Beyond Head Shots

Head shots are an essential part of a sports photographer’s job.  Unfortunately, for me they had become so routine as to become boring.  That was, however, until I learned how to make it fun.  These are some of the things I did to make it fun.

Figure 1 - A typical head shot featuring Jared Hoying baseball player for the Round Rock Express, Texas Rangers and the Hanwha Eagles.  (Andy Nietupski)

Respect Their Time

Head shots are usually taken on Media Day in professional sports.  Media Day is usually a two-hour time slot when the players and selected coaches are made available for interviews. This gives the photographer about five minutes with each player. 

The team’s media or marketing director will route players to you. You have to be efficient to get all your work done, and you must work quickly to avoid players growing impatient. 

Consider using an on-line sign-up service like SignUpGenius for teams that don’t have a Media Day, or when doing large number of athletes.  These services allow players to reserve a time that is most convenient to them, and to receive information any relevant information. 

Create a Dialogue

I have only encountered two athletes in all my sessions that really enjoyed posing for the camera.  One was Layne Bruner, a professional dancer who was also a motivational speak, and the other was Jaron Blossomgame, a small forward with the Cleveland Cavaliers.  

Figure 2 - Jaron Blossomgame wanted to have his picture taken.  Jaron was a talented player for the Austin Spurs and was distended for an NBA career. (Andy Nietupski)

Usually athletes are at the photo sessions only because it is required.  And some are ill at ease having the photo taken.  That discomfort can be seen in the photo when that is the case. 

Help loosen-up the situation by striking up a conversation with the player.  If you don’t know the team or the players, do some research beforehand.  Ask questions to get them to talk about themselves, even if you know the answer.  You’ll be surprised how enjoyable the session can be for you and the athlete. 

Figure 3 - Devon Low is a former athlete and now manages for a large health club chain.  The more Devon talked during the session the better the images became.

Plan Ahead

Most photographers are creative and spontaneous.  But team photo days move very quickly and not everything goes according to plan.  In addition, you won’t be as sharp as the day goes on and your fatigue increases. 

To keep the ideas fresh, I have pages and pages of poses for each of the sports that I cover. I’ll review these poses through the day, sometimes asking the player which poses they would like to try.  These sheets are of great help when the creative juices run dry after a long day. 

Figure 4 - Example of a Pose Sheet for baseball.  I maintain sheets like for each sport that I cover.  Sheets are organized by player position and type of pose.

Add Props

Props help add character and interest to the portrait.  They also accentuate meaning and create new meaning in an unexpected way.  Both can be used very effectively in sports.  Here are a few examples. 

The traditional use of props for sports portraits include the use of game objects: bats, balls or puck.  Figure 5 is of center Amida Brimah of the Austin Spurs holding the basketball at arm’s length that adds a nice counter balance to the image.  

Figure 5 - Amida Brimah is a gentle giant off the court. I had to climb a step ladder to take this photo of the seven-foot center from the Austin Spurs.  (Andy Nietupski)

Special effects can be added using simple techniques like slowing the shutter speed as shown in Figure 6 of South African pitcher Tayler Scott of the Round Rock Express.  

Figure 6 - Special effects like slowing the shutter speed gives the impression of speed to pitcher’s Tayler Scott’s fast ball.  (Andy Nietupski)

And special occasions can also be built in to portraits, as done with DeJuan Blair’s portrait for a New Year’s Eve theme.  

Figure 7 - DeJuan Blair is dressed for the occasion in this New Year’s Eve celebration by the Austin Spurs.  (Andy Nietupski)

Non-Traditional Approaches

Routine portraits of the team can also benefit from non-traditional approaches.  Figure X is a traditional team photo of the Round Rock Express.  Figure X is the same pose but taken at a different angle, giving the impression the players are larger and more imposing.

Figure 8 - Traditional Round Rock Express Team Photo taken from a traditional perspective.  (Andy Nietupski)

Figure 9 - Traditional Round Rock Express Team Photo taken from a slightly different angle, giving the appearance of largesse.  (Andy Nietupski)

And team photos can also take advantage of totally non-traditional venues, like the team photo of the Austin Spurs on top of a pickup truck, a very Texas pose.  

Figure 10 - Non-traditional team photo of the Austin Spurs, the NBA G-League Champions.  (Andy Nietupski)

 About the Author

Andy Nietupski founded Through the Lens Sport Media in 2015 while on a creativity sabbatical from the corporate work of business start-ups and turn-arounds.  TTL Sports Media helps sports organizations optimize their business results using the latest digital sales and marketing techniques.  TTL Sports Media publishes 1,000’s pieces of content annually and curates a catalog of more than 100,000 items.  On behalf of its client interests TTL Sports Media annually publishes nearly 200 articles and makes greater than 1000 social media posts.  

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