Being a sports photographer

What there is to learn about sports from behind the lens.

On Tuesday night, May 4, Bison baseball played against Mayville State. The sun was setting behind the stadium, casting a shadow across the home plate. Throughout the game, I consistently switched my camera settings to take pictures in the shadow and outside the shadows. More than once, I messed up the settings and either got photos that were too dark or too bright. There was a net to stop the baseball from nailing fans, which I was able to shoot through. However, that meant I had to stay all the way zoomed in to avoid seeing the net in the picture. 

This is how I see sports. I see the lights, the motion, the colors, and all the ways I could get in the way. When I take pictures at football games, I am trying to watch the quarterback’s movements to see where the ball will end up. Also, I’m trying to not meet my demise by a player diving for a catch. For soccer, I am trying to position myself for where the action will take place, as I am certainly not going to be running up and down the field the whole game. I look at stats, who is succeeding, what player would make sense to include with an article. I desperately hope the jersey number is in the photo for quick identification. 

There was a progression to learning how to take good sports photos. Coming to NDSU as a freshman, I had the opportunity to take pictures at a volleyball game. From there, I covered soccer, the sport I love most, and then moved on to women’s basketball and softball the following spring. At this point, I have taken pictures of every major sport at NDSU (save golf). 

It’s hard to pay much attention to the players when the focus is on the image. Looking back at old pictures, I can see the growth of athletes as I have moved through college. Many pictures I took as a freshman were of fellow freshmen, who are now in their final season or have already finished. Sometimes it’s hard to keep track when there are so many players, but others stick out. I think of Jabril Cox, a redshirt freshman when I arrived at NDSU and now drafted to the Cowboys. Or Emily Dietz, as she progressed to be a leader of her basketball team. There’s a lot of athletes, fellow students, that looking back I can clearly see their growth as players and leaders.

I’ve also been able to see new players come in and fill the gaps left by graduates. Whether transfers or true freshman, there are many players who, over the years, have stepped up to the plate and continued previous years’ successes. Ali Hinze earned Freshman of the Year honors whilst dominating the Summit League for volleyball. For men’s basketball, Grant Nelson and Maleeck Harden-Hayes jumped right in as a first-year students.

Taking pictures of so many games, I also see how much work our athletes have to do. For volleyball, most weeks have two games, often with extensive travel. That’s not to count the practice and preparation on top of schoolwork. This is seen in every sport. I get to go in, take pictures and then leave, with only a bit of photo scrolling and editing to do. Sometimes I have only stayed for a half or a few minutes of a game. Our athletes have to prepare before the game, play it, then take time afterward as well. It’s easy as a fan to just see the game and not those who play it, but there are individuals, students, who put in the time to compete, and that should be seen.

While you may not learn much about sports from my difficulties with lighting, there is some insight that can be gained from behind the lens. It sees the emotion, the drive, and the behind-the-scenes work that is often missed when just watching the game. I’ll miss taking sports pictures, as I’m sure the senior athletes will miss all the more playing the sports. Here’s to next year’s paper, more sports, and new insights from whoever is behind the lens.

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