How did this happen?
I've been a big Real Salt Lake fan for years. Working for the fire department we work at every home game as Emergency Medical Services for the club. Although I love working the games as a Paramedic I've always wondered what it would be like to take photos at the games like I see the professional photographers do. I never thought I would ever be considered for the privilege of photographing the games so I never really looked into it. One day a photographer (Fatima) that has photographed the games for awhile commented on some of my photography on Instagram and I jokingly told her that one day I hope to be good enough to photograph Real Salt Lake like she does. She immediately sent me an application for media credentials as an independent photographer. I filled out the application, but didn't submit it right away. The deadline was coming up, but I didn't feel like I belonged amongst such great photographers on the field. I finally convinced myself to put in the application and let the organization decide if I would be accepted or not. The home opener against Seattle was drawing near and I hadn't heard anything so I figured they didn't accept my application. I signed up to work the game as a Paramedic. The next day I received an email saying that my application for photographer credentials was approved!
I figured this had to be a mistake. How could a photographer like me get my credentials accepted? I was definitely excited and extremely nervous. That same day I ordered a telephoto lens. It was a Sigma 150-600 F 5-6.3. Later that week I picked up my credentials and met some of the other photographers. They were all so kind and welcoming. They helped me understand the process of checking into the games, the rules I needed to follow, and more. I met Fatima for the first time and she was so excited for me and really helped me navigate my first season. She said to message her at my first game (vs Nashville) and she will show me around.
Game Day - RSL vs Nashville! Imposter syndrome was setting in hard and heavy on game day. I thought about not going to the game and making up an excuse to not photograph the games. I don't consider myself a very good photographer, but instead a lifelong student of the art. I had a Canon T7i, a very beginner camera, and a telephoto lens that I had just bought. I forced myself to go to the game and figured if my name wasn't on the parking list then I'd know it was definitely an error on the organizations part and I didn't really have credentials. To my surprise my name was on the list. My legs were shaking as I walked to the media window to get my vest. I remember thinking to myself, "this is stupid, act like you belong here and are excited." I got my vest and went through the security checkpoint. I walked down the tunnel to the field hoping that I was fooling everybody and didn't look nervous. I stopped at the field and got my camera and lenses all ready to go even though the game was still 2 hours away. I let Fatima know I was at the field and she commented about how early I was, LOL. She said she would be there soon. I didn't talk to many people, but I watched everything. Everybody was so busy. RSL staff, photographers, videographers, etc... were all in their element and rushing to do what they needed to do. It was so busy that I didn't get a chance to talk to many people other than a quick hello. I certainly didn't want to get in the way of them doing their job. When Fatima arrived she told me what she usually does at the games and where she likes to set up to take photos. She suggested I find a spot I like and set up there. I found a spot and set up my little chair. I took a ton of photos during team warm ups and once the game was ready to kick off I sat in my chair and got ready to LEARN about sports photography.
LESSONS LEARNED FROM MY FIRST GAME
- My camera was wrong for that environment. It shoots 6 frames per second. The photographer next to me was probably shooting something like 22 fps. I felt so stupid sitting next to him and every click of my camera sounded so loud and slow compared to his. I learned that with sports photography the difference in catching a shot at the perfect moment and missing it is related in part to the fps I am able to shoot at. The more photos I can take in one second the higher the chance that I will capture something good. After that game I bought a Canon R6 capable of higher fps and higher ISO. It also was the top of my price range. I really love shooting with the R6.
- Shutter speed is king. Somebody told me that to freeze action you need a minimum of 1/500 shutter speed and if possible go to 1/1000 or higher. I started at 1/1000 and by the end of the game I was at 1/500 because of lighting and ISO (another lesson below). Come to find out during editing 1/500 was too slow and I saw motion blur in many of my photos. 1/1000 seemed to be the lowest I wanted to go. I now set my shutter speed as high as I can while my camera maintains an ISO of around 5000 or less. Once my camera goes above that I start stepping my shutter speed down, but never go below 1/1000.
- ISO. Don't be afraid of higher ISO. Stadium lighting is really not that great. I thought that my F stop of 5-6.3 was going to be ok, but it turns out I was running at ISO of 10,000 at times. Luckily with the R6 this hasn't presented much of an issue. I have printed photos of 36" x 24" that have looked great. Because of this I now shoot with my ISO set to Auto and don't worry about what it is.
- Focal Points. A photographer told me that I should be using a single point small focal point. I tried it and many of my pictures were blurry. I just wasn't good enough with my camera and hand held shooting to get the shot I wanted with such a small focal point. I shoot now with a larger focal point and haven't had any issues. The point of this is to shoot with what works for you. I also shoot with tracking off. To many times my tracking would kick in and start following a player that I wasn't trying to focus on.
- Get out of your head. I felt out of place and felt like I didn't belong. Every game I told myself I was going to learn something new about my camera, settings, sports photography, etc... and I did. I looked at these games as a learning experience to improve my photography.
- Take advantage. Take advantage of opportunities that come your way even if you feel like you don't have the right equipment, skill, or knowledge. I know that next season is not guaranteed and wanted to make this season count so I learned all I could.
I learned so much more that just these few things and will post more about what some photos have taught me. I am very thankful to Fatima and the Real Salt Lake organization for the tremendous opportunity. I'm very much hoping to be back in 2023 photographing from the sidelines once again. If that happens you can bet that I will continue to learn and grow in my knowledge and skill.
This is the very first photo I took when I got into the stadium.
A picture I took during warm ups.
Learning about the new telephoto lens.
The photos aren't the best, but start somewhere and improve every day.