You know those blooper shows on television where they play videos of people involved in funny accidents? It’s usually something like a dad trying to teach his young son or daughter how to swing a bat or throw a ball only to get hit in the groin when not paying attention. One of the reasons we feel okay about laughing at those mishaps is because we understand no one was seriously injured (or at least that’s what they tell us). When you’re photographing sports, the potential for serious injury is all too real and not the least bit funny. But don’t put that camera away just yet. I have a few suggestions for ways you can protect yourself and still get great shots.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Most sports photographers want to get as close to the action as possible. “If you can’t smell the sweat, then you won’t get the shot.” is a phrase I’ve heard a time or two. But depending on the sport, getting too close can put a photographer at risk. With that in mind, let’s look at a few ways you can minimize that risk:
In the end, there aren’t many places at any sporting event that can offer guaranteed protection, even as a spectator. Sports are fast moving and unpredictable. Stuff happens. That said, being aware of the risks and factoring them into your choice of setup locations can go a long way in keeping you safe.
The slideshow below outlines a potential location specific danger when photographing baseball games. Hover your mouse over the slideshow to access the controls at the top right.
HEAD ON A SWIVEL
Yes, I know. It sounds kinda obvious but it really is easier said than done. Photographers tend to be hyper focused on getting the perfect shot. In addition, looking through a camera viewfinder severely limits your peripheral vision. Of course, these issues make it all the more important to stay alert with all your senses. One of the best ways to protect yourself is to be aware of the sounds of the game. If the action is getting close, you should hear it. When a foul ball leaves a baseball field, you’ll typically hear, the crack of the bat and shouts of “heads up”. The crowd will often give you an indication of what’s going on in a game and whether or not it’s something you need to be aware of. Bottom line: don’t just depend on your eyes to alert you to potential danger.
Chimping is the practice of staring down at your camera’s LCD screen checking the shots you’ve taken. While it’s certainly tempting, pulling your focus away from your surroundings makes you extremely vulnerable to potential injury. If you can’t wait until after the game to review your photos, at least move to a safe place. Nuff said.
KNOW THE SPORT
We covered this topic a bit in our 3 Tips for beginners post as well but beyond just helping you get better shots, understanding the sport you’re shooting can help keep you safe too. It can help even more if you know a little about the specific teams and players you’ll be photographing. Specific examples include:
The more you know about a sport, the more you’ll be able to anticipate potentially risky situations and dangerous locations before they cause you any problems.
There are certain fan bases of professional sports teams that have well earned reputations as being over-the-top crazy in their extreme devotion to their beloved teams. With all due respect to those fans, they don’t have anything on sports parents. Trust me, you do NOT want to get on the wrong side of a sports mom protecting her precious cub. It won’t end well for anyone.
This simple fact is important to keep in mind when you position yourself near a group of fans from an opposing team. Your best bet is to stay completely focused on your photography. Being a fan while standing in the “enemy camp” isn’t necessarily dangerous but all it takes is one out-of-control parent/fan to take something the wrong way for things to go from calm to confrontational. I’ve personally seen situations escalate very quickly. When in doubt, just keep quiet, take some pictures, move on and leave the mama and papa bears alone.
In the end, staying safe while taking photos at a game is really not that much different than staying safe when walking to your car at night. It’s all about being aware of potential risks, how to minimize your vulnerabilities and staying alert. Make a habit of these practices and it will go a long way to keeping you safe to capture awesome photos.