Social Media for Sports Shouldn’t be Boring 

Social media platforms are essential for sports.  They are the only real-time source of game information, unless the event is broadcasted. If not for social media information on professional and collegiate games might not be found for a day, or two, in on-line or print news sources.  Social media may be the only source of information for some youth sporting events. 

Figure 1- Social media may be the only source of information for some youth sporting events. (Town & Country Optimist Club, April 18, 2015)

Expectations on the content of social media posts have risen, too.  Followers want more than simple text updates.  Followers want visual updates too.  In higher-end sports, followers want visual updates as the game is progressing.  For lower-end sports (i.e., your local youth leagues), fans want those updates by the time the game is completed.  

This article provides recommendations on obtaining the best images to compliment your social media post.   

1. Smart Phone, DSLR or Mirrorless Cameras?  Good results can be achieved with simple point-and-shot cameras or smartphones, but the types of images you can capture are limited. 

Point-and-shoot and smartphone cameras experience a time lag between depressing the shutter button and when the image is captured.  This lag allows the device to wake up the electronics, focus on the image, meter the lighting and then take the image.  More often than not, the picture you wanted to take has moved in the time all of this takes.  

Additionally, point-and-shoot and smartphone cameras take one image at a time.  So unless your timing is perfect, chances are you will miss the action shot.  For these reasons, point-and-shoot and smartphone cameras are best used to take images with people standing still, or moving slowly.  Examples are coaching shaking hands before the game, or when players are in the batter’s box, at the foul line, at the service line, at the line of scrimmage, or shaking hands after the game. Unfortunately, these images are not very exciting.  

Figure 2- Taking sports photos with point-and-shoot cameras  and smartphones is challenging. You are often limited to posed or slow moving scenes.  (Texas State vs. Georgia State, November 11, 2015)

DSLR or mirrorless cameras overcome these issues.  These cameras have near-instantaneous response when depressing the shutter button, and multiple images can be taken is sequence (i.e., burst mode)

One advantage the smartphone cameras have is the image is stored on the same device you are probably using for your social media updates.  This makes it easier to add the image to the post.  In most cases, images taken with DSLR or mirrorless cameras must be loaded to a computer before than can be uploaded to social media.  Some DSLR and mirrorless cameras are Bluetooth enabled, allowing low-resolution images to be transferred from the camera to the smartphone.  

2.  One or Two Person Operation?  A one-person operation has the same person making the social media update as taking the photos.  A two-person operation has those duties divided.  

A one-person operation is very challenging.  Most of your time will be spent making posts.  I suggest moving to the field early in the game and take a couple of images of both teams.  Return to your location in the stand or press box and resuming you posts. 

High quality social media posts come from a two person.  Typically there is one person in the stands, or the press box, making the posts, and the photographer who is closer to the field-of-play.  

In a two-person operation, the photographer will have 12 to 18 minutes between play periods to download images, process images, and get them to the person doing the social media posts.  Edited images are either downloaded to a USB drive and hand-carried to the poster, or uploaded to the poster via cloud, if the facility has sufficient wireless bandwidth. 

Figure 3 - Photo taken from the press box of the HEB Center in Cedar Park, Texas.  The image is less interesting because it was taken from a perspective the fans usually see.  (Texas Stars vs. Rockford IceHogs, December 10, 2016)

3.  Provide a Unique Perspective.  Like the social media posts, you want the images attached to the posts to be interesting and insightful.  In sports photography this starts with taking an image from an angle that the fan usually doesn’t see.  

Most fans view sports from the stands, on television or streaming.  These views are usually from the side, from above and far away.  These views are rather mundane.

The key to interesting sports photography is to get low to the field of play and close to the action. This is a perspective most fans don’t have.  In youth and high school sports you can get this perspective by changing your seats. In collegiate and professional sports you’ll need credentials to access the playing field.  

The remainder of this article provides advice to a photographer in a two-person operation using a DSLR or mirrorless camera.  

4.  Rate Images During the Game.Firing in burst mode to capture the perfect moment generates a lot of unwanted images. In my experience only 10% of shutter clicks product images worth keeping.  

How do you find those images worth keeping in the short period of time that you have?  Your camera gives you two ways identify the “keepers.”  You can either “protect” images you want to keep, or you can rate you photos. Protecting an image identifies it as a keeper and prevents it from being erased.  Rating also identifies the image as a keeper and also allows you rate the quality of the image on a scale of 1 to 5.  Once the images are downloaded, use your editing software to filter on the protected or rated images.  

Some cameras have pre-programed buttons on the camera that protect or rate the image.  Other cameras allow you to reprogram a button to do this action.  Still other cameras have this ability embedded in the camera’s menu of options. 

Figure 4 - This image is more interesting because it taken close to the field of play, an angle most fans do not see.  (Texas Stars vs. Grand Rapid Griffins, November 10, 2017)

I prefer to rate my images to protecting them.  A protected image indicates it is a keeper.  But rating the image indicates how good the keeper is.  

I use a zero to five rating system on my camera in my editing.  These are my rating criteria:  

·     0 – This is the default rating.  This shot receives no consideration for edits.  May not be properly exposed, sharp-as-a-tack focused, or doesn’t capture anything of potential interest. These are 90% of images.  

·     1 – An image that is properly exposed, sharply focused, captures the player’s face, and contains reasonably interesting content.  This shot is a keeper that I will go back to after the game.  These are 7% of images.

·     2 - An image that is properly exposed, sharp-as-a-tack focused, captures the player’s face, and contains action content (e.g., a significant game event). I will edit between periods, at the half or immediately after the game. These are 3% of images.  

·     3 to 5 – I save these rating for post-game processing on my computer.  

5.  Use a Card Reader.  Most all cameras come with cables that connect to your computer to transfer images. This is a slower method to transfer images and not preferred to support social media.  

DSLR and mirrorless cameras all have removable memory cards.  I recommend that you pull the memory card from the camera and use a card reader to import the images your computer.  This is a much faster operation.  

6.  Import Only Rated or Protected Images.  As I mentioned above, only 90% of the image that I take are not worth editing.  Then why waste time importing those images?  

I use PhotoMechanic to copy images to my computer.  PhotoMechanic has the unique ability to filter the images on the card and then copy only the filtered images to your computer.  The filter criteria could be the protected images, or images with a 1- or 2-star rating.  

This is one feature in PhotoMechanic, which is renown for its ability to ingest (i.e., import) photos and manage meta-data.  

Figure 5- A before and after example of how games images can be used to make routine game reporting more interesting.  (Austin Spurs vs. Rio Grande Viper, April 2, 2018).  

7.  Conduct Minimal Edits.  I spend less than 30 seconds editing an image and will edit a total of 15 to 20 images during halftime.  My only edits are cropping and auto tonal adjustments.   Notes, images posted to social media look best when cropped horizontally (i.e., landscape) because they can viewed in their entirety while scrolling. 

I prefer using Adobe Lightroom for editing.  Lightroom has many advantages beyond the scope of this article. I occasionally Adobe Photoshop for it advanced editing features.  Capture One is growing in popularity and is a newer rival to Lightroom. 

8.  Export or Upload Edited Images.  The edited images can be exported to a USB drive and hand-carried to the person doing the social media updates. The images can also be uploaded to the cloud (e.g. Flickr, DropBox, SmugMug or FTP, using a plugin), if the facility has adequate wireless. 

Copyright Andy Nietupski and Through the Lens Sports Media / 2019

About the author: 

Andy Nietupski founded Through the Lens Sport Media in 2015 while on a creativity sabbatical from enterprise software sales.  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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