I was very hesitant at first to do sports photography, maybe because my illustrious sports career ended with 2nd grade soccer and I have absolutely no recollection of team picture day; but I always try and take advantage of opportunities that present themselves and one day I found myself knee deep in kindergarten basketball players…
Photographing sports leagues can be very lucrative if you have good processes in place, but if you don’t have a process you can end up spending way too much time on the project and paying yourself below minimum wage if you pay yourself at all. Here are some tips to help you streamline and make the process more profitable.
Plan and do as much beforehand as you can.
Order your envelopes, create your order form, order samples of your products if you sell them and put a test run through your lab. Multiply the number of kids and groups you are going to photograph times the number of shots you are going to take of each one to make sure you have enough shots on your Compact Flash cards. Purchase all the supplies you will need to complete each step of your process and back ups of the most essential pieces. The more you have done before hand the more time you will have to deal with the unexpected things that go wrong…because something always goes wrong!
Hire good assistants and pay them well!
Efficiency is your best friend when shooting volume projects; your job as the photographer is to stay behind the camera and keep shooting so you will stay on time. Depending on how large the sports league is you will need all the help you can get. I like to bring at least two of my own people who know what my process is and whose job it is to help with the photography.
The crowd assistant is in charge of lining up the next group so there isn’t a lag of kids in front of the camera at any point. This assistant also handles the parent and coach questions. It is essential that this person have a cheerful disposition at all times, but can also handle irritated coaches and parents if you end up running behind schedule.
The posing assistant works with the kids being photographed. I work out three poses I want to do before hand and the posing assistant helps the kids hit that mark quickly and watches the ball in the images to make sure it is right side up or in the correct position….and also helps catch the balls before they are thrown or kicked at my camera or lights.
Great assistants will keep your day running on track and are essential to your overall success!
*Parent volunteers are helpful for crowd control, but they can also be easily distracted.
Don’t let the parents bully you or the assistants.
Inevitably Jimmy from the blue team will be late. You need to make the judgment call quickly and stick with it. There are a variety of ways this story plays out here are two that I have lived through…
Scenario 1: You wait 10 minutes, photograph Jimmy with his team, and his mom, coach and team are happy…the next three teams are slightly irritated that you are behind schedule…the three teams after them are very irritated because now you are running 30 minutes late…then the last two teams are pissed because the athletic director told them to be there 30 minutes before their picture time and now you are 45 minutes behind schedule and according to the angry coach they have been waiting for three hours (even though it’s only been and hour and 15) and their whole team was here at the correct time…
Scenario 2: You say “too bad Jimmy, you should have been here on time.” His mom is mad, the moms from the team are sad he’s not in the pictures, they purchase less because they want the whole team in the picture…Jimmy’s mom complains picture day…proof day…order day…and any other time she sees your marketing around town.
The moral of this story is you will never please everyone, do your very best and whatever decision you make consistently apply it to everyone and stand your ground.
Batch process everything!
If you have to touch 1,600 images individually you will not make money from doing a sports league! The kid working the drive thru at McDonalds will be making more money per hour than you.
It always takes longer than you think it will.
Shooting, editing, creating your proofs, printing, stuffing the envelopes and even ordering your products will all take longer than you think. The last 100 orders you have put through the photo lab have taken two days to receive with no problems, then this order (the one you desperately need on time) will be shipped to a different studio in Nebraska and will take four days. (That is a true story) Cushion your timeline at every step to allow for things not to run smoothly.
Give the parents something fun and different to order and you will improve your bottom line. We did a “game face shot” with a basketball league this winter and some of the kids’ shots were hilariously awesome which made great magazine covers and trader cards which increased their orders.
Thank you to Caroline Seavey of Heartfelt Photography for writing this article! She has experience with this!