Photography Challenges -
Shooting Large Sporting Events
ABOVE - It's what I like to call "Organized Chaos" - in large sporting events such as triathlons, the Olympics, or any "multi-venue" event, there are things that you should be aware of and plan for far in advance of the event.
Here is a quick reference guide to assist you in avoiding pitfalls and having a great shoot.
WHAT IS YOUR ROLE?Are you shooting the event as a professional or are you shooting as a spectator?
This is important to know because there are specific "rules" for both.
GENERAL RULES - Always be aware of your surroundings. You are there to document - not participate... you don't want to step off a curb and get hit by one of the cyclists - so ALWAYS be aware of where you are walking and pay attention - you shouldn't cross barriers or taped off areas. It's just not cool to put anyone participating in a sporting event in danger.
The other thing - and this one REALLY irritates me - your shot is NOT more important than the enjoyment of the event by those around you. Be polite and be aware that you may be blocking someone's view of the event in a not so polite way. Your job, amateur or pro - is to be invisible.
UNLESS OTHERWISE TOLD BY A QUALIFIED MEDIA OFFICIAL - The use of flash photography is not typically allowed. It can momentarily blind the athletes and it can be dangerous. If you are not sure find the MEDIA BOOTH - this is where the event coordinators check media crews in and provide them their identification.
SPECTATOR RULES - Know that you are there just like everyone else (who does or does not have a camera) and so you need to be aware that you shouldn't be disrespectful or rude - it's just not cool to ruin the experience for anyone. No photo is worth that.
You should also be aware that if you show up to an event with a crazy, tricked out, professional camera rig, you may get asked for your media credentials. Some sporting events do not allow "professional video or photography" unless you are registered and checked in. That means you may be told you have to leave or you at minimum put your fancy gear away.
PROFESSIONAL RULES - Always check WELL IN ADVANCE to see what if any credentials may be required. EVERY professional sporting event (this includes concerts and other events as well) will have a MEDIA BOOTH where media crews (news, film, video, photo) have to check in and they will be provided some sort of media pass - most of the time it is a special colored bracelet or badge. These items instantly identify who you are to the security working the event and depending they may open doors or limit where you can go and when. You want to check in and make sure you ask any questions you may have about access, etc... For instance, the Nautica Malibu Triathlon had one of the most pleasant, friendly media booth crews I've ever experienced. Pretty much as long as I didn't cross into any of the cycling or running lanes I was free to shoot the event as I chose.
When I shot "LA RISING" in 2011 - the return of "Rage Against The Machine" with a lineup that included "Muse"... 50,000 people piled into the LA Coliseum for a full afternoon and night of great music. Seeing that there were fights and a fatal stabbing the last time RATM played live, security for this event was crushing. And a mix up at the media booth almost made me late for shooting the show. Plus there were very specific places media crews could go and when.
The rules belong to the venue and the event and as a professional it's your job to ask and understand them.
Don't wait until an hour before you need to leave to make sure that your camera's batteries are charged, that your lenses are clean and packed... that you've got spare memory cards, business cards, sunblock, water, snacks (I usually take Power Bar Energy Chews and Cliff Bars)... that you know the directions to where the event is, etc... DON'T WAIT UNTIL THE LAST MINUTE FOR ANYTHING.
I have a check-list for each shoot and I make sure that the full day before a shoot the camera is cleaned, charged, and ready to go. I'll pack my camera bags the night before and I'll double check before I leave my office.
ARRIVE EARLY!Parking for these events is usually a nightmare. Here's a contrast for you -NAUTICA MALIBU TRIATHLON - Image Above - I had a "Sponsor VIP Parking Pass" given to me by the company that hired me for the shoot - they were one of the corporate sponsors of the event. This allowed me to park right next to the venue. Which was a great thing with all the gear I had with me. The parking lot was only open from 4:30am until 5:30am. If you were not in by that time, good luck finding anywhere to park that didn't include walking 1-5 miles to the event. In addition the event didn't start until 6:30am... and I had an hour drive to get there. So I was up at 2:30am and once I got there I was on my feet until nearly 1pm. The physicality of these events should not be taken lightly.LA RISING - Image Below - I gave myself an extra hour for parking during LA Rising - that was a huge underestimation. It took 2 hours to park. Thankfully I had planned on being at the show a full hour before it started. That hour was gone. Then the security guy sent me to the wrong booth - on the other side of the arena - for my media pass. It took that booth calling the other booth and I'm not complaining - a security guard came to pick me up in a golf-cart and drive me over. THE ONLY REASON this happened was I had been hired to be Ms. Lauryn Hill's personal photographer for the show - and trust me - you do not want to make that lady mad. I made it in and down to the media pit with 5 minutes to spare before she came on. She hit the stage - looked for me - saw me and smiled - and that was it. It was a great show. But I'm not going to lie I made it by the skin of my teeth.
NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE AMOUNT OF ENERGY YOU WILL NEED FOR THESE EVENTS -
Take energy bars, bring plenty of water, make sure you stay hydrated! Make sure you bring sunblock and depending you may need to wear layers of clothing. You may want to bring a large hat to protect your neck and face from the sun.
SUNBLOCK TIP - I personally hate putting sunblock on my face during a shoot. My face gets pressed up against my cameras and that means I get sunblock - often oily and/or greasy - all over my camera back. If I'm sweating it can run down into my eyes and that's a pain with the camera's eye cup. Take sunblock for your neck, arms, and legs. But bring a large sun hat - I use a military (desert hat) that a good friend gave me after serving in the first Gulf War with it. That hat has been to Kuiwat and Iraq and back and it's been my "lucky" hat for almost 20 years. Make sure you protect your skin and ALSO make sure you can protect your gear... keep your camera and lenses out of the sun as much as possible. Heat is bad for them and direct sunlight can damage them.
BELOW - Wearing my lucky hat - catching a break from the sun in one of the many booths set up for the Triathlon. All of the vendors were very kind and would tell you to come in and get out of the sun and rest in you needed. Many offered me fresh cold bottled water. Which was AMAZING! :D
AMATEUR OR PRO - BE POLITE TO OTHER MEDIA CREWS AND COMMUNICATE!!!
It's perfectly OK to ask, "Am I in your way?" And likewise I try to be polite, but spectators will often be totally oblivious to your presence and step right into your shot. The best way to handle it is wait and see if they are going to move or if they plan on staying a while. If after a minute they don't move, a gentle tap on their shoulder and an "Excuse me... sorry! But you've stopped in a bad place..." I usually point to my camera and tripod or whatever I'm using "Could you please step a little to the left or the right for me? Thanks!" And be upbeat and smile. I've never had anyone act rude or ugly at a sporting event. Concerts are a different matter. I've been spit at, had things thrown at me, it's a different type of crowd.
In ANY setting if you are there as a professional - it makes for a MUCH better time if you take the time to get to know some of the security. Get a name. Talk to a supervisor. That way you have a name to ask for if someone in the crowd is acting badly. Just remember that you ARE a professional and you are there representing someone - a company or an artist or an individual - and your actions reflect upon them.
In regards to other crews - sometimes you have to take turns sharing a good shooting location or you will be crowded together on a platform - get to know your neighbors and be polite. Trust me it will get you much further than being ugly. The biggest compliment I've received in these situations is when a camera crew will ask me if I'd get their photo for them. It's a professional courtesy and it means they respect you for what you do.
BELOW - A camera operator for HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel steps into my frame for about 5 minutes but honestly I liked him there... as a photo journalist I found his presence added to the story of the cyclists leaving the staging area and starting the course. It wasn't an obstruction but a plus in my book.
THESE EVENTS ARE NOT THE TIME TO TEST NEW EQUIPMENT -
If you are there as an amateur and you want to take the chance that none of your photos or video with turn out... OK. That's on you.
BUT AS A HIRED PROFESSIONAL - NEVER risk the chance that you'll have technical difficulties and end up with nothing for your client - who, BTW, is paying for you to be there.
There is a time and a place to test new gear - for challenging shoots you want to bring equipment that is tried and true and if there is an issue you can troubleshoot it quickly because you know this equipment like the back of your hand.
BELOW - I hate to use this guy as an example - but I watched him mess with his belt battery pack for 30 minutes trying to get it to work. If you don't have a backup - bring another option. He eventually asked me if I had any spare Canon batteries laying around - he was joking because he clearly saw I was all Nikon. He luckily had an assistant that did a run for him and nearly 2 hours later he was back up and running. But he'd missed most of the swimming and the first part of the cycling events. It was not a good day for him.
WHICH BRINGS ME TO THE LAST THING YOU NEED TO DO BEFORE ATTEMPTING TO SHOOT A LARGE OR COMPLEX EVENT...
Plan your shooting schedule ahead. Triathlons are tricky - they consist of three separate events and if you get out of time with their schedule you can miss the most important shots.
I knew I was shooting this event a month in advance (The Nautica Malibu Triathlon) - I checked the website regularly for updates and changes and I downloaded the schedule, course maps, and had a plan worked out.
The Plan - I'd start shooting the swimming from the main podium, walk to the swimming finish area and get there just in time for the first professional athletes to get out of the water and then into staging.
I'd get them starting on the cycling course, walk up to the street level and down past the main venue by 1/4 mile to shoot them coming back into the main venue on the road as they came down this nice hill and up another towards me.
Then I'd walk back down to the main venue area in time to catch them coming into the staging area as they finished the cycling stage and catch them as they started their runs.
From there I'd walk over to the finish line and catch the winners as they finished the race.
This triathlon is very intelligently designed so that the starting end ending points for the cycling and running stages were all close to one another. The athletes would cycle or run out and then loop back around at some point and return back to almost where they started. I'd capture them finishing the race and then I could fill the rest of my day with miscellaneous photos of the other age brackets as they competed.
The pro's make mince meat of these races and they move fast. The rest of the field can take hours to complete the courses. Then I could pick and choose my shots and be artsy if I wanted.
The entire time I was carrying 30lbs of camera equipment - a shoulder back, back and waist harness system and my main camera body and lens on a heavy monopod. I walked a total of 8 miles, burnt about 1500 calories carrying the extra weight in 85 degree weather, and sweat buckets.
IT WAS A FULL DAY OF WORK!
But the end results were worth it!!!!
BELOW - Some of my favorite shots from the 29th Annual Nautica Malibu Triathlon - shot September 20th, 2015.
I hope these tips are helpful and I invite you to subscribe to my different collections here - they cover a wide array of photography, video, and cinematography subjects!