Building a Sports Portfolio

Howie Stevens' bunted ball leaves a cloud of dust  against Stroudsburg.

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!

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New Website Design for Bob Shank Photography

Well, it was long overdue, but I finally redesigned the website for my sports and wildlife photography. You can view the redesign here: bobshankphotography.com Things have evolved over the past eight years for several reasons. When I picked up my camera again I was shooting every subject in range: sports, animals, newlyweds, musicals, plays, and just about everything imaginable. My kids were involved in several activities that provided great photography subjects along the way, too. Honestly, it felt good to pick up the camera again and shoot everything in sight.

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As time went on, I gravitated mostly to two main subjects: wildlife and sports. I am fortunate to have a cabin in the beautiful mountains of north central Pennsylvania, right in the heart of elk country! I co-hosted several photo trips, taking other photographers out to photograph these majestic animals. I still enjoy photographing the wildlife there, but many things changed in recent years and I felt compelled to stop hosting the photo trips. In the meantime, sports photography was quickly becoming my goto subject and in a huge way!

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It started as I began to work with our local high school’s baseball team. The head coach allowed my to shoot the games and then I provided a presentation at their end-of-year banquet with all the action photos and created photo collages for all the senior gifts. It was a great opportunity and a huge learning experience for me. I eventually photographed their player portraits and designed their yearly media guides, too! My work was eventually noticed by the local newspaper and so I began to cover some events for them. This, again, was a great opportunity to learn more about sports photography. I covered a football game each week of the season, had to meet deadlines, write captions, and learn how to capture the action under inadequate lighting conditions. I also covered a couple college football games for the paper.

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Then, the local university noticed my work and offered me to work on contract with them! This offered additional learning opportunities and sports photography now became my main focus. I love shooting sports! I was a high school athlete, playing football and running track. I still thoroughly enjoy the Friday night atmosphere at a high school game, but now I am also enjoying the thrill of covering college sports of all kinds!

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It has been an amazing ride so far. I don’t think I really started out meaning to focus so much on sports photography, but it sure is my preference these days! I am continuing to hone my sports photography skills and hope to keep this focus for a long, long time! I hope you like the new website design!

What is a Tear Sheet?

A tear sheet is a way for a photographer to show and prove that he or she had photographs published. It is sort of like a visual resume of your accomplished work. I was introduced to the idea by Bill Weitzmann, an experienced and accomplished photographer, who called it a “Clip File.” He showed me his clip file, which was a physical portfolio with all the newspaper clippings of his published photographs. Looking through his published photographs was truly inspirational!

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I started my own clip file right away after being so inspired by Bill showing me his extensive clip file. Over the years, I keep building up more and more published photographs and many of them are published online. So, I decided to maintain an electronic version of my clip file as well.

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As you can see in this example above, I include my photograph, the caption, and the photo credit for use on my tear sheet. This way, I can see my accumulating photographs that are being published. Over time, it is enjoyable to see all the photographs that an editor saw worthy of publication. I can also track my progress as a sports photographer to ascertain if I am improving in the quality of my sports photographs.

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Many times the university where I shoot sports, puts my photographs on their website. The example above shows an upcoming celebration for the head football coach’s 50th Anniversary. They used my photograph and provided my photo credit on the arm of the coach’s shirt sleeve in my photo.

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Sometimes my photographs even end up on various publications, like this Football Media Guide from last year. I always try to obtain a physical copy of such material, but having a record of it in my tear sheet is also good and shows others how my photographs are being used in a variety of ways.

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My growing tear sheet will hopefully show potential clients and editors that I am becoming more accomplished as a sports photographer. The tear sheet is evidence of my photographic accomplishments to date.

You can view my tear sheet here: http://bobshankphotography.com/TearSheet.html This is also a sneak peak at my upcoming website redesign. I will be rolling out the revision in the coming weeks, once everything is finalized and ready to share. I am excited about this new revision and hope it will provide a better way to show my sports photography work and capabilities. You can be sure you will be reading about my new website design here once it is ready to go!

When You Know You’re Doing Something Right



Most of us go about our work from day to day not knowing the affect we might be having on others. I always had a goal of wanting to make a difference, but quite often this is very difficult to gauge and evaluate. I oftentimes joke that I much prefer to cut the grass in my lawn than working because at least when I am mowing I can see the progress. You know, there is is truth in jest!

Compliments are rare in the workplace it seems to me these days. Attaboys and attagirls are not often heard from most bosses or employers. Our parents worked for more loyal companies who appreciated their work forces and even told them so. Worker loyalty was returned. Nowadays many of us will have two or three different jobs at a minimum.

So, how do we know when we’re doing something right? I remember an episode of NCIS when Probie Tim McGee did something right and his boss just gave him a stare. McGee’s partner said, “That look is the closest thing you’re gonna get to a compliment, Probie.” Knowing we are appreciated for the work we do seems to be a rare luxury these days. When we receive a compliment we should file it away in our memory banks or in our files for safe-keeping and archiving.

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I remember one place I worked where a colleague shared a great idea with me. She kept a “Pick Me Up” file. I had never heard anything like this before so I asked for more clarity. She explained that each and every time she receives a compliment–an email or thank you note, etc., she filed it in her Pick Me Up file. Then, on those days when she needed some encouragement, she would pull that file and read some of the contents. I’ve kept such a file ever since that day.



Here are just two examples from editors that I have in my file:

“First, thanks for the tremendous art. The photos are dynamite and we’re very pleased with the composition, timely delivery and quality of the shots. Particularly liked the shot to the helmet from today! Wow!”

Chris Mele, Editor
Pocono Record
2012

 


“Hi Bob, I’m glad that the new contract was approved and delivered.  The quality of your work is exceptional and is a great benefit for us and our student-athletes.  Also glad that you’ll be able to get to Denver for some additional seminars and ideas for how to shoot! 
Hope you have a great summer, and look forward to continuing to use your great shots!”

Greg Knowlden, Sports Information Director
East Stroudsburg University
2016

I sometimes look at these two notes and just know I was doing something right at least two times in my life!

 

Remembering My Wife’s Birthday

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Today, May 14th, is my wife’s birthday. I remember Denise’s birthday now but there was a time back when we were first dating when I got her exact birthday date confused a few times. I became a better husband and remembered her birthday each year, even though she never liked attention brought to her, even on her birthday. And a gift? Oh, boy, I got in plenty of trouble each time I got a gift for her. I sometimes think I am the only husband who got in trouble for actually remembering his wife’s birthday and remembering to get her a gift!

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Denise fought a courageous battle with breast cancer but lost that battle on October 28, 2014. While those seven weeks from diagnosis to death were short-lived, we had some very good, quality conversations during that time. We had so much in common that it made it very easy to be her husband and companion. Denise loved sports. She played sports in high school. She was a field hockey goalie and in her senior year, her team won the District Championship, with her winning a Flick-Off, and then the team went to States. She played basketball, softball, and ran track, too. When our children, Lydia and James, were born and began to grow up, Denise was right there with them every step of the way, especially in their perspective sports and other extra-curricular activities. She was catcher for James and Lydia, who both pitched, and was right with them through it all. I also remember right after we got DirecTV, I received a call from Denise. She said, “You’re gonna be mad at me.” I asked why and she simply replied: “Because I bought the DirecTV MLB Package!” Now, seriously, how could a sport-loving husband ever be mad at a wife like this?

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Now, I still remember Denise’s birthday. I admit it’s a little sad for me though. I cannot give her a gift anymore or take her out for dinner or talk sports like we used to do all the time. I miss those times dearly. But I know this: Denise enjoyed life to its fullest and would want Lydia, James, and me to keep doing the same now. Last year for Father’s Day, James bought me a ticket to an Orioles game. That night was the first time I attended a baseball game since Denise was gone, nearly a year later. I couldn’t help but be a little emotional, but a smile came across my face during the seventh inning stretch, knowing Denise would’ve sung that song: “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

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Denise also supported me immensely as I began getting more serious in my sports photography. We would look through the best photos of each game and she was so encouraging to me! It helped that she knew the sports in-depth. In fact, there were times when I swore she knew the game better than some players and coaches! Her input and encouragement were a huge part of my early success. These photos in this blog post are in precious memory of Denise on her birthday. I miss her very much!

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Life is precious. Hold on closely to those dear to you! Take time to enjoy each other’s company and companionship. And of all things, remember their birthday!

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Game-Day Portraits

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I do not pretend to be a perfect portrait photographer. My brother, Dave Shank, is much more of an expert than I am in portrait work. Sure, I learned a lot, especially from my brother, and I can definitely hold my own in this specific style of photography. I am still learning about the nuances of portrait photography. It isn’t even that I don’t like portraits, it’s just that I prefer to shoot the action of sports.

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I notice, however, that even during an action-packed game, there are opportunities that arise to capture what I call Game-Day Portraits. These are closeup portraits, hopefully portraying the emotions of the athletes along the sidelines, near the bench, or standing stationary on the field.

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I am a sports photographer but even I recognize that there is more to shoot than just the action. Sometimes, a fan or athlete watching the game or celebrating makes for a perfect photograph! We just need to keep our eyes open and be willing to keep shooting after the action subsides. One thing I notice at some games is the interaction and conversations with fellow photographers. Now, don’t get me wrong, I talk as much or more than most. However, during a game, I try to keep this to a minimum. My job is not to just snap one or two photos and then say I captured the game. No, I much prefer to capture as many highlights of each game as possible. So, I do not have the luxury of engaging in long conversations during the game. This has to wait for another time, and believe me, I make up for it after a game and throughout the week. During a game, however, I will have my game-face on and pay attention to everything I can see in front of, beside, and even behind me. The more attention we pay to the moment, the more chance we have of capturing the moment!

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What Drives Us Sports Photographers?

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There are probably as many reasons for photographing sports as there are sports photographers. We have many good reasons for what we do. Just today I was thinking about my personal reasons why I shoot sports and drive myself to get better at capturing sports photographs.

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One of my reasons for being involved in sports photography is simple: I love sports! All my friends know that I follow sports. I played football and ran track in high school. Before that, I played Little League Baseball and Boys Club Football. Then in college, while taking the obligatory gym class we had to run the mile. I accomplished that run in a personal best: 5:20. This got noticed by the instructor who was the track coach. He encouraged me to run on the team, but after one week I realized how outclassed I was at the college level with my running. When I was no longer an athlete myself, I got into coaching. I coached baseball and football for nine years, starting with coaching my son’s team and then a few others, and finally the local Middle School team. I still miss coaching but I stay involved in sports now with my camera!

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Another reason I am a sports photographer is because I thoroughly enjoy the challenge of capturing the action on the field. I feel that my job is to capture the special sports moments in a game. The athletes work extremely hard to get ready to put their game on the field and compete against their opponent. My job is to capture the action of each exciting game. It is a challenge I enjoy with all my heart!

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Still, another reason I am a sports photographer, is to improve my skills to get better at what I do every week. I learn something new just about every game, but I need to utilize this learning and apply it to my photography. I accomplished some sports photos that make the viewer stop for a moment and compliment me on that particular shot. However, I never feel as though I am an accomplished sports photographer yet. I am getting more consistent and feel quite confident that I can capture special photos in each game I photograph. But I feel the need to push myself to get better and better. This challenge in itself consumes me at times. After all, I owe it to the athletes who give their all to their sport. Hence, the name of the my sports photography website: Perfect Game Photos.

The New Nikon D5 Just Rocks!

in State College on Friday, April 29, 2016.

Reina Furuya catches a line-drive against Michigan in State College on Friday, April 29, 2016.

I cannot say nearly enough about the new flagship Nikon D5 camera body. Words just cannot do it justice. The photos I am producing are clearly focused and capture the action I need in my sports photography. In fact, the new focusing system is clearly a standout. I am accustomed to using the 3D tracking mode when focusing on athletes. When I turned this feature on in my new D5 I was amazed at the difference from my D300 and D7100. It just rocks! I am getting more consistently focused images even while the subjects are moving at breakneck speeds. If the focusing upgrade was the only improvement this new camera offered, it alone would be worth it.

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Like with any new camera body, it takes a while to learn all the nuances and differences. However, moving from my older D300 and D7100 was a breeze in getting me shooting initially with the D5. It is comfortable in my hands and has all the common external buttons, dials, and features I need when shooting sports. It was a very smooth and easy transition so far for me. I am still reading through the manual to learn more about the new camera body but I can tell you this was the best purchase I made in a long, long time.

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The high ISO settings sound almost unbelievable. I still need to experiment more with these settings, but I am not seeing much, if any, noise in the settings I’ve been using so far. This was one of the reasons I decided to purchase this camera. I shoot sports most of the time and some wildlife, so lighting is difficult much of the time in my shooting conditions. Indoor field houses, high school gyms, and high school football stadiums are common places for me to shoot. Unfortunately, the lighting is usually not so good and I always seem to be pushing the envelope with the higher ISO settings in my D300 and D7100. The D7100 was definitely a big improvement that I noticed right away, but it still was not perfect, especially when shooting with my Nikon 200-400mm f/4 lens. Now, I cannot wait for the next indoor sports season to see how this D5 performs. Outdoor sports already were well under way when my D5 arrived, so it will be some time before I get to make these tests in-depth.

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My Next Step in the Wonderful World of Sports Photography

My journey through sports photography as been incredible. I started seriously about eight years ago with a goal of staying involved in sports. Previously, I was a coach. I coached pee wee football and Little League baseball, and then I also coached Middle School football. I love sports! I played football in high school and learned the love of sport from my dad many years ago. I stopped coaching primarily because I did not want to be that dad who could not let go of his own son. Besides, my son, James, already knew more about baseball than I did, so I knew he needed better coaches to help him advance when he was twelve. I still miss coaching to this day. However, I decided at that moment to pick up my camera and utilize my knowledge of the games to try and capture the games with my camera.

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I was fortunate to have great training in my college days at Temple University. I even did a sports photography project as my final for our obligatory photo class. I believe the images I captured saved my grade. However, I would not re-discover this love of shooting sports until much later. Now, with coaching behind me, I became an amateur sports photographer. I started with our local high school baseball team, photographing their games, providing a slideshow of my action shots at their banquet, and creating photo collages for their seniors each year. This was a great learning experience for me and the head coach was very supportive. One of my photographs drew the attention of our local newspaper and they ran the image the next day along with the image their staff photographer submitted from the game. This was my first big breakthrough. Then a few weeks later, the newspaper’s photographer who was assigned to the high school championship baseball game was involved in a car accident when someone hit her. She could not cover the game, so they asked me. Amazingly, the underdog upset the favored team and my image took up over half the front page of the sports section the next day! This was another very fortunate break-through and now my endeavors into sports photography began to take off.

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I began to cover many high school football games for the newspaper, which I enjoy immensely! Just standing by the sidelines or beyond the endzone takes me back to my high school days when I played football. There is just something mighty special about Friday nights! In my work with the newspaper, I was asked one season to cover several of the local Division II college football games. I was thrilled to do so and quickly realized how much faster these games are compared to what I covered before as a sports photographer. The day after each game, the paper ran an image or two and I kept slowly progressing.



The following year I received a call on my cell phone from the university’s Sports Information Director asking if I would be interested in photographing three of their football games as a freelance sports photographer. Interested? Wild horses could not keep me away from this exciting opportunity! Right after covering these three games, I was offered a contract by the university to work with them covering all their sports. Amazing!

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Most recently, I approached a Women’s Golf publication to see if they might be interested in any of my work. As I said previously, I love sports. We worked out an agreement and now some of my golf photos are seeing the light of day, too. I learned a whole lot over the years and I am still learning something new every day. So, what is the next step in the wonderful world of sports photography for me? Well, I know I need to keep improving and learn more about how to consistently capture stunning and breath-taking photographs during each game. I also know I need to learn much more about the sports photography industry. So, I decided to sign up for the Summit Sports Photography Workshop in Denver, Colorado. I heard about this workshop before but a recent connection with Dave Black helped me bite the bullet and sign up. I am very excited to be taking this next step and it seems like the next logical step for me. As an added bonus, I decided to visit Yellowstone for the first time in my life for a week-and-a-half after the workshop. I am blessed to be doing what I am doing in sports photography. I am staying involved in sports and having the time of my life! One of the unexpected benefits of all this is meeting so many wonderful and interesting people. I can honestly say that my life is much richer and more fulfilling through these connections. Editors, coaches, players, athletic directors, media personnel, fellow photographers and so many more have blessed me. I have no idea where the next opportunity or twist will take me in sports photography, but I cannot wait to find out!

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Play at the Plate

in State College on Saturday, April 30, 2016.

In softball and baseball, there is nothing as exciting as a play at the plate! A run is at stake and the defense will do whatever is necessary to stop that score. The catcher, of course, is the one in harm’s way!

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These images are of the most recent play at the plate I captured on Saturday, April 30th at Penn State University. Michigan was the visiting team and ranked #2 in the nation at the time. This play was the typical bang-bang kind of play that happened quickly. I was situated in the photo well beside the visiting team’s dugout down the third base side of the field. I was very aware of the situation and the locations of the base runners. I knew a play at the plate could happen but would it? Well, it did and I captured these photographs of the exciting action. You can see for yourself the result of the play by looking at the photos–especially the umpire in this last photo.

in State College on Saturday, April 30, 2016.

I have been fortunate to capture several of these exciting plays at the plate with my camera over the years. I recall one of Lafayette’s games against Navy in a baseball game. There were several others at Pleasant Valley and other local high school games in our area. But the one that I remember most fondly was one that happened with a Lehigh Valley Baseball Academy team. My son had just decided that year to make the switch to playing catcher. I was still not thrilled about his decision–after all, they don’t call the catcher’s equipment “tools of ignorance” for nothing! Well, I traveled to an LVBA game and watched my son behind the plate and in the very first inning there was a play at the plate. I knew I captured the play with my camera, but it was not until later when I saw the determined expression on his face that I knew I captured something special. I also realized then and there that James made the correct decision to be a catcher! There is nothing quite as exciting as a play at the plate. And if we sports photographers capture it correctly, quite a story it does tell!

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