One of the more challenging aspects of youth sports picture days is the proper posing of team photos. You could have perfect exposure, focus, and composition but if the kids aren’t posed properly the products will still look unprofessional. Like anything, the more time you spend practicing the better you will be at it. The problem with that is that you don’t want to learn on the fly and immediately create a lot of unhappy customers in your community. With the popularity of social media these days, it isn’t uncommon for one of your photos to end up on Facebook which could do significant damage to your reputation before you know what hit you.
Consistency in high volume photography is vital. When photographing a league of 3,000 players things need to be consistent. It is extremely important to develop a set of tools that can be easily repeated. By creating a set of charts, diagrams and other tools you can help ensure consistency whether shooting one team or 100.
Small Team Sports
Examples of small team sports are baseball, basketball, flag football, and soccer, to name a few. A small team will have anywhere from 6 to 16 players. It will be extremely rare that you have a league with an equal amount of players on every team. In this example I will use baseball, which is our second most popular sport, behind tackle football. Baseball teams are going to average around 12 players when dealing with a standard recreational league. Travel Ball, sometimes referred to as “Select” leagues will typically have more players because they play all year and it’s a more elite level of play. When starting out, standard Little League, Pony Ball, or local Park and Recreation leagues will be your most typical customers.
I cannot stress enough the importance of using posing charts or diagrams for team photographs. Even if you are starting small and doing most of the shooting yourself, using charts will always help speed up the process. I have been doing this a long time now and when I go to shoots I still need to use the charts to make sure I’m posing properly. Also, using charts ensures consistency across the league. You will have siblings on different teams and you don’t want a parent to get two team photos that are posed completely differently. Many parents get Memory Mate plaques that include team and individual photos to hang on their wall at home. It is important that you have consistent photos to maintain a reputation as a professional.
In the sample image above, our chart tells us that for a team of 11 players we have the five shortest players in the front row seated cross legged. The middle row will have four kids on both knees up tall (not sitting on their feet). The top row will have the two tallest players standing. Now, let’s cover how we got them into this position.
Depending on your preference, you can have the same photographer take the team and individual photos or separate them into two camera stations. This really depends on what you like best. The benefit of splitting them up is that you can make sure your strongest photographer is shooting teams. However, this does add an extra layer of complexity in tracking the image numbers and it can add a little more time to the process. At my shoots, my photographers take both the individual and team photos. This is why we have assistants there to help the photographers pose the kids and keep things running smoothly. Also, if you have a good system and charts, all of your photographers should be comfortable posing teams. Either way, before you take the individual photos, ask the coach to get the players lined up by height, shortest in the front, tallest in the back. When posing tackle football teams you will put the tallest kids at the front of the line, but for small sports you start with the shorter kids. Count the number of players and use the team posing chart to see how many players will be in each row. You will always want your rows to be uneven with players filling in the gaps. Each photographer should have a rope in with their gear to make sure the kids line up straight. Follow these steps to properly pose the team.
- Place the rope in a straight line on the ground and have the first row of kids sit right behind the rope. Once they are seated and lined up straight, immediately remove the rope before you pose any more kids.
- Have the next four players get on their knees in the “gaps” between the kids in front of them. Ask them to make sure their feet are close together behind them.
- Have the standing players fill in the gaps between the kneeling players.
- Make sure to use a very brightly colored rope, preferably a thick one so you don’t forget to remove it before you take the photo. This will save a serious Photoshop headache later.
- For younger players, you should show them exactly how you want them to pose. For the middle row, get down on both knees and show them to sit up tall, not to sit on their feet.
- Point to exactly where you want them to stand or kneel. I go as far as putting my foot in the exact spot where I want them to show them exactly the right spot. This is especially important with young players.
One of the more difficult things about posing teams is understanding where to place coaches. It’s hard to know exactly how many coaches each team will have or if team parents will also want to be in the picture. Plus, with young teams, the coaches are going to be a lot taller than the kids and they may or may not have matching jerseys. I like to have coaches flanking the team whenever possible. In the sample above, we were able to place one of the coaches in the middle to fill in the gap left by having an odd number of players in the photo. Like all other aspects of high volume photography, it gets easier with practice.
After everyone is in place you want to look all around the outside of the team to check for distractions in the background. Once you see that you have a clean shot, you are ready to take the photo. Make sure to tell the players you are about to take the photo by saying something like, “1, 2, 3” to get them all looking at you. You want to take at least four photos of the team. This will give you a few choices when deciding on which one to produce. You will almost always have some shots with kids’ eyes closed or other distractions so taking a few extra pictures will save you a lot of hassle in the long run.
As you can see, there is a lot more to running a successful high volume photography business than just snapping off a few photos. Team photos can be one of the most difficult aspects of youth sports photography. However, if you use a solid system with the proper tools to ensure consistency, you will make your job a lot easier and you will have more fun doing it!
About the Author
Andy Stockglausner is a Marine Corps Veteran and he owns MVP Studios and The Marine Corps Gift Shop with his wife Michelle. MVP Studios provides youth sports, event and school photography services all over Southern California. MVP Studios provides high volume photography consulting packages starting at $1,000.