My last blog post was about how to create a sports photography portfolio. I suggested that about 20 photos is a good number of photos in a portfolio. Well, today, I am going to share a few photos that almost made it into my portfolio but did not. I will explain the details of why each one did not make the cut.
This was a tough one for me to not include in my portfolio because I love the action of this photograph. The players are airborne, the hair reveals the motion, the ball can be seen, and the composition is tight. The problem is we do not see any faces in this photo. If the ballcarrier’s face was visible, that might have been enough for it to make the cut. Another problem is the tackler’s body is cut in half, which is not a good way to compose a sports photo.
This photograph definitely shows peak action. You can even see the receiver’s eyes as he is looking for the upcoming hit and he is high in the air catching the ball. I also like the definition of the calf muscles showing on the cornerback. The biggest problem with this photograph is that it is crooked–just look at the goalpost. Trying to straighten it in Lightroom would cut off some of the legs of the cornerback and hide the muscles. I could have isolated just the receiver but decided that this photo just wasn’t going to make it into my portfolio.
This photograph was also hard for me to eliminate from my sports portfolio. It shows action, is sharply focused, and captures the baseball as it is leaving the batter’s bat. It also shows the face of the batter in some beautiful sunlight late in the day. The problem is the background–that chainlink fence and steel pole. I know some fields have this kind of fence all over the place and I find it hard to capture better backgrounds at many of the games I shoot, but a clean background is necessary to better isolate the player in a photo. I still go back and forth on this particular photo because of the magic light, but the background seems to be the breaker for me.
As you can see from these three photos, there are some photos that are the almost good enough but not quite. We have to be our own worst critics if we are going to get better and improve our portfolios. Narrowing down to 20 photos is not easy. Think about what an editor would say about your photograph. Why should it make the cut? Why shouldn’t it? Making such decisions are not always easy but they certainly are necessary.
Howie Stevens’ bunted ball leaves a cloud of dust against Stroudsburg.
Building a sports photography portfolio is much like building a portfolio in most styles of photography. The first step is to make stunning images that will cause a viewer of the photo to stop for a moment when they see the photograph. I am often asked about my preferred use of the verb “making” a photo instead of “taking” a photo. I was influenced by teachers and mentors who taught me that we create photographs through the use of composition and exposure. Even as a photojournalist, the eye with which we see news can and often does influence us to press the camera shutter at a precise moment and help express a meaningful moment. Why include one subject in a photograph over another? What is it that captures our eye in that scene? Instead of taking photographs, I much prefer to say we capture or make photographs. After all, we are visual artists, at least to some degree.
After acquiring a healthy number of sports photos, how do we decide which photos make it into our portfolio? This, again, is more art than science. However, a few basic guidelines might be helpful to us. First and foremost, the image must be sharply focused. A soft image is one that is not tack sharp and has no business being in our portfolio. A few exceptions might be capturing a critical moment of peak action or a panning shot where we intentionally blur part of the photo. I also believe a worthy image in our portfolio should show some action in some way. The photo below does not show a lot of action but the towel at the quarterback’s waist does help.
How many photos should be in our portfolio? I struggle with this a little bit mostly because I sometimes find it hard to decide on one photo over another. Twenty photos is what I’ve heard is a good number and I try to be around that number for my portfolio. The rule of thumb is to only show our very best work in the field of photography we are hoping to pursue. Too many photographs can be a problem and even cause boredom. Editors should be able to get a good sense of our photographic abilities by seeing twenty of our top photographs.
Another important consideration is how to share and show our portfolio. Years ago the expected standard was enlarged photos on a matte board in a portfolio folder. This can still be one way to share our portfolio, but electronic mediums have become the norm nowadays. Showing a portfolio on our website or tablet is a very good way to share a portfolio with others.
I will share one final thought on this topic today: we cannot rest on our laurels. In other words, we can never think that our portfolio is finalized. Rather, we need to be out there shooting the next photos in our portfolio in order to get better!
I capture plenty of photographs in the games that I shoot. However, only a select are worthy to be included in a sports photography portfolio. I believe showing action is an important aspect of a portfolio worthy photo. The photo above was the one that got me noticed by the newspaper I freelance for now over three years ago.
Showing the emotion of an athlete is also important to me. Sports are full of emotions and our job as sports photographers is to show this emotion in our photographs. A photograph without emotion tends to be lifeless and boring. Bring emotion into a photograph and it just seems to come to life!
I also learned that showing the face and eyes is critical for a photo to come close to being great. The eyes often reveal some of the intense emotion in an athlete. The old saying is “the eyes are windows to the soul.” Well, to me, the eyes are a key element in a great portfolio worthy photograph.
A great photograph tells a story. The action is this photograph shows the catcher putting the tag on the baserunner while the umpire is looking on before calling the out at the plate! What a story it tells! It also helps that some additional elements like emotion and eyes are included in this action shot.
I know that not every photo I capture will be portfolio worthy, but I am finding that the more I keep these key elements in mind while shooting a game, my success rate increases. I am capturing more quality, winning photographs these days. I attribute this to practice, practice, and more practice. I am not quite there yet, but someday I plan on having a perfect day from behind my camera!
Sports Photography Portfolios by Bob Shank
I just finished updating my photography portfolios. Periodically, I go through my portfolios to add some of my better photographs to share my work with others. I believe my sports photographs are getting better over time and I hope you agree!
One of my frustrations is finding a good way to present my photo portfolio so the viewer does not have to wait long to view the photos. I appreciate any feedback you can provide on this matter because I want to be able to get my photos out quickly and efficiently.
The link at the top of this post will direct you to my newest portfolios: published photographs, baseball, football, and golf.
There are some upcoming sporting events I will be photographing and I am always looking to broaden my horizons and get better at the craft. I now have well over 60 photographs published and my sports portfolio is growing!
I was long overdue for an update on my Baseball Portfolio, so today I spent some time sifting through new photographs, comparing them to old ones, and refining my Baseball Portfolio. The images in this blog entry are just a few of the photographs that made the cut.
I need to be very picky to keep getting better with the wonderful subject of sports photography. Some of my primary goals are clean, clear backgrounds; tack-sharp focus; catching the action (hopefully peak action); and telling the story of a great play with an image. These goals are important to me because they keep pushing me forward. I want to get better so I have to be demanding of myself.
Paying attention to the quantity, quality, and direction of light sometimes keep me on my toes as the sun moves during a game. Keeping a chain-link fence out the background is very difficult at some fields, too. Then there are other times when a base umpire or another player steps right between an exciting play and my camera! Tenacity and a never-give-up-attitude are all very helpful. Another important tip is to never get lazy or give up on a play. Stay behind the viewfinder until you are positive the action of that play is complete. Besides, some of the player’s emotions after a play can make for some real interesting subjects, too. But stick with it because you don’t want to miss any action!
The game of baseball provides hours of enjoyment for the players, coaches, and fans. But I strongly believe the great game of baseball also provides endless hours of enjoyment and even excitement for us sports photographers, too! Time sometimes seems to stand still during a baseball game, but if the photographer gets lured into this false sense of boredom, he or she is sure to miss some of the action! Keep alert and keep shooting!
You can see my new Baseball Portfolio with all the photos that made the cut here.