I have a confession, folks. I’m usually pretty laid back but there are times when I’ve been known to get a little grumpy when taking pictures at sporting events. It doesn’t have anything to do with the actual photography, mind you. It’s just that there are a few recurring situations that can turn even the most chill person into a cross between Yosemite Sam and the Tasmanian Devil. (If you don’t know who they are, do a YouTube search youngsters. You’ll thank me.) Luckily, I’ve been doing this for a while and have learned a few tricks for dealing with these cringe-inducing situations. And just to prove I’m ever so delightful, I’m going to share my secrets with you, loyal reader. You’re welcome.
DON’T MIND ME
You’ve scouted out the perfect location to take photos at your kids game, have the perfect shot lined up and just as you’re getting ready to press the shutter button, some jagoff casually strolls right in front of you and ruins the shot. Ugh!! Seriously? You couldn’t have waited five seconds or simply walked behind me? This is, by far, the most common of annoyances when taking pictures at a youth sports event.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand that parents tend to get hyper focused on their kids game and may not always be aware of their surroundings. Which is why I typically set up to shoot as far away from spectators as possible. I don’t want to get in their way and I don’t want them in mine. And yet there are a handful of people who invariably seem to go out of their way to wander in front of my camera, usually at the exact wrong moment. Trust me, if looks could kill, I’d be in jail for multiple homicides.
THE FIX: The best advice I can give is to do exactly what you wish everyone would do: be aware of your surroundings. When you’re composing a shot in your viewfinder, take a quick peek at any people who may be nearby to get a sense if they may be moving about to move in your direction. If possible, do some advance scouting of the facility before the game begins. Be aware of potential traffic patterns such as pathways between the stands (bleachers) and popular areas such as restrooms and concessions stands so you can avoid setting up to shoot in those areas. More than anything, you just have to be mentally prepared for the possibility of missing a few shots as a result of inconsiderate people. It’s frustrating but probably unavoidable.
THE MAN IS KEEPING ME DOWN
Whether you’ve thought about it or not, all youth sporting events have multiple people with some level of authority over the event, game, players and/or spectators. Athletic directors, tournament directors, game officials and coaches are all people who may or may not have concerns about people taking pictures during a game. In general, concerns become more common as kids get older. If you’re shooting a game between 6-year olds, you could probably do anything you want short of standing on the field (and maybe even that in some cases). The main transition line seems to be when kids start playing on full-time travel teams. That’s when everything—and everyone—starts getting a little more serious including possible issues with photographers which is kind of annoying.
THE FIX: In general, it’s usually safest to figure out who the head honcho is (the person who can overrule everyone else when it comes to what he/she will allow photographers to do) and speak with them. In some cases, that person will advise you to speak with game officials and possibly coaches to ensure they don’t have any issues. Most of the time, they’ll simply give you some general guidelines for where you’re allowed to position yourself along with a general warning to not interfere with the game in any way. When in doubt, it’s always better to communicate in advance than be surprised by a grumpy control freak or restrictive policy during the game.
THE WORDS ARE STRONG WITH THIS ONE
Look, I’ll admit it. I’m not a people person. I can be social when necessary but only for a limited amount of time. I’m never rude but anyone who’s spent time around me will tell you I often don’t have much to say. Most people assume (correctly I might add) I prefer to be left alone. At least that’s how things normally work. But if you put a camera in my hand at a kids sporting event, it’s like I have “COME TALK TO ME” tattooed on my forehead.
Most of the time, it’s the parents of other kids on the team who seem intent on talking my leg off. Usually they want to express their opinion about the game, officials, players, coaches, etc. Other times, it’s people who have an interest in photography and want to ask questions about equipment or technique. Most are very friendly and polite which makes me seem like even more of an old grump for being annoyed. But the simple truth of the matter is that taking pictures during a game takes focus and concentration. At least it does for me. Maybe there are people out there who can multitask and hold a conversation while they shoot. If that’s you, feel free to skip over this part. For the rest of us, keep reading.
THE FIX: This one is tricky. You certainly don’t want to be rude but you also don’t want to be distracted either. It'd be super convenient if I could just do some kind of Obi Wan Jedi mind control trick but so far "the force" hasn't been much help. Nevertheless, I’ve found that keeping quiet while shooting will often send the message to the other person that I'm focused on the task at hand. If the person is especially persistent, I’ve sometimes had to resort to saying something out loud like “I think I’m going to try and get some shots from over there. I’ll bet that’d be a cool angle.” That way, you can walk away from the chatty person without seeming to be impolite. It’s a little silly but it usually works.
THE BOTTOM LINE
It’s entirely possible that I’m the only one who finds these things annoying. If you enjoy being around people and aren’t easily annoyed, you probably don’t have anything to worry about. But for all you fellow Grumpy McGrumpertons out there, stay alert, keep calm and take deep breaths.