When you bring your camera to your son or daughter’s game, you’re probably hoping to capture a great action shot, right? Ideally, you’ll get the perfect image of them swinging a bat, racket or club, crushing whatever ball was unfortunate enough to get in their way. Or maybe you’ll get a photo of them crossing up a defender on their way to the game-winning score (while proudly thinking, “That’s my baby”).
Whatever photographic fantasies you may have, if you’re only planning to shoot the action on the field, you may be missing some great opportunities. Youth sports is more than just games, right? Kids make new friends and whole families bond over the shared challenges of supporting their mini-athletes. For players, they learn some great lessons including: how to be a good teammate, listen to coaches (sometimes) and winning/losing without showboating/melting down (hopefully).
All of these things are part of the total experience for players, their families, the coaches and the officials. Capturing as much of them as you can will add depth and richness to your photography collection and better reflect the whole story. At the very least, it’s worth trying every so often. Worse case, you decide it’s not for you and just go back to taking pics of junior cracking home runs. Sound good? Great! With that in mind, we have a few subject matter suggestions to get you started.
PRE-GAME WARM UPS
This is often the time when kids feel the most free and are their true selves. They’re all jazzed up with anticipation, usually goofing around, laughing and joking with their friends as they run through pre-game warm up routines. In my experience, this brief time period between everyone arriving and the start of the game is when kids tend to be the most relaxed. Which is why it can be a great time to take some emo-shots. What are “emo-shots”? It’s a term I came up with to describe photos that capture the joy, fun and enthusiasm of youth sports. Feel free to steal it if you like.
TIP: Emo-shots come in all kinds of flavors but they almost always hinge around facial expressions so it’s a good idea to get as close as you can without making the kids feel self-conscious which will likely ruin your chance to catch the them just being kids. A telephoto zoom lens can be especially helpful for this purpose.
The bench, dugout or sideline can be another great place to catch some great “emo-shots.” Players and coaches are heavily invested in the game which can often provide an opportunity to capture the joys, frustrations and excitement of youth sports.
TIP: Since most everyone else is focused on the game, you should be able to get a little closer without being intrusive. Keep in mind though, you don’t want to get so close that you’re in the way or distract the players or team in any way. In the end, it’s better to miss a great picture than disrupt the players or coaches.
COACHES, PLAYERS AND OFFICIALS
We’ve all heard the stories about parents, coaches and even officials flipping out at youth sporting events. Trust me, I’ve seen my fair share of crazy over the years. That said, there are just as many heart warming and positive interactions that happen during the game as well, especially with younger kids. For every knucklehead parent or coach, there are 25-30 mature adults who donate their time, experience and knowledge to helping kids learn and have fun. There’s nothing like getting a shot of a coach enthusiastically high-fiving a player after great play or giving them a pat on the back after a setback.
TIP: Keep an eye on how the coaches, players and officials interact with each other during a game. If they seem to have a good connection and communicate often, chances are pretty good you’ll have an opportunity to get a shot or two. It can be helpful to shoot from a low perspective, especially with little ones. If possible, look for an angle where you can minimize any visual distraction in the background and zoom in as close as possible to capture facial expressions.
FAMILY, FRIENDS AND FANS
Anyone who’s ever been involved in kids sports will tell you that the families of the athletes go through just as many emotions as the athletes themselves, if not more. So if you’re looking for some great emo-shots, you’ll won’t have to look much further than the groups of parents, family members and friends in the stands and bleachers at youth sporting events. As with just about everything involving sports photography, timing is everything.
TIP: The ideal opportunity for a crowd shot is when you can sense an exciting play is about to happen in the game. Focus on the crowd and be ready to capture their reaction to the big play. Unlike many other kinds of emo-shots, it’s often better to zoom out a bit so you can catch an entire group of people reacting all at once. Shooting from a side angle will provide also provide a more dramatic composition.
Post-game often provides some great photographic opportunities. Most sports have their own commonly accepted traditions for post game. With team sports—especially at younger ages—it’s common for teams to line up and congratulate each other on a game well played. For individual sports, players will often shake hands with each other and the official(s). Learning as much as you can about the post game rituals for the sport you’re photographing so you can anticipate where to position yourself to get the most interesting and dramatic shots.
TIP: Since the game is over, it’s likely okay to move onto the field or court so you can compose your shots from a better angle and get closer to the players and coaches as long as you don’t interfere or become a distraction.
Needless to say, these aren’t the only non-sport subjects you could can photograph. Take a look around and see what’s going on. Ask yourself which people and things make the experience memorable. Now figure out how to photograph them in a way that truly captures what those things contribute to the experience. Keep in mind, some of those things may stay consistent from game to game but there might also be new items you’ve never encountered before that suddenly become a huge part of the event. And finally, don’t worry if you shoot a few things that end up getting thrown out later. The main thing is to try and capture as much as possible. You can always delete unwanted photos but you can never go back and shoot an event once it’s over.