Photographing competitive events

On August 20th I was one of the photographers hired to produce images from this year’s BC 2011 Strongest Man Competition held at McDonald Park in Kamloops.

The day was hot and sunny with a clear blue sky, conditions that made it uncomfortable for the weight lifters and difficult for the photographers. For the athletes I think the heat made the competition more challenging, and for me the sharp contrast between subject and background on such a bright day meant camera metering changed constantly. Selecting Auto program modes would have drastically reduced the number of keepers under those quickly changing conditions, and as it was I constantly altering my settings depending on whether the contestants were facing the sun or not. Sun and shadows on moving subjects can be a problem and photographers have to pay attention, otherwise they will end up with both over-exposed and under-exposed images of their subjects depending on the action. My technical advice in this case would be to select the Manual mode, staying away from Auto Program modes, and keep checking the camera’s histogram, and to be prepared to use a flash when needed. The Manual mode allows one to meter for what is important, for example, a participants face in shadow (or in the bright light just seconds later). Then the histogram can be quickly checked to make sure that the exposure is what the photographer wants.

I know organizers for these types of sporting events always give photographers wide latitude and leave what is to be photographed almost entirely up to the photographers. For newcomers this might bring an immediate response of relief with thoughts that all they need to do is wander around happily snapping candids as they please, however, that is far from the truth. Organizers usually don’t put into words what they want, and trust that their photographers know what to photograph and will deliver usable images, but some random candid photographs that do not tell a story are not what they want, otherwise a photographer wouldn’t be included in their budget.

I am sure that the images of most value to clients will be the ones that aren’t just a document of a guy lifting some heavy weight, and I try to find camera angles that tell a bit of a story, and, hopefully, can stand alone if needed in some future advertisement. My opinion is that photographers need to work hard on this project, to think about their subjects, and be creative as they search for the decisive moment when everything comes together.

In this kind of work it is more than wandering the park with a camera, and creating a photograph that is strong enough to stand on it’s own goes beyond just being a picture filled with nice colors, as it needs to provide the viewers with information that they can make into a story. I think a good photograph is one that makes us have a connection with, or to think about, the subject.

An event photographer’s first goal is to successfully document everything important that happens. The second is to compile enough images to be a narrative of the occasion, then third and lastly, and maybe most importantly, to create photographs that by themselves tell individual stories of those that attended or are the main focus of the function.

I was there the entire day and enjoyed photographing that competition and liked the opportunities to make many excellent photographs of the many participants that I am sure everyone involved will appreciate and be able to use. I came home tired and a little rosy from too much sun, but overall it was a most enjoyable way to spend a Saturday, and by the time the day was over my memory card was just about full.