5 Tips to Great Spring League Sports Photo Shoots

This month, sports league photography is beginning in our studio. As we move towards spring our league photography grows in volume. As many do this time of year, I look back at the key lessons I’ve learned over the years and make sure I learn from them. Here are 5 tips I’ve learned to make league sports a great experience for all.

For this article, I’m going to talk about one of our more successful assignments, a flag football league. We typically photograph this league outdoors. As in previous years, we schedule a rain date on another day. Now in the past, this rain date was also scheduled to photograph outdoors. This year I got smart (my wife is still in shock) and scheduled an indoor shoot in case it rained. O.K. I’ll be honest here, it was her idea. The plan is for the league rep and I to speak the evening before to finalize the decision on location. That way everyone involved has enough time to get the last-minute changes.

Staying Organized is Key to provide a great experience for everyone

After my studio and the league representatives agree on a schedule, the start time  is passed on to the athletes, parents, and coaches. For this event, I schedule 1 photographer to take all team photos and 2 photographers for the posed individual photos. For a league this size, this setup gives us the ability to schedule 2 teams every 10 minutes.

As parents and athletes approach our tents, their first stop is our check-in tent. This is where we take their prepay forms. We double check that team and division are properly marked on the athletes envelopes. For studio purposes, we have a 10×13 envelope for each team. These 10×13 envelopes are placed in alpha order to make the right envelope easier to locate. On the outside of it, we tape a form that has a barcode of each player, along with a few blanks. All prepay envelopes are put into the large 10×13 envelope. Then we mark in ‘red’ the packages and items ordered beside their names. The athletes are then brought within the flagged area while parents remain outside. Since we are able to get the rosters prior to picture day, we are able to have this all prepped ahead of time, making our job so much easier.

Stay on schedule

We photograph individuals first, then the team photo. The actual time of the team photo is when we walk the team to the camera to begin taking individual photos. This gives us some time for those who arrive late to make it before all the individuals are finished. Though it goes by fast, as athletes are being posed, our staff scans the barcoded names and packages. This saves us hours of post-shoot work on the back end. As a backup, our staff also keeps track ‘by numbering’ the order the athletes were photographed.

Professionals have good systems and good backups in place

We do not just photograph the buyers. We photograph everyone. We accept all forms of payment. We don’t discriminate. If it spends, I’ll take it. If those families who order online bring us a receipt, we let them keep it. We do not need them, nor do we mark it on their order. The reason is our e-commerce is integrated with our workflow software. When preparing the order for the lab, we pull a report of all online orders. This report matches the orders to the images in our software. But back to the photoshoot—after each individuals’ photos are complete, the team is walked to an area to take the team photo.

Consistent and flexible equipment is key

When photographing outdoors, the individual set up consists of posing athletes under a 10’x10’ pop up with a background—or we’ll use the existing environment as the background. If we are using the tents, I have sandbags to anchor them down. I’ve made tent weights with 3” PVC pipe.  They are pretty simple to make. Cap off both ends and add a threaded eyelet to one cap.  I fill the pvc with peat rock or small gravel for weight. I bungie them to the legs of the tent posts.  I love this DIY method and it’s very inexpensive.

We use White Lightning and Alien Bee light sources with Vagabond batteries.  In case we need extra power, I bring a quiet 3000 Watt  generator. I love this thing. I got from Harbor Freight for $700. I take it for week-long camping trips. To hold up the lights, we use either a larger light stand, or C stand, when needed for the larger light modifiers we often use. Each job is different because of wind conditions, weather, and so on. We have used raw lights with 7” reflectors, softboxes, and beauty dishes.  Beauty dishes are bulky to transport, but produce wonderful light when used under the tents.

Don’t stop learning how to improve

Recently, my wife and staff have traveled to conferences learning from what is going on in our industry.  Many of you, the studio owners and friends of H&H, have become my mentors… I had to stop for a moment. I was getting a bit emotional. My point is I’ve learned so much from many. Many want to learn by seeing what others have done. I’ve not photographed my setups as I should have. This will be a goal of mine from this point forward so I can share this info with you and do my part in helping others learn and improve.

This is an outdoor set up for our leagues.  It takes a bit of time to set up but the results are having a very controlled situation in a public area.  The power of the pennant is amazing.

Bruce Burns

This article was written by Bruce Burns. Bruce is the co-owner of Burns Photography. Burns Photography has been photographing area sports teams for over 20 years.

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