By Ken Moreland
Stop the action with perfect focus and exposure. Frame the image with good margins. Capture the action and emotion of the sporting event. Tell the compelling story. This is what I try to do every time out on the field, court or course. To do so brings professional achievement and great satisfaction as a photographer. However, this is not the only or even the most important reason for shooting sporting events. Rather, it is the relationship with the fans, cheerleaders, officials, athletic directors, parents, and certainly not last, the athletes themselves.
Starting in 2006. I volunteered for Lawrence North High School cross country picture taking. No pay. Got to know the athletes, coaches and parents. Went to road games to support the team. Found out early that parents feel comfortable when they know what you are doing and why you are taking pictures of their sons and daughters. It was then that I first saw that there was more to sports photography than clicking through a telephoto lens.
First, is the obvious relationship with the players. They are the stars of the show. They enjoy having pictures taken of their finest performances and frequently thank me afterward for coming to their games. I love it when the athletes re-tweet my game picture posts.
There is probably no group that loves to have their pictures taken more than the cheerleaders. All you have to do Is make eye contact and they seem to strike an organized group formation with broad smiles ready for the shutter click. Because of this, it is easy to develop a relationship with this group, especially when I shoot the same team in several games. I have had a special time with the Fishers, Carmel, and Hamilton Southeastern squads. The gals love to pose for silly pictures in addition to the traditional ones. I am flattered when they miss me when I am not shooting their game, and they ask, “Where were you last game?” That regular weekly meeting helps develop a very strong rapport and I feel bad when I miss a senior night for the cheerleaders.
Another unique relationship is with the energetic super fans in the school cheering section. They bring unpredictable cheers, poses, and costumes to the game that keep me on my toes and make me laugh. We talk at half-time and between games where I can learn a little bit about what is going on in their lives. The “Rowdies” have been as instrumental as anybody in passing the word about Varsity Views among the student base.
My favorite moment is when I walk by the cheering section and hear someone call “Ken!” or more common, “Varsity Views!”, because I always know they are ready for pictures. Social media can’t get enough pictures in our digital-centric society! I enjoy getting silly with them, like when we sing Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” which is an iconic standard at most games. And no cheering section would be loud and boisterous without the pep band. They enjoy acting crazy, too. They laugh and make it an enjoyable experience.
Another special group is the parents. They are more than just a ticket in the bleachers. Parents are the link between me and the athlete. Many players’ parents have thanked me for supporting their children’s sports, especially in less attended events like some of the boys or girls freshman games. Parents like to share stories about their children’s achievements.
I have mixed emotions when their sons and daughters graduate because I will probably not see them again. They become a part of my extended family. I love to watch them get excited on Senior Night and how they look over to me to help capture some choice moments on that occasion.
I get a kick out of talking with the officials before the game. They appreciate me for asking questions about where I can stand to take pictures. They are usually more lenient if they know who you are. It never hurts to get on their good side! I often take their picture to get them to laugh when I high-five them after games like with the athletes.
I would be remiss if I didn’t establish a working relationship with the Athletic Directors. When they know me, they give me freedom to roam. They have also given me special favors like free refreshments, and frequently re-tweet my posts after games.
As you can see, I am involved with more than just snapping photos. The most common question I get after, “What is Varsity Views?” is “How much do you get paid?” If your main goal is to get rich, then sports photography is not for you. Maybe try the more lucrative wedding, corporate/commercial, or portrait niches. I have never met a rich sports photographer. Many have multiple jobs but continue to shoot sports photography for the love of sports.
Being part of exciting games or matches and right there on court or field level is special, with the players, cheerleaders, and fans when memorable moments are made and championships are won. Having fun with hundreds of others at the same time and place is a very rewarding activity that can’t be matched by any other.
My father always told me how to stand by my work. Do a great job and enjoy what you do. Contractors aren’t hiring my camera equipment, they are hiring me, the person to reflect the spirit of high school sports. It is the many new and continuing relationships that keep bringing me back, season after season. The objective is so much bigger than taking a picture. It is about building the greatest sports experience possible. Thanks for the opportunity, Varsity Views.