Monthly Archives: October 2011

Sports photojournalism: taking tips from 36-year veteran Bruce Bennett

Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin tries to get a shot off in mid air during an NHL hockey game against the Boston Bruins at Verizon Center on October 19, 2010. (Photo By Clyde Caplan)

With fierce action unraveling at breakneck speeds, shooting sports can be one of the most challenging areas for photojournalists to cover. It takes years of experience to get it right, so who better to talk to than 36-year National Hockey League photographer Bruce Bennett.

In photojournalism class our instructor warned us right off the bat the most difficult assignment will be shooting sports. Quality sports photos are somewhat rare, but when the timing is just right the image can burn into the viewer’s brain forever. It may be the shot of Bobby Orr flying through the air after scoring “The Goal” or Michael Jordan slam dunking from the foul line, almost every sports lover has a favorite photo. Capturing great sports moments in a single frame is all about timing, reacting and execution. It also takes serious commitment, as you will need at least entry-level professional gear and many hours of practice to hone your skill and instincts.

However, to launch yourself faster into the world of sports photography, it’s helpful to consult some experts in the field for advice. The Internet is full of great material such as photo.net’s extensive article that’s chalked full of technical advice and a unique list of tips for covering individual sports from soccer to volleyball. Also, I stumbled upon a great how-to video for amateurs with limited equipment that was just released earlier this month. But for a more personal approach, I interviewed Bruce Bennett, a sports photographer for more than 36 years covering thousands of NHL and international hockey games.

Tips from Bruce Bennett: one million sports photos and counting

Veteran NHL photographer Bruce Bennett braces for the shot during an NHL game in November, 2000. (Screen grab from YouTube)

With more than one million sports photos under his belt, veteran photographer Bruce Bennett knows what it takes to capture a good sports photo. Bennett began his career as a fan taking pictures of National Hockey League games from the stands at Madison Square Gardens in New York City. He sent some photos, which he describes as being “absolute garbage”, to the Hockey News in Montreal who in turn offered him $3 a shot. Bennett jumped on the offer, but more for the press pass and to gain shooting experience than the paltry pay.

Bennett says at first “I had no idea what I was shooting” and it took the first few years to learn how to consistently take captivating sports photos. In order to capture the fast pace action of sports such as an NHL hockey game, Bennett says it takes a combination of three things:

  • Experience
  • Anticipation
  • Instinct

For Bennett experience is key. He finds a cardinal mistake rookie photographers often make is the players are too small in the frame. Even with digital technology, making major crops to a photo also decreases the quality of the images.

Bennett suggests to gain more experience to relentlessly shoot as much as you can at first. “Don’t just sit around and hope someone’s going to call you to shoot something,” says Bennett who suggests scanning local newspapers for listings of college or high school sports games to shoot.

“I would shoot anything and everything that I could either sneak into or buy a ticket to.”

Photojournalists that are starting out can attend amateur sports games or look for skate parks to hone their sports photography skills.

To better anticipate the unfolding action at sports games, Bennett says it helps to know the sport you’re covering:

  • Research the rules and technical aspects of the game
  • Check beforehand the big personalities/ who stands out in the sport
  • Check to see if any players are on the verge of reaching a milestone or certain career goals
  • Know the players and their backgrounds on each team (this helps with writing cutlines)

Instinct also develops with experience and knowing the sport helps capturing the peak action, Bennett says. In order to tell the story of a game (in his case hockey) you should look for players who are hot and having great games such as goalies recording shutouts. You need celebration shots, dejection shots and moments of pure athleticism such as big hits. Bennett says wire services and photo agencies usually look for 20 good photos with these scenarios and it often takes shooting up to 600-700 photos to achieve these results.

Capturing peak action can require much practice. It took me more than 200 shots to get this photo which was used for The Voice, a newspaper produced by journalism students at Langara College in Vancouver.

A side note Bennett added that’s also important for people trying to brake into sports photojournalism is their business approach. Bennett is well established today and mainly works for Getty Images. He sold his company, Bruce Bennett Studios, to Getty in 2004. But before he reached success, Bennett says it was key to dress presentable and take a professional attitude to the arena. He says many of his fellow photographers “dressed like slobs”, but because he took this approach he made many connections with writers for magazines and other publications who would come to him and ask for photos.

For more information on Bruce Bennett’s career check out this interview with Swedish sports station Canal:

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Occupy Vancouver captured in photos

A protester encourages the crowd of thousands over a loud speaker attending Occupy Vancouver at the Vancouver Art Gallery to get ready for long protest on Oct. 15. (Photo by Jared Gnam)

As thousands of protesters gathered at the Vancouver Art Gallery to take part in the first day of Occupy Vancouver on Saturday, October 15, I made my rounds snapping photos and documenting the  unfolding demonstrations.

(To see the full gallery of 55 photos with captions click on any one of the photos OR scroll through the Flickr slideshow below for quick viewing)

Considering the ever-expanding global Occupy movement was instigated by an article published by the anti-consumerist magazine Adbusters based in Vancouver,  I had a feeling the turnout on the first day for Occupy Vancouver was going to be pretty good.

By the time I arrived around 1 p.m. the lawns of the Vancouver Art Gallery were already filled with thousands of protesters, tents, info booths and an impromptu stage equipped with a speaker system. I had to scramble to get my camera out and start shooting as hundreds of the protesters just began marching down Howe Street protesting a variety of topics from corporate greed to genetically modified foods.

Occupy Vancouver captured in photos

Three men dress up in suits and sport pig masks to protest corporate greed on the steps at the north end of the Vancouver Art Gallery during the Occupy Vancouver protests on Oct. 15. (Photo by Jared Gnam)

Action was unfolding all around, which makes it difficult to figure out what you should be focusing on. The experience I gained shooting the Vancouver hockey riots and several other marches helped in this situation as I remained calm and found my way to the front of the march where I could pick off the most interesting protesters with their signs and costumes.

I tried to capture the emotion of the protesters by looking for unusual facial expressions or dramatic gestures. Another photographer, Mark Feenstra took this concept up a notch with his series of portraits of those who took part in Occupy Vancouver.

Here is a list of other great photo galleries of Occupy Vancouver and other Occupy movements around the world:

A protester wearing a Guy Fawkes mask holds a sign claiming it's a "nice day for a revolution" during the first of two marches held as a part of the Occupy Vancouver protest on Oct. 15. (Photo by Jared Gnam)

A family of protesters hold up signs protesting the military industrial complex in a sea of bubbles on Georgia Street as they partake in Occupy Vancouver on Oct. 15.

A protester attending Occupy Vancouver holds up the Adbusters version of the American Flag at the Vancouver Art Gallery on Oct. 15.

A protester taking part in Occupy Vancouver holds two placards stating her desire to ban genetically modified foods while marching down Granville Street on Oct. 15.

A group of protesters attending Occupy Vancouver hold up various signs that display their dissatisfaction with the current banking and corporate system while marching through downtown Vancouver on Oct. 15.

Thousands of protesters with various messages, from anti-genetically modified food to anti-Wall Street, march down Granville Street to take part in Occupy Vancouver, a peaceful protest that is affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement on Saturday, October 15.

Vancouver Police officers move in to order an Occupy Vancouver protester to move as he blocks traffic during a march held on Oct. 15.

A protester attending Occupy Vancouver holds a sign that blends an internet meme (the Nyan cat) with the popular Occupy Wall Street slogan "we are the 99 per cent" while marching on Oct. 15.

A protester taking part in Occupy Vancouver stands in a camping tent at the Vancouver Art Gallery on Oct. 15. The tent is one of dozens set up for protesters to stay out overnight.

Vancouver, B.C. -- Thousands of protesters gathered at the Vancouver Art Gallery to take part in Occupy Vancouver, a peaceful protest that is a take on the Occupy Wall Street protests, on Saturday, October 15, 2011.

Photojournalism behind the scenes: do photojournalists manipulate the news?

An Italian photographer living in East Jerusalem examines whether photojournalists play an active role in the conflicts they cover in “an auto-critical photo essay”

In the past two weeks the above video Photojournalism Behind the Scenes has caused a bit of a stir among bloggers and professionals whether photojournalists manipulate the images they capture when documenting conflict scenarios such as riots, protests and war.

Photographer Ruben Salvadori, 22, started the project in an effort to quash the theory of the “invisible photographer”, as he argues the heavy presence of the media turns conflict events into a show and the photographer can then pick their spots and over dramatize the unfolding events, therefore becoming a participant. Salvadori became interested in the subject after moving to East Jerusalem where he witnessed the close interaction between rioters and photographers.

An example Ruben Salvadori uses in his photo essay to argue how much power photojournalists have in over dramatizing conflict events. (Screen grab from vimeo.com)

The media’s role in the Stanley Cup riot in Vancouver

Salvadori’s project reminded me of my experience shooting the Stanley Cup riot  with how many of the rioter’s behaviour changed in front of the the swarms of cameras around them, including those used by the various members of the media. At one point, as many of the rioters gathered to lay siege on two parked police cars, I ran into a former colleague of mine, Vancouver Sun reporter Mike Hager. We both looked at one another and questioned if we were any different than the other passive bystanders taking photos and whether we were just adding fuel to the many fires by doing so.

A woman poses in front of a burning pickup truck and various debris for the many cameras in the crowd, including cameras used by the media, during the Stanley Cup riots in Vancouver on June 15. (Photo by Jared Gnam)

In the days after when smoked cleared, I still debated whether I should’ve been downtown taking photos and what’s the overall role of the media in these violent situations. The Vancouver media even got flack from the police department for allegedly stirring the pot. But as PlanetNext points out with its in-depth analysis on Salvadori’s project, journalists risk their lives to cover conflict events around the world and people should be grateful for this. Without it we wouldn’t be aware of what’s going on in dangerous parts of the world.

Behind the scenes: Vancouver photojournalist Rich Lam’s take

For another point of view on this issue, my colleague Jesse Winter and I called Getty Images photographer Rich Lam who shot the infamous photo of a couple kissing during the Stanley Cup riots. The photo went viral and rumours popped up the photo was staged. But the allegations were debunked once the two lovebirds were identified and interviewed.

“Ultimately, it comes down to your intent,” Lam says about manipulating photos. “I can go into a room and shoot it with a super-wide lens, and make it look huge, when really… it’s tiny. There’s no space at all. That’s the power of photography. You can change the perspective, but it’s just a matter of ‘are you trying to be deceptive or not’?”

Lam goes on to say he thought Salvadori’s photo essay was “a little presumptuous” to conclude that the Palestinian protesters  get more violent only when the media arrives. Lam says Salvadori should’ve interviewed the protesters to make it clear whether the cameras are the true cause for their actions.

Vancouver-based photojournalist Rich Lam says the photo on the left is a fair depiction of a riot policeman standing ready for action. (Screen grab from vimeo.com)

It is important for journalists to be present at conflict events, Lam says, in order to have the story told and to avoid unprovoked attacks by authority figures. However, Lam adds the photojournalist should always remain a neutral observer and never try to spark action themselves.

Lam stresses one last important thing for photojournalists to remember: always write accurate cutlines. If an editor alters a photo in post-production, an accurate cutline will provide evidence that the photojournalist is not to blame.