Friday, November 16, 2007

Get better photos for your sports section

A few weeks ago, I decided to develop tips for using photos in sports sections. Quickly, I realized I was not qualified. I have designed many pages over the years. But who knows how many sports shooters cursed me under their breath for reducing large, sweeping shots to the size of a postage stamp or for cropping out something they worked hard to work into the frame. Sorry, guys.

Instead, I asked a friend, Brian Poulter, who teaches photography here at Eastern Illinois University , to offer tips for sports folks who are more accustomed to thinking in words than pictures -- even though photos help tell the story and draw in readers. Brian is also an excellent photographer, something you can check out yourself at his itty bitty photo blog. His work is both journalism and art at the same time. I wish I could capture details as exquisitely as he does with a camera.

You should also check out Mark Hoffman's splendid sports photography at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. That's his shot above of Packers receiver Ruvell Martin celebrating one of his two TD catches against the Minnesota Vikings last weekend.

Anyway, here are Brian's practical, insightful suggestions. (And remember, photojournalists are people, too.)

Five ways for Sports Editors/writers to get better photos on their pages
So you’re a sport editor, or you have to lay out the sports page. Here’s the secret to getting good art for you pages.

Educate your photographers
Many photographers have to cover many teams. Most don't get to talk to the coaches and players. They don't know the teams the way reporters/editors do. So take five minutes to point out the key players; then, take three more minutes to write a rough sketch of what’s needed. It is very hard for a photographer to photograph what he/she does not understand. Growing up in the Midwest, I knew nothing about the game of lacrosse. When I moved to Connecticut, my first photos showed it. However, I did stun the sports department with my hockey photos. Why was my hockey so good? I had played the sport and read hockey coverage in the sports section. If nothing else, clip a few sports stories to hand out for photo assignments.

Ask your photographers for emotion and faces, too.
Most readers will never catch a Brett Favre pass (which is good unless they like broken fingers). Faces, faces, faces! Faces tell us what is going on. Hey, I'm a photographer: I understand rejection, and so do your readers. Photographs that show the ups and down of the game appeal to almost everyone-- even non-sport fans. A photo with faces AND action is what you really want. You want a layout that works? Build your page aground an emotion-based photograph and your pages will sing.

Request (demand) non-action sports photos
It not all about action at second base. John Biever is one of Sports Illustrated’s best photographer. If you go to this link you can see some of his best work. Notice how few are sports action. That photo of a running back running through the defense line looks like all the others after a while. To quote Crash Davis in Bull Durham: “Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic.” Don't run the same shots time after time. Ask and expect more from your photographers than the same old, same old.

Educate Yourself
As a sports editor and reporter you need to seek out great sports photography. It’s amazing how many photo and story ideas can come from this. A great place to see and read about sports photography is at Next time you are talking to a member of your photo staff, slip in “I was looking at sports shooter the other day and...” and your street cred will shoot through the roof -- and you actually might understand what you are talking about.

Say “Thank You”

The stingy bean counters who are bent on destroying journalism love it when reporters use the phone (cheap) instead of actually going where the story is (money). Photographers can’t make photographs over the phone. A few years ago at the Eastern Illinois University Homecoming, it rained the entire football game, winds gusted over 50 mph. Tony Romo (yeah, that Tony Romo) did not attempt a single pass the entire game. There was no light, lots of rain, and the wind. The most important thing the sports editor did that day was thank the photograph who did not have the luxury of sitting in the warm press box. Even the photographers who do not like sports always worked really hard for that editor because once in a while he let the photographers know he appreciated their hard work. Photographers are like puppies -- they will do anything for food or praise.

Great sports photographs, despite what you think, are rarely the result of luck. Luck may be an ingredient, but it is a small ingredient. Sport editors and reporters often hold the others.



Chris said...

Just to add something to your thought on educating the photographers: If you're planning on running a feature story of someone make sure the photographer knows so that person will actually have a picture to go with the story.

At the start of volleyball season my school paper ran a story on how we had a MLB pitcher's daughter on the team. I'm pretty sure this wasn't just thrown together after I got the photo that went with the article, but no one told me about this story so it was pure luck that I even got her since I don't remember her playing much that day.

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