i just wanted to explain that the files are pretty soft and without much details to start with because of all the punishment. Would be better with a real 400mm to start with, i just can't afford one right now.

I also agree that most times you'll know ahead of time pretty much exactly what the employers want.

Here's one of the original file without any NR, but some re sharpen in Lr4, otherwise everything is quite blurry/soft.

Original



Sep 15, 2013 at 01:20 PM
jmcaverly
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p.1 #9 · A day in the life of a sports shooter.


Nice post. I really like the appearance of the images. Especially the first team photo and the last individual. Nice lighting and smooth looking.

Jeff



Sep 15, 2013 at 01:22 PM
SargentRay
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p.1 #10 · A day in the life of a sports shooter.


thanks jmcaverly, much appreciated. the last one was done with a beauty dish and an ND filter to tame ambient light as we were shooting in direct sunlight. I think there might have been a cloud just passing by at the same time i pressed the shutter, making the shot look so smooth. There were many re prints ordered for that shot i was told, probably family members wanting one too :-)


Sep 15, 2013 at 03:08 PM
 

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treebeard
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p.1 #11 · A day in the life of a sports shooter.


The last shot (even though it's not an action shot) looks very natural...the other's not so much. Great advice and thanks for sharing it.


Sep 15, 2013 at 04:54 PM
SargentRay
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p.1 #12 · A day in the life of a sports shooter.


treebeard wrote:
The last shot (even though it's not an action shot) looks very natural...the other's not so much. Great advice and thanks for sharing it.


Thanks treebeard :-)



Sep 15, 2013 at 04:56 PM
brewe
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p.1 #13 · A day in the life of a sports shooter.


Great story Sarge, you really have to love it.


Sep 15, 2013 at 11:43 PM
SargentRay
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p.1 #14 · A day in the life of a sports shooter.


brewe wrote:
Great story Sarge, you really have to love it.

Yup got to be a little crazy too, but when you really think about it isn't it required just a little bit to be crazy to make it as a photographer ? I mean whatever field of photography you choose you'll have to invest time and money to be any good at it. You'll also have to sacrifice a lot of things and make great efforts to achieve your goals whatever they might be. Sports shooting is just one of the difficult fields of expertise, just think about he wedding photographers and the sum of efforts they put in a single day of shooting with often heat and people not always fun to deal with. Or the bird and wildlife photographers, i mean they carry such heavy gear and sometimes walk for miles just to make 1 good shot. All worth it in their eyes when they get everithing just right and get to enjoy all of their hard work either looking at their printed photos or staring at their computer screens.

Only true photographers can really appreciate these moments of satisfaction. It's hard to make it as a photographer, but after 40 years of it i still love it :-)


Edited on Sep 18, 2013 at 09:12 PM · View previous versions



Sep 16, 2013 at 01:10 AM
rob4bama
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p.1 #15 · A day in the life of a sports shooter.


Good read. I really like the team photo too. I think I'll keep my day job!


Sep 16, 2013 at 04:40 AM
SargentRay
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p.1 #16 · A day in the life of a sports shooter.


rob4bama wrote:
Good read. I really like the team photo too. I think I'll keep my day job!


Thanks rob4bama



Sep 16, 2013 at 08:34 AM
RECD Designz
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p.1 #17 · A day in the life of a sports shooter.


Cool story. Thanks for sharing


Sep 18, 2013 at 04:24 PM
SargentRay
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p.1 #18 · A day in the life of a sports shooter.


Hi RECD Designz, thanks for dropping by :-)


Sep 18, 2013 at 04:30 PM
Kell
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p.1 #19 · A day in the life of a sports shooter.


great pictures, just way too much for me to read


Sep 18, 2013 at 04:38 PM
Adam73
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p.1 #20 · A day in the life of a sports shooter.


Wow great story of your journey. Sounds like you got thrown into the fire. I know that many photographers don't like the smooth plastic look, but you captured the action very well. As for us photographers we tend to be a little more critical than the clients. Most of the time. I know many families that love the not so natural look because to them its different. These images really do pop, even if it was a jpg small or cropped to 3mp. I like your work and thanks for sharing in such detail your story.


Sep 18, 2013 at 06:09 PM
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