In High School Sports, The Best Photos Don’t Always Make It To The Paper
In the world of professional sports photography you live & die by your ability to get the pivotal moment of a game captured in your frame. We all watch the games on TV but forget there are at least 6 video cameras at any given game now days, but most high school games only have one still photographer per publications. Sometimes I’m the only photographer at a game. So when that moment happens sometimes it’s just luck, but as I’m fond of saying “luck is all about how you position yourself.”
Towards the end of a close game like the basketball match I shot between Rich East and Crete-Monee, you have to pick a side to shoot from. Unlike football where one team clearly has the ball at the end, basketball can flip in an instant, which means for a game winning shot you might not be able to see the face of the shooter. So picking the right side can be pure luck, especially when your shooting both teams. Basketball, like most sports can have a game winning score happen some time before the final seconds, making the moment seem less climatic later as it was 30-60 seconds before, not including multiple timeouts. Game winning free throws are also never much of a highlight. All this doesn’t even get into when that moment is hampered by refs, players, coaches, or fans getting in-between you and the moment. Other times the action moves so fast you can’t get the right lens in time. So whether it’s “the catch”, “The goal”, “the celebration”, or the myriad of other terms and moments from tears of joy to tears from injury, you want that shot and your editors expect that shot, in-focus, perfectly framed, with peak action, or emotion… Except when they don’t.
As trendy as it is to slam journalists these days, prep-sports writers typically follow a few rules, and I’ve noticed through 25 years of submitting images to photo editors that these rules apply to photos as well.
- A loss is never blamed on a player and to an extent the coaches. (A player’s fumble didn’t cost their team the game, but the recovery helped the other team win.)
- Players don’t have bad games, as much as opposing players have good games.
With game coverage usually being geared towards both teams this is fairly easy to do. So even when I have a great shot of a player from the losing team, it’s perfectly logical that that photo won’t run. The image above of a Rich East player watching in disbelief as his last second shot misses and the opposing team corrals the rebound, getting the ball and the reaction in one shot is just pure gold in my mind, but I knew it would never run in the paper, or maybe even an online gallery.
The shot above is another story. It’s peak action of an amazing dunk from the winning team. It didn’t run either. Behind the scenes I think this shot may have been cut because not only was it from the first quarter, it featured a star player who had an entire feature article written about him run during the week, it also shows an opposing player getting “posterized” and remember, both teams are part of the local coverage area. Lastly, the writer was specifically looking for a photo of the team’s leading scorer. Which unfortunately if you remember me talking about “luck being about where you position yourself? Well, I hardly had any decent shots of him in the first half and given that I was shooting both teams, I was shooting from the home team’s side for the second half.
So here is the photo that ran in the paper and online. A shot of the star player taking a free throw. It’s a nice clean shot and one I get of every player coming to the line, because you never know when you’re going to need it. Now in no way am I second guessing the editors. This is just how it goes sometimes. A game ending reaction shot like the one above can be a rare thing, but I knew it wouldn’t run, which is why I’m showing it here.
Remember that part about “being in-focus”? Well this is the next frame of the first image and is slightly crisper, but the emotion in the first really works for me.
A few of the shots I had of #10 that didn’t make the cut.