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06/27/2006 11:24:17 AM · #1
Staff Photographer - Behind the Scenes

Or, can you tell the difference between
this 354142.jpg and this 354139.jpg?


How many times have you been to an event and thought, "man, I wish I could shoot here!" Doesn't it just grip your gut when you see somebody walking through the crowd, loaded with gear, getting to go wherever they want, and worse--getting to take photos that you want to take?!?

I'll have to admit, it's pretty cool, being that person. But, to be fair, you need to know the rest of the story.

For the most part, shooting the "event" is only 10-15% of the shooting that gets done. There is an absolute ton of shooting that goes on, and not all of it is that glamourous.

If the venue sells any advertising, ALL of it has to be documented photographically. There are two reasons: 1) to show the advertisers that the advertising was actually produced, and 2) to provide the marketing department with examples they can use to pitch future advertisers. This means someone has to go out and photograph every single sign, banner, flag, or whatever that has a logo on it. It doesn't matter if it is a trashcan liner or a 100-foot tall banner--it has to be documented. It's not enough to simply take a photo, either. You have to take photos from every angle, and you have to take photos with and without people. If it's something that can be used, you have to take photos of it being used (like a portable ATM machine).

If a company has a booth or table where they are giving something away, that needs to be photographed, as well. It needs to be shot from the front, each side, and from behind. It needs to be shot with people. It needs to be shot so that you can tell what is happening (or being signing up for something, getting handouts, whatever the activity is, it has to be documented).

The overall venue has to be photographed. Guest services have to be photographed. Security and security enforcement have to be photographed. Staff and personnel have to be photographed doing their jobs (NOT posing for snapshots!).

Again, some of the photography is for the marketing department to use in their collateral, and some of it is for the venue to use in their internal documentation. This is NOT an artistic endeavor. Yes, you can be creative, but, you have to keep your mind on the end use. You are not there to pop snapshots or to create gallery pieces--you are their to produce images that will be useful beyond your portfolio. This is not to say you won't be able to take shots of things you like, but that is secondary to getting the job done.

While the event is the buzz, the setup and run-up to the event are also documented. This is where you have the opportunity to stretch yourself, looking for candids and headshots of the performers and their supporting casts. This is the place to catch people at work, as well as the tools they work with. The real challenge here is being able to get your shots without getting in anyone else's way. Regardless of the venue, it is a working environment, and everyone has a job to do. The more you do get your job done without inconveniencing anyone else, the more likely others will be willing to help you out with your job.

The toughest challenge to this part of the job is producing usable shots. Consider these parameters. On one hand, you want full-frame shots, so that little has to be cropped out (you don't want to be tossing away image data). On the other, you need to allow some room for cropping in order to have some flexibility with how an image may be used. You want to try to have backgrounds that establish the venue (as opposed to having shots that are so generic that you can't tell where they were shot). You want don't want to photograph things that clash with the marketing mission; for example, if the venue promotes "family fun," you don't want photos with people drinking, smoking, or people dressed inappropriately (yes, this stuff makes for great art, but it will never show up on a brochure, catalogue, or poster). These shots are hard to get, but they are critical. They are not automatic, by any stretch, but, with practice, you can develop an eye for seeing the end result before you press the shutter.

As for the event itself, well, it is no different than any other aspects of venue photography. Yes, the venue needs images that document the event, but, more importantly, they need images that they can use to promote the event to future audiences and future advertisers! There is a huge difference between shooting with a photojournalistic mindset and shooting with a marketing mindset. For example, at a car race, the media will easily run a photo of a single car. On the other hand, the track doesn't care for anything that doesn't show racing excitement--and what's more boring than a single car? From the track's perspective, they don't want photos of anything less than two cars (and, even then, they want them shot TIGHT!). It's also critical to pay attention to your backgrounds. While you want your images to establish the location, you also have to be careful to avoid shots that show empty seats. More than anything, it's a matter of asking, "how is the shot I'm about to take going to be useful?" before you make the click.

As you can see, shooting as a staff photographer is a lot more involved than simply showing up to shoot an event. You show up early, you stay late. The deliverables are a lot more specific than simply wandering around like a tourist. The assignments will change from one minute to the next, and the stress can eat you alive. While there are some shots that seemingly could be taken by a monkey with a point-and-shoot, there are a lot of shots that are absolutely critical, and nailing them consitently only comes with lots and lots of practice.

So, the next time you go to a show or to a race or to an event, and you start to get those pangs of jealously when you see the staff photographer, just keep in mind, there's a lot more to the picture than what you see on the surface.

Here's my "art" from my last event...after reading this post, can you tell which images are useful to the track, and which ones went in the trash? Go back to the top--can you now tell the difference between those two shots?

Cheers,
Skip
06/27/2006 11:29:28 AM · #2
I am not sure, it might be me but the actual image ratios are different then viewing ratio on your site?
06/27/2006 11:32:27 AM · #3
Great summary of documentary photography, which (to me) combines the techniques of photojournalism and stock photography. It's not dissimilar from wedding photography either ...
06/27/2006 11:42:51 AM · #4
Skip, as always, freaking awesome man.

WHile it does sound like alot of work, and alot of fluff to do some of the cool stuff, I'm curious about something, and I think it lends well to the article. How many shots did you take that day, and of those shots, how many were stuff that while may be usable by the track,were those "I"m so jealous of him" shots that you had an absolute blast taking?
06/27/2006 11:48:34 AM · #5
Wow! As always, what an insight!

I'd already worked out that the photos commissioned by specific news media would be different to those that one might sell as stock or perhaps to companies producing memorabilia but I'd never even thought about the marketing stuff!

That paragraph about taking photos of every item featuring a sponsor logo or banner was really food for thought - that's a tough assignment with lots of legwork and little room for excitement or creativity.

Wow!
06/27/2006 12:52:55 PM · #6
thanks, ya'll!

Originally posted by kavey:

lots of legwork

thankfully, we there are golf carts. the staff get them for free, the non-staff are charged anywhere from $100-250 a day, depending on the venue.

Originally posted by kavey:

little room for excitement or creativity

lucky for me, i really do enjoy shooting just about everything. even the boring stuff. i like the challenge of getting the job done. the better job i do, the more opportunities i get.

Originally posted by eckoe:

How many shots did you take that day, and of those shots, how many were stuff that while may be usable by the track,were those "I"m so jealous of him" shots that you had an absolute blast taking?

i only shot about 3,500 frames over the 3 days the IRL was at the track. that's a little lighter than what i would normally shoot, but, then again, i was a little more focused on what i was doing. it's hard to break it down into percentages, though. a lot of what i shot was simply unusable, especially the racing shots. richmond is a 3/4 mile track (the shortest one on the IRL circuit), and those cars reach speeds in excess of 200 mph while turning 14 second laps. it takes a lot of practice and patience to shoot those tight as they're coming through the turn.

i would say the shots i enjoyed the most was being able to walk up to these cars with a 15mm and put it right over the driver's head or in the cockpit. the icing on the cake was having an "over-the-wall" flag that were distributed to only a handful of the photographers.

Originally posted by GeneralE:

documentary photography, which (to me) combines the techniques of photojournalism and stock photography. It's not dissimilar from wedding photography either ...

yes, all the disciplines come together in this type of work. and i think mastering all those disciplines makes a huge difference in the quality of the end product. while i believe my photojournalism experience gives me a leg up on some things, it also puts me at a disadvantage when i shoot a frame purely from a PJ perspective, without considering the marketing perspective.

Originally posted by focuspoint:

actual image ratios are different then viewing ratio on your site

no, that's not it ;-) it's not a "technical" difference.

more here 354144.jpg
06/27/2006 01:03:29 PM · #7
Thanks Skip.

I'm not sure I've said this before, but seeing the way you've just taken hold of something you wanted to do and ran with it, while obviously alot of work, seems to have paid off for you, and gives me and I'm sure others inspiration that it's sometimes just how hard you work for what you want, to make it happen.

"Over the wall" passes are hard to come by, nice work on using that pass as much as possible. The shot of Danica with her hands up is awesome, and the above shots really are spectacular. I've been a fan of racing anything with wheels since I was able to push a Hot Wheels car down a hallway. What you've done this past weekend, would have been mindblowing.

Thank you for continuing to share your experiences here.

06/27/2006 01:05:08 PM · #8
Yeah, but I know of lots of folks who'd be happy taking pictures of trashcans if it meant photography as a career.
06/27/2006 01:09:06 PM · #9
Skip, I'm glad your able to find joy in all assignments, even those some of us might not appreciate. Whilst I know there are many like yourself who will be able to find that same enjoyment regardless of the subject matter as long as they are able to make a career of photography, your posts on the realities are really useful for those of us who have rose-tinted perceptions about the job or simply just don't know much about it!

It may help a few people either realise that yes the job would suit them or no it wouldn't be for them at all.

It's also just hugely interesting for those of us who count ourselves amongst your friends to be able to follow your learning curve and share your experiences!
06/27/2006 01:26:46 PM · #10
Skip, awesome write-up & shots, as usual.

My family is going down to visit my brother next week, and we go to a little race track if we get there on time. My brother says it's "Run what you brung" night, where all the local rednecks race their own cars.

It'll be dark out, but maybe I'll get a shot to make you proud! ;-D

I remember going to that same track when I was little and coming home covered in some sort of sooty tire debris (stock car racing). I imaging your gear gets covered in this stuff?
06/27/2006 02:20:15 PM · #11
WOW!!! Great write-up and FANTASTIC shots... as usual!
06/27/2006 02:38:20 PM · #12
I was just wondering
what is your shot/keeper/excelent ratio ?

dmn nice pics ..
06/27/2006 02:54:17 PM · #13
Originally posted by ralphnev:

I was just wondering
what is your shot/keeper/excelent ratio ?

dmn nice pics ..

i shot about 3500 and still have about 2230. i liked about 50 enough to edit them. there are probably more that i like, but, they're probably somewhat redundant.

the head photographer "hopes" to keep 40% of what was shot. there were 7 of us shooting, and we probably captured 20,000 images over those 3 days (some shoot more than others).

NOTE yes, i absolutely love doing this!!! and, yes, i know that i'm lucky to live in a place that has this type of stuff. HOWEVER it's up to you as to how you approach what's available to you. it's your choice as to whether or not you want to make a big deal out of a little thing. if you approach small scale stuff with a big picture mindset, you can produce big results!

thanks again for all the buzz!
06/27/2006 02:59:19 PM · #14
Great job, Skip. Sounds like you really enjoyed yourself too. You da man!
06/27/2006 03:34:23 PM · #15
skip --

I've taken very heavily to motorsport photography in the last year or so, and have often envied the guys on the other side of the fence. To me, shooting for a venue isn't so much the holy grail as is shooting for one of the big motorsport agencies (Sutton, LAT, Getty, etc.)

Most of my shots are made at road courses, and as such, the most sought-after shots are often head-on single and multi-car shots. Almost universally in the magazines, the photos are cropped very tight and taken from spots that are inaccessible without a photo credential.

I just uploaded a huge batch of my shots from the weekend at the Formula One Grand Prix of Canada over at my website (link to gallery). The head-on and tail-on shots were virtually impossible, usually requiring either getting in the way (until security would tell me to move) or shooting through two layers of chain link with a 500mm lens (which, because I'm not independently wealthy, only opens to f/8).

While shooting, I had Mark Sutton (of Sutton Images) line up no more than thirty feet from me, and I couldn't help but wish that I could get that kind of access. Unfortunately, as someone for whom photography is a hobby and not a profession, I'm unlikely to ever be able to get on the other side of that fence.

It's great to read your stories and live vicariously through your experiences.

/Andrew

Message edited by author 2006-06-27 15:35:23.
06/27/2006 09:10:39 PM · #16
thanks for your comments, andrew. nice shots in your gallery, also!

don't count yourself out. while the heavy guns will always be out there, there is plenty of room for those who want it bad enough. i'd bet a third of the credentialed shooters are not full-time photogs. they are people like me who were able to prove to an editor that they are worth a risk. consider this:

sept '04. shot during cup practice, through the fence, while being hounded by security to move along. shot with my 300D.
111249.jpg

april '05. shot during cup practice as a test to show the editor of a smallish local weekly that i could get something in focus. shot with my 300D.
174142.jpg

may '05. shot at the spring cup race in richmond. shot with my 300D.
178195.jpg

sept '05. shot from pit road at the fall cup race in richmond. shot with my 20D.
231035.jpg

may '06. shot for the ap at the spring cup race in richmond. (not really that great of a shot, but it was unique enough...) shot with my 20D.
331459.jpg

the point is, it's not an overnight thing. but, if you keep at it and keep pushing yourself, and, most importantly, make your work known to people who can hire you, you just might break on through! the one thing i've found to be true about work is that most people are absolutely amazed when someone shows up when they're supposed to.

the real key is not to create imaginary, artificial barriers for yourself...

good luck to you, and to anyone else out there wanting to get inside the fence!
06/27/2006 09:16:47 PM · #17
do you have to get the names of the people you shoot?

I find that to be a pain in the butt.

06/27/2006 09:36:19 PM · #18
Originally posted by saintaugust:

do you have to get the names of the people you shoot?

I find that to be a pain in the butt.

when i'm shooting for the track, the answer is, thankfully, NO! the ticket stub spells out terms and conditions which include using any images for marketing and/or editorial usage. when i'm shooting for the media, they want names of identifiable individuals whenever possible. when i'm shooting straight freelance, it depends on the image as to whether i bother getting names.
06/27/2006 10:39:05 PM · #19
Originally posted by skiprow:

thanks for your comments, andrew. nice shots in your gallery, also!


Thanks! It's been a real adventure over the last year or so... my photos have steadily improved, and I've now had a few publications (including a few in an upcoming book from automotive journalist legend Mike Lamm).

I can't say that I'm particularly interested in making money at this (well, not beyond maybe paying for my equipment), but I'd love better access and more opportunities to see my work in print.

Originally posted by skiprow:


don't count yourself out. while the heavy guns will always be out there, there is plenty of room for those who want it bad enough. i'd bet a third of the credentialed shooters are not full-time photogs. they are people like me who were able to prove to an editor that they are worth a risk. consider this:


Point taken. I guess the next step for someone like me is to try and find an editor to take me in and take submissions. Any reccomendations on where to start?

Originally posted by skiprow:


sept '04. shot during cup practice, through the fence, while being hounded by security to move along. shot with my 300D.

april '05. shot during cup practice as a test to show the editor of a smallish local weekly that i could get something in focus. shot with my 300D.

may '05. shot at the spring cup race in richmond. shot with my 300D.

sept '05. shot from pit road at the fall cup race in richmond. shot with my 20D.

may '06. shot for the ap at the spring cup race in richmond. (not really that great of a shot, but it was unique enough...) shot with my 20D.


I just made the upgrade to the 20D, and it's made catching those tough shots a good bit easier, but I'm glad that I started with my 300D... got me used to working a little "outside the box." =)

Originally posted by skiprow:


good luck to you, and to anyone else out there wanting to get inside the fence!


Thanks! Same to you... I love reading your posts, and your rise to success in a photographic niche that I hold dear is inspiring. =)

/Andrew
06/27/2006 10:44:58 PM · #20
I've got two questions for you Skip:

3500 is a lot of shots in a weekend. What software do you use for the first viewing, when you initially go thru them and dump the unuseable ones?

Have you had your 1D Mk IIn long enough to get totally used to shooting with it? I love to hear your opinion on it's focusing capabilities compared to 20D, especially for action sports - AI Servo, bursts, etc.

Thanks for giving all of us wannabes a very interesting look at the inside, and the inspiration to keep working toward the our goals.
06/28/2006 06:14:57 AM · #21
Originally posted by coolhar:

I've got two questions for you Skip:

3500 is a lot of shots in a weekend. What software do you use for the first viewing, when you initially go thru them and dump the unuseable ones?


FWIW, I shoot about that many shots at a three-day motorsport event. My weapon of choice is Picasa 2... I do my initial scan for technically good photos (sharp, properly exposed, in focus, clean pan, etc). I then go back through the technical keepers and cull them... often in motorsports, I'll get the same car ten times in the same corner, and only one or two are interesting, so the rest get left behind.

Once I'm left with the final set of technically good, interesting keepers (usually about 5%, if I've been challenging myself appropriately), I go through the set and crop them in Picasa. I then export the batch and run them through a set of batch processing scripts in GIMP to prepare them for web upload.
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