My studio isn’t located in a large market area. However, there are more than forty photography studios listed in the Yellow Pages of our most recent phone book—and there are many part-timers who do not have ads in the business section of the phone book. With so many photographers competing for new clients, it can be really difficult to make a good profit if you limit yourself to photographing a single client group. At our studio, we photograph high school seniors, high school sports teams, school dances, underclassmen, weddings, family portraits, sports leagues and, occasionally, products.
Working with high-school yearbook advisors for over twenty-five years has given me a little insight into what they want. I have been very fortunate to work with wonderful yearbook advisors. Several years ago, my all-time favorite advisor, Carol Mazanetz from Newton Falls High School, took over a yearbook that was tens of thousands of dollars in debt. Today, the school has a beautiful, debt-free yearbook. I still remember the day back in 1994 when she called us to do the yearbook photography. I hope we have contributed to her success in some small way.
“Service” is the key word when dealing with yearbook advisors. They have one of the most difficult extracurricular activities in the school; every year, they must deal with the yearbook publisher, a new crop of students, the photographer, teachers, and school administration, and, to top it all off, must sell ads to help pay for the book! For them, it is a year-long process, with very little extra pay. The yearbook comes out at the end of the school year or in the fall, then the whole process begins again. Needless to say, with all of this pressure, the last thing they need is a photographer who delivers excuses instead of service.
Sports. Most yearbook advisors want the same thing for their yearbooks: good, clean, sharp images of all of the sports action. We provide yearbook sports photography to several schools, including all the game action from football, track, cross country, volleyball, boy’s and girl’s soccer, boy’s and girl’s basketball, softball, and baseball. Photographing sports action takes skill, a little bit of luck, and top-notch equipment.
To get excellent sports action pictures, you need the following equipment: a 35mm digital camera that can shoot at least four frames per second with autofocus, a 200–300mm lens with a f/2.8 setting regardless of what zoom level you are set on, a 28–105mm zoom (again with a constant f/2.8 lens opening), and a dedicated flash system. It is likely that the only time you will use your flash is when you are photographing night football games. Using a flash during volleyball and basketball is sometimes prohibited by the referees. Although I don’t find it necessary, some sports photographers like using a monopod rather than handholding the camera.
Most yearbook advisors want the same thing for their yearbooks: good, clean, sharp images of all of the sports action.
Even with a 1600 or 3200 ISO setting on your camera, the f/2.8 opening is imperative for indoor volleyball and night football photography. Fast shutter speeds of at least 1/250 second are needed to stop the action, so you have to gain the light you are losing to the shutter speed by using a large aperture. Sometimes you can stop action with a shutter speed of 1/125 second, but I have found that 1/250 second works every time. You will use the long, fast lens on all of your game action except basketball and volleyball. Although the long lens works okay for these two sports, a shorter zoom is preferable.
If you have not done a lot of game action work, it is going to take some practice to get good results. Your biggest problem will probably be staying focused on the player or players and not the background. With fastfocusing autofocus cameras, it is very easy to have a player run past your focus point when you fire the camera, giving you tack-sharp spectators and a blurry subject in the foreground. Like anything else, the more you do it, the better you get.
Something that yearbook advisor Carol Mazanetz taught me was to be sure to get all of the players—even the ones sitting on the bench most of the time. After you have gotten the game action shot with a lot of the main players, get the other players in a huddle or walking on or off the playing field/court—but be sure to get all the players, not just the superstars. Everyone likes to be in the yearbook, so photograph everyone and let the yearbook staff decide whom they are going to include.
Also, it is best to give the advisors the game action as you photograph it rather than waiting and giving it all to them at the end of the season. With digital photography, it is much easier and more cost effective to give the advisors a CD/DVD of photos from each game. You can quickly delete the poor images and supply only the very best action shots. And don’t wait until the end of a season to start covering games. Sometimes outdoor games will be cancelled due to bad weather, so you want to leave yourself a buffer of time. Waiting until the last minute is usually not a good plan for anything.