I spent last week in Southern California learning how to be a better photographer. I attended the Sports Shooter Academy 14.
First a little history. Fifteen plus years ago, several professional sports photographers got together and decided to put on a sports photography seminar called the Sports Shooter Academy. Famed USA Today sports photographer Robert Hanashiro set out on making this the best sports photography training seminar in the nation. He recruited many highly sought-after photographers to join him as instuctors for this hands on training.
Many seminars instruct and show you how do improve your craft. This one however, was to be hands-on.
With the help of a commitment from Nikon Professional Services to help sponsor the event, they began the seminars. Over the years, other sponsors have join in, including ThinkTank, the makers of camera bags and many other photography items, and Samy’s Camera.
The instructors at the Academy are a Who’s Who in photography. Many of the instructors have covered all or most of the Super Bowls, the World Series, many Olympic games, professional baseball, basketball, hockey and soccer, as well as covering and photographing sports stars and hollywood celebrities on a regular basis for publications like Sports Illustrated, ESPN and USA Today. One of the instructors had to leave early Sunday to go photograph Nicole Kidman, and another has a shoot Monday with Robert DeNiro.
The academy only accepts about 50 applicants who have submitted a portfolio of their work, an essay on why they want to attend and what they hope to achive by attending. If an applicant is in college and accepted, Nikon graciously sponsors their tuition. The rest of us are on our own for that, but the price is reasonable and well below what one would expect to pay for this kind of training from these professionals.
I arrived in Costa Mesa, Calif., on Tuesday evening and quickly met some of the attendees in the hotel lobby. We discussed the fact that the training did not start until 1 p.m. Wednesday, but we were all eager to start taking photos, so we set plans in motion to go to Huntington Beach at 5:30 a.m. Wednesday morning to photograph surfers.
The surfers flock to the beach in the early morning hours before work and school to take advantage of great waves. The weather was beautiful, the waves were great, and I was able to take some photos of the surfers young and old that morning. After a late-morning breakfast at Ruby’s out on the pier at Huntington Beach, we returned for some great training.
Wednesday afternoon was spent in the classroom. We had lectures and training from Seattle Seahawks photographer Rob Mar; Matt Brown, California Angels director of photography; and Nikon’s Ron Taniwaki. The evening was capped off with the keynote address by famed Sports Illustrated photographer Robert Beck, who has over 130 Sports Illustrated covers to his credit.
After midnight, it was time to get to the room to get a few hours of sleep before heading out to shoot sports in the morning.
The next three days consisted of several different tracks the students could choose from. There were various sports they could choose to shoot and also a portrait lighting seminar put on by photographer Joey Terill, who shoots for clients such as American Express, Coca-Cola, Disney, Golf Digest, Major League Baseball, Red Bull and Sports Illustrated.
The sports that we were scheduled to cover were a professional beach volleyball tournament at Huntington Beach, horse racing at Santa Anna Raceway, track and field at Cal State Fullerton and swimming and diving. I chose beach volleyball for Day 1.
Approximately 15 of us headed to the beach with cameras and lenses in tow. Nikon Professional Services brought hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of new high-end camera and gear for students to borrow and use during the training.
We shot thousands of shots, each trying to get the best shots we could, while the instructors were there to guide us with suggestions on things to look for, techniques for shooting and to answer any questions we might have. We then returned to the class room in the evening to begin quickly sorting through our many photographs and looking for our top photos.
Again, instructors were there to look over our photos, make suggestions on things we could do better, point out photos they thought “made the cut” and to give us general guidance on the work flow of sports photography.
We were then required to narrow our favorite photos to a maximum of three, caption them properly and submit them to the academy. One of the instructors, after reviewing my photos, made an exception and had me submit four.
After this late-night editing session, the night got longer as all of the attendees’ photographs were then reviewed on a projected screen for the instructors to discuss, critique and give their opinion. They also voted on each photo to keep it or not. This narrowed the photos down to their top 10 photos of the day.
Two of my photos were chosen to be in the top 10 of the day, and ultimately two of the top four were mine. To say I was humbled and honored would be an understatement. There were some tremendous photographs from many accomplished photographers from around the United States, Canada, France and Japan. One of my volleyball photos was ultimately chosen by the faculty as the Photo of the Day, and I was awarded a camera bag by one of the sponsors.
It was almost 2 a.m. before I got to bed and was back up at 7 a.m. on Day 2 to head out to shoot the Big West Conference Track and Field finals. There we practiced setting up remote cameras as well and looking for the best angles and equipment to cover the different events. It was a long day of shooting nine events between the men and women.
With three cameras, including a remote one, I shot almost 8,000 photos!! These were narrowed down to less than 100 “keepers.” After some software troubles caused by operator error, I was able to narrow my top picks down to three and get them submitted by the 11 p.m. deadline. The faculty again critiqued and voted on photos, and one of mine made it to the top 12 before being eliminated.
Day 3, while others were off to track and field, horse racing, and swimming and diving, I choose to stay at the hotel to take in Joey Terrill’s lighting seminar. We spent the morning hours learning about the use of flash and light to enhance photographs. After lectures and hands-on practice, we had a model come to the hotel in the afternoon for us to take turns lighting and photgraphing. This was the most educational day for me. I can’t stress how much I learned about working with light.
Sunday morning, we returned to the work room and worked on photos, reviewed the previous days photos and then had another business and ethics in photograpy lecture from Joey Terrill. Then it was time for the judges to vote on the three Photos of the Day and pick the top photo of the week.
There was intense discussion between the judges, who argued between my volleyball photograph and a track and field photo of a javelin thrower. The javelin photograph won on a split vote. I would have voted for it, too. It was a beautiful photograph.
After some goodbyes by the instuctors, and all of us attendees wishing each other well, the academy ended.
I can’t express enough how much I learned from this school. From better work flow with my photos during and after an event, to how to look for the right photos during an event. I made tons of great contacts within the sports photography industry and met many great people from all over the world.
I look forward to bringing back all this information to better serve my clients and fans in the Grand Forks area. Thank you to everyone for the encouragement and kind comments on my photos.