Guest Blog: Sports Photographer Rob Foldy

Editor’s note: Rob’s latest KelbyOne course, Everyday sports photography with your iPhone brings you closer to the action with your camera phone. This guest post from 2014 covers many photography basics which, in combination with lessons from his class, will lead to some amazing images!


Hello everyone, my name is Rob Foldy and I am a sports photographer. I’m extremely honored to have Brad and Scott ask me to write this post for all of you and I’m thrilled to share with you some of the things I’ve learned so far in my career and how I’ve been able to put them into action. practice. I like how Scott tends to break things down in his writing into “little chunks”, so I’ll try to do the same. Most of the things I’m going to share apply to sports photography, but I think most of these tips and tricks can be used in almost any type of photography.

I tend to be long and go off on a lot of tangents, so I’m trying to really control myself and focus on one topic for this post: make a photo different from other photographers.

This is important for all styles of photography, but especially true in sports where often many photographers are trying to take pictures of the same things. What will make your photos stand out? What will make a customer want yours over theirs? What will make yours the best?

I’ve read lots of books and articles, watched lots of videos, and talked to lots of photographers whose work I admire in an effort to improve my photos. Here are some tips that really stuck with me and things I try to remember every time I go out:


Get your camera in a different place

That’s the first piece of advice, in the first chapter, in the first book I read, Joe McNally’s When it clicks, when I decided to devote myself seriously to photography. Like Joe said, chances are the image you’re thinking of has already been made, so how do you make it different? One way is to get your camera elsewhere. This can mean having a perspective from above, lying on the ground, through a tree, with a remote camera, a longer lens, a shorter lens, etc. As I mentioned earlier, in most sporting events there are at least 5 photographers (if not 200) standing in one place trying to take a picture. How to create a different image? It’s often simple: go somewhere else.


Descend: the low angle shot

This one is from Peter Read Miller on sports photography. It’s so basic, but so few people do it: LAY DOWN. You might get dirty, so what? Go home, throw your clothes in the laundry and take a shower! Either way, you’re probably already smelling like working on the event. Now, this isn’t something you usually want for portraits, but getting a lower angle makes your subjects look taller and gives them a “larger than life” quality. Plus, it cleans up your backgrounds and makes your photos more vibrant than the photographer standing or kneeling next to you. (Note: A higher perspective will also make for very crisp backgrounds, and nice light can create interesting shadows. But be careful that your photos still look professional from these angles, as it’s very easy to make them start to look like fan shots of the bleachers).


Clean backgrounds

It’s again in almost every book, but that’s another thing people don’t seem to keep in mind when taking photos. Most of the time, cluttered backgrounds can be avoided; it just takes foresight. Beware of tents, advertisements, yard line markers, plastic TV microphone globe stuff, neon shirts wearing stadium attendants, or anything else that will distract from your shot. Also, don’t be afraid to frame your subject. An isolated frame of a gamer (or athlete, car, what have you) with a clean background is nice, but what about some context and ‘an environment ? And while you’re at it, keep those horizons straight. If you can’t get them straight in camera, at least fix them when cropping (unless you deliberately tilt your frame, and in that case: tilt my friend).


Where does your light come from?

Is your subject backlit? Before lit? Is it an unpleasant fluorescent light? Is it diffused sunlight? What about harsh midday light? Ooooo, what about the golden hour light peaking on the 3rd base side of an early spring baseball game? It gives me chills just thinking about it. Use whatever light you’re working with to your advantage (unless it’s fluorescent light, then strobe or, I dunno, fluorescent light sucks).


Get your “safe” photos before you start playing too much

If you work for a client, there are certain things that you typically need to hand over at each event. Typically, for most sports, it’s a combination of head coaches, top scorers, big games, and celebrations (nicknamed “jubo,” short for jubilation. A term I taught to Scott and he really likes. Another funny sports word I’ve shared with him is ‘react’.” This one is great for captioning, like in “John Smith reacts after punching and doing losing the big game to his team”, or “Jane Doe reacts after being called for a technical foul.”) Here, I will ramble; back to game safety shots. Get the shots you need before you start experimenting too much. This is one of the reasons I like to use remote cameras a lot. I set them up for the photos I know in advance I’d like to get, then get the “safe” photos with my portable cameras. If the remotes work and I get the shots I want, great. But if they don’t, I still got what I needed (or get there early and experiment before the game).


Work harder than anyone around you

This is the general advice that I want to leave you, it is this simple but very difficult advice. Arrive early and stay late. Run back and forth to the other end or to the track/field/field/whatever. Lie on the floor, climb the stairs to get a different perspective. Read books, watch videos (and join KelbyOne if you haven’t already. No matter what type of photographer you are or what level you are, the content on the site is phenomenal. I wish I had enough time to spend hours a week watching some of these instructors teach.) Good companies/customers will admire hard work and a desire to improve. (Good companies/customers, not all companies/customers). Take this job seriously. We are lucky. With digital media, modern camera metering technology, automatic modes, and autofocus lenses, it’s easier than ever to start becoming a photographer. But the line is drawn when people know how to compose a good photograph, use light correctly, and work hard at the craft.


Oh, one more thing…

Critique your work

I’m the biggest critic of my own work, but there are a few people who are passionately fighting for second place. If you want to improve, let the people you trust tear up your work. “It’s twisted. White balance is too green. Dirty background. His foot is cut off. It’s boring.” If you ask the right people, don’t take it personally, they’re just trying to make you better. And that will make you better. There’s a ton of photographers out there. If you want to stand out, it will be because you are the best, or at least work harder than everyone around you.


Thanks for your time, and I hope these things I learned can help some of you. I’ve tried to keep this short, sweet, and simple, but if you’d like to discuss any of this in more detail, please don’t hesitate to contact me through my website.

Cheers,
Rob


You can see more of Rob’s work on RobFoldyPhotography.com, check out his latest course Everyday sports photography with your iPhone and others on KelbyOne.com, and follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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