Capturing a Sports League
I got a gig to shoot a youth sport league recently. The league is made of several teams with a wide variety of ages. I shot team photos, individual player and "buddy" shots. Here are a few tips if you plan to shoot similar group and portrait photos.
For the team photos:
Get help. Seriously, I wouldn't have been able to manage the posing and positioning of the players or the strobe lights without additional help. I was fortunate to have 2 people, one on lights and the other one giving the players direction at this shoot. The guy who moved players around and posed them was a friend and one of the coaches, very helpful when you need a bunch of energetic football players to follow directions.
Use a ladder. A ladder is helpful on a shoot like this for several reasons. The background at this shoot locations was ... less that ideal, so shooting from a higher angle helps with bringing more of the close-by field into the frame and shows less of the further away objects. Shooting from a high position also helps with getting better angle shots of faces. When everyone is looking up at you, players have less of a chance of covering up someone else's face.
Use lighting. I like to face the team away from the sun, it helps prevent squinty eyes. I'll set up a few flash speedlights on stands and get them as close to the team as possible without getting the lights in the picture. Have them closer to the center near the camera. Having lights come from extreme angles can cast weird shadows on their faces.
Take several shots just in case there are any closed eyes and you need to swap faces in post production. When shooting large groups, the odds of someone blinking or having an odd expression increases with each added person. Give your self a cushion of space when framing the shot. You are going to want to be able to custom crop the photo for various aspect ratios (8x10, 5x7, 4x6) or to leave room for a team logo at the bottom.
Once the team shots were done. My assistant herded the team into a nice line ready for the individual shots.
For the individual portraits:
Use a tripod. Find a good location on the field and set up your tripod at about their height or lower. Don't shoot from above their height this time. Shooting at or lower than their head gives the feeling in the photo that the player is important and powerful. Football players like to look intimidating, although this isn't always possible with the super small, young players, they're just too darned cute to be intimidating!
Set up your lights. Take a couple test shots and check your lighting.
Get help. My assistant was invaluable. At our spot, we set a helmet down and made that the center of the shot. We chose a spot right behind the helmet where each kid would put their knee in position. Then my assistant called the players one by one, put a football in their hand, had the player put their knee on "the spot", turned their shoulders, turned their head, put their other hand on their thigh, stepped out of the frame SNAP SNAP. Two shots again for good measure. Again, leave a little space so that you can crop or add a logo as needed in post production.
Click on any image below for a larger view