Last fall marked my third time documenting the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon. It’s always a lot of action and emotion with plenty of great photos to take (if you know what you’re doing, that is).
My SEO plugin wants me to type a bunch of words. “F*ck off, plugin,” I say! I’m going to tell this story through photos. Just look at the images and feel like you’re there.
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If you have an event coming up and need a photographer to create meaningful images that serve multiple purposes: advertising, sponsor gifts, collateral or post-event gallery purchases, give email me and we can talk about your project in detail.
If you’re into the sports, check out some stories from both amateur and professional athletics.
The NBA season is about to get underway, so I thought it time to finally share this shoot from last season. The Indiana Pacers hired me to document the inaugural game for their partnership with Motorola. I was brought in to capture some pre-game shots in the locker room and game action photos that highlighted the new patch.
It was a fun challenge to highlight a 2.5″ patch within the context of game action. I used a Canon 1DX camera body and 400mm f/2.8 lens. This allowed me to get very close up with the shots I was taking and the patch stood out as a result.
I always like to see what other angles will yield. Getting higher up in the stands and shooting downwards with a super telephoto lens places the court as the background and really isolates the subject. I really like the scoreboard in the shot below as a visual element.
High & Low
The two images below show different angles on a similar play. The image on the left was taken in the stands, the right side from the floor.
I like the cleaner background on the right image, but I also like the perspective of being at eye-level on the left photo.
However, shooting from the stands runs the risk of interlopers getting in your frame. That blur on the left image is a cotton candy vendor who wandered into the frame with less-than-ideal timing.
My style of photography involves getting as close as I can. Typically that means I like to move physically close to the subject.
However, that’s obviously not possible with professional sports, so I enlisted the aid of a Canon 400mm f/2.8 lens. This beast weights about 8.5 pounds and the glass at the widest is about 6.5″ in diameter. Not something I want to use every day, but for getting super-close, sharp images with great background blur, it was perfect.
One of the perks of working for the Indiana Pacers and not a media outlet is the special access.
Getting close to the bench during a timeout allowed me to get some unique angles that aren’t afforded most photographers. Also, shooting some images in the locker room before the game was a unique experience.
Always on the Lookout
Even when I have a very specific task (like getting shots highlighting the sponsor patch), I make sure to get other good shots when I see them. These could have other uses for the client.
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We definitely have lots of sports stuff to peruse. Here are a few more posts…
In October I was commissioned to document the Indiana Pacers premium experiences. They want to give fans looking to purchase tickets a sense of the available spaces during a game. It was fun to get a first-hand view of all the awesome areas throughout Banker’s Life Fieldhouse.
In this post, I’ll talk about how I find good subjects, use available light, and layer images. These are three aspects I take into account in order to be able to tell a client’s story.
Finding Good Subjects
Another of the Indiana Pacers premium experiences are the Party Suites (above). This photo (and every photo from this shoot) was completely un-staged and un-rehearsed. These are real fans enjoying a Pacers game.
While shooting, I look for a combination of factors to be able to get this type of shot candidly. Good natural light and a location that give sense of place is typically where I start. Then I look for subjects who seem engaged. At a sporting event, this is usually people who are cheering, laughing and/or talking with friends.
In the above photo, select fans have the opportunity to line up as the players enter the court for high fives. For this image, I focus on one person to show their experience. I chose this kid for a couple reasons. One, his smaller size is a nice contrast to the larger players. Secondly, he seems to be in awe of the moment. Because of the low angle, the viewer can see things on the kid’s level, including how large the player’s hand is in comparison to his own. The other hands in the image provide depth of field and form a frame around the kid, drawing the viewers eye to him. Yes, these are all things I’m thinking in the moment I’m taking the photo.
Using Available Light
The Lightbound Cafe (above, left) is an Indiana Pacers premium experience that’s a courtside club: a full-scale bar with plenty of draft beers and pub food. For most shoots (including all photos in this post), I work only with available light. This serves two functions. First, it allows me to document a scene without disturbing the subjects. Secondly, it retains the atmosphere and ambiance of a location. The images better reflect what it’s actually like to be in the space.
The theater boxes in the Lexus Loft (below) are super spacious with all-inclusive gourmet food and drinks. My goal with the shot below is to use layering to show the space of the theater boxes themselves while placing them in the context of the arena as a whole. That way you can experience the view you have while seated in this space.
In my view, there are three different layers in this photo. For one layer, the focus is on the court, which is your focus when you sit in these seats. The second layer is the crowd as a whole. I shot wide here to show the full size of the arena and give a sense of the entire fieldhouse. The third layer is the theater box in the foreground. The wide perspective and my close proximity to the box highlight its size and space. As a result of these layers, a more complete story is told in one image.
Choose Your Own Indiana Pacers Premium Experiences
After checking out all the Indiana Pacers premium experiences, I’d have a hard time choosing one for me, personally. While courtside has amazing action, the food available in the suites and clubs is definitely a draw.
In 1948, Nat Fein shot this photo of Babe Ruth shortly before his death. Photographers were gathering together to get a shot of Ruth’s face, but Nat “got a feeling” and headed behind Ruth and captured this image, which was the first sports photograph to win a Pulitzer Prize.
I’ve been greatly influenced by this photograph in my career. I shoot many events where there’s a slew of photographers and I pride myself on getting shots no one else has. Because of this photo, whenever I see a group of photographers, I head another direction and I’m always pleased I did.
Recently a friend of mine, Bill Crawford of Harbor Pictures, noticed my particular approach had been documented peripherally in a print on display at the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame.
The following image is part of Keating’s Hoosier Hardwood project from the 2017 IHSAA Boys Basketball State Finals. You might notice a group of photographers on the left in the background. And then on the right, you’ll see me, lying on the floor by myself.
Finally, I’d like to note that Mr. Keating obviously deserves credit here too: in order to get that perspective he was shooting from a unique perspective as well. Not that he needs my stamp of approval! He’s had a long and distinguished career in photojournalism.
Share in the comments, when have you pushed the limits in your photography getting in a unique position that paid off? What about in other kinds of art or work?
Here’s some documentary photography of a youth baseball team from Carmel, Indiana. These photos are taking at Grand Park, a massive 400-acre sports complex in Westfield.
Baseball usually requires a really long lens to get any decent action, but with youth baseball, I can usually stand close enough to get some cool shots with my 70-200mm.
Another great thing about shooting baseball at the high school level and younger is that everyone is fine with me shooting in the dugout and on the field. Getting physically closer to the subjects and using a wide-angle lens really brings the viewer into the frame.
On the field these kids look like mini professional baseball players. But once they’re off, they’re just regular kids again. I like the image below for this reason.
To start this month, I documented the Monumental Mile in downtown Indianapolis. This was a fun community event with a straight-shot run along Meridian Street from 12th Street to the finish line at Monument Circle where participants and guests could partake in some local beer and food from sponsors like Quaff ON! Brewing and Chipotle.
Basketball in March. It’s crazy. Insanity. Lunacy. Delirium, even. There should be a term that applies specifically to this phenomenon. Any ideas?
With all of your basketball viewing options this time of year, IHSAA Boys Basketball State Finals is among the best. A few of these players will go on to the NCAA to have the bragging rights of millions of office workers riding on their backs as they play in that most famous of tournaments. But the majority will play competitively for the last time on this day. And you can tell by the way they leave it all on the floor that they don’t want to walk away with any regrets.
This year saw three of the four games decided by 3 points or less. Were you at any of the games this year? What was your favorite moment? For many, myself included, it was watching Oscar Robertson (12x NBA All-Star and captain of the 1955 Crispus Attucks championship team – first in the nation from an all-black school to win a state title), as he placed medals around the necks of the 2017 3A champs from his alma mater.
Tell us about your IHSAA Basketball State Finals memories from any year in the comments below.
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations, you are a true basketball fan! As a reward, there are even more photos, viewable in full screen mode, in a super-secret gallery on my website. Click this link!
Time for high school boys basketball playoffs in Indiana. Here are some photos from Carmel’s 53-36 win over Westfield last night to get you hooked. There will be more in the coming weeks from regionals and state finals, so follow our blog, Twitter and Instagram so you don’t miss anything.
When a game is packed with fans, there’s an energy that undeniably affects how the players play, especially when a close game gets down to the final minutes. Indiana High School Athletic Association State Finals always provide this type of electric atmosphere.
Seeing small-town schools play is another great component to these championships because, in some cases, you have to assume the entire community is present. Frequently these schools bring as many fans as the largest in the state.
Add to this an opportunity for kids to play in a first-rate NBA arena, thanks to sponsorship from the Indiana Pacers and Indiana Fever, and you’ve got something you know all the players, coaches and fans there will never forget. Stop and watch these athletes before and after the games as they take in the experience. It’s a cool moment to actually witness someone form a memory of a day they’ll certainly look back on as one of the best of their lives.
You know wrestling is a popular sport in Indiana when the Indiana High School Athletic Association State Finals are held at an NBA arena. This was something to behold. Watching, it was easy to forget that these are teenagers. A clash of two titans in the 285-lb weight class, evenly matched, brought the entire arena to its feet in riotous cheers. And that was for 3rd place. In another match, after suffering what appeared to the crowd to be a broken ankle, fans watched as an impending forfeit turned into a victory.
Visibly bruised and battered, these student athletes left it all on the mat. It is important to note the “student” part as well. As finalists were introduced, most, if not all, had a GPA near or above 4.0 and many seniors were heading off to Big Ten and Ivy League universities in the fall.
If you have a chance to check out any wrestling meets next season I highly recommend it. You don’t even need a working knowledge of the sport to appreciate the skill and toughness of the athletes.
When a client needs enough photos for a two-day shoot, but day 1 gets rained out completely, it means a 15-hour, sunrise to sunset shoot. Add to that carrying 20 pounds of gear over miles of trails, up and down hills and rocky terrain, and you have one hard-core day of shooting.
I was up for the challenge, and the resulting images shot for the Brown County CVB’s mountain biking guide were well received. In the “thank you” section of the guide the CVB’s agency and producer of the shoot, Three Sixty Group wrote…
“Thanks to our skilled photographer Zach Dobson (who managed to capture amazing shots of the trails and the mountain bikers while perching on precarious rocks, lying in the mud and risking poison ivy).”
In the end, there was no poison ivy. Just a bruised ego from a fall in the mud and a set of images I could truly feel proud of.
Usually when people ask me about getting better sports photos, the question is focused around what equipment to buy. For this post, I want to provide advice for parents, students and aspiring photographers on how to improve sports shooting.
1) Get close. The best thing you can do is physically move yourself as close to the action as you can. Don’t rely on the equipment to do that for you. A lot of my favorite shots are moments that happen before, after and in between action, and don’t require a long lens to capture.
2) Communicate. Plan ahead and ask coaches about shooting before game day. They’re happy to have other students and parents document the action. Let them know what you’re hoping to accomplish. If you’re upfront and low-maintenance, they’re usually very welcoming and help get you close to the action to get some great images of their team. I say usually because some coaches can be intimidating. If you’re nervous to approach a head coach, start with an assistant or the Athletic Director. The AD is there as a liaison between the community, school and athletic department, so communication and approachability are typically strong suits.
3) Be patient. The more people are used to seeing you around, the more you’ll start to blend into the background and find great candid images. There’s always a period of adjustment where people will mug for the camera, so don’t be worried if that happens a lot at first.
4) Go early/stay late. Before crowds arrive or after they leave can offer some interesting and unique moments that most people don’t get to see. Another benefit is that you can experiment with shooting angles you couldn’t during a game, like standing center court (I almost typed center quart).
5) Get back. Ok, so I said to get close, yes, but then get as far back as you can to find a different perspective. Show the arena/venue as a whole. Some gyms have a track around the upper half that provides a unique angle. Do something different.
6) DETAILS. Keep an eye out for interesting details. A piece of equipment, a message written on a shoe, eccentric clothing: Any small thing that catches your attention will probably make for an interesting photo.
I hope this post helps give some insight into how I work and gives some helpful advice as you pursue your hobby or potential career. I always welcome questions through this blog or email!
Oh, and one note: All of these photos were from this year so far, except that cheerleader shot. It was from 2015, but I hadn’t posted it yet and it’s my blog, so I’ll do what I want.
Getting out in atypical weather is always something I enjoy. Wednesday we had an unusually dense fog that lingered until nearly noon. In looking for an interesting place to shoot it, I ended up at Prairie View Golf Club. I was happy to find some golfers out in the fog, which made for some interesting images.
Whatever I’m shooting, my aim is to document all aspects I see, so viewers will have the most complete picture possible of people in a certain place and time. What people wear says something about their personality. Showing surroundings creates context for the subjects and expands the viewer’s experience. When I’m physically close to the subjects, the viewer feels closer to the subjects, both in a physical and emotional sense.
When shooting sports, it’s not simply about action. It’s about emotion and effort as well. Moments of defeat are as powerful as moments of triumph in showing a person’s level of passion and commitment. I feel that it’s important for both my subjects and viewers to know that photographing someone in a moment of pain or defeat isn’t about exploiting their emotions. It’s about honoring their dedication and pursuit of a greater self. I want a broader audience to increase their understanding of, and respect for, the subject and others who share their experiences.
These images from the IHSAA Track & Field Finals on June 6, 2015 are a good example of my pursuit.