Etiquette for Sports Photographers

It seems like every other week sports photographers on social media are bashing one of their own for something they did that either caused them no miss a shot or ruin it for someone else. Even though sports photographers will preach about mental health constantly on social media, we’re the first ones to put someone on blast or tear them down for something they did. And to be honest it’s mostly the experienced people attacking the newer ones. Reality is that there are rules or etiquette for sports photographers. Some are obvious, others unwritten.

I think as sports photographers we like to complain about people not knowing the rules instead of trying to educate them on what to do or not do. Sometimes I feel like who am I to say something to this person about what to do. Below are some basic etiquette that I think go a long way to help others get acclimated to the changing landscape in sports photography.

Don’t Be Seen

There really isn’t a dress code in sports photography, but for the most part neutral colors work best. For me I like blacks and grays, but there are people who like to wear bright, neon clothes to work a game. I have heard numerous photographers complain about what people wear because in reality you’re going to stick out in photos. People are going to be drawn to your bright clothing and not to the player or the play that is the main focal point.

If you’re working a game and you’re not a team employee, wearing clothing representing one team while you’re there to cover both teams indiscriminately is a big no no. We’re hired to be impartial and be objective in what we capture. How would it look like if I’m on the baseline wearing a Lebron Lakers jersey while working for the Heat? I’m pretty sure that would be my last game working there and reality is that there are eyes everywhere in sports photography.

It’s almost like a casino, everyone is watching everyone. Robert DeNiro’s character, Sam Rothstein in the movie Casino, said it best “In Vegas, everybody’s gotta watch everybody else. Since the players are looking to beat the casino, the dealers are watching the players. The boxmen are watching the dealers. The floormen are watching the boxmen. The pit bosses are watching the floormen. The shift bosses are watching the pit bosses. The casino manager is watching the shift bosses. I’m watching the casino manager. And the eye in the sky is watching us all.” League and team officials are always watching; always.

Stay in Your Lane

On football fields there are yellow dotted lines and that there is where photographers have to stay behind during games. Every stadium and sport has their specific rules on where to shoot from and where not to. Stay behind them. If you don’t have access or permission to be in a tunnel or on the field, don’t try to get on there. Again there is always someone watching.

There was an incident during a Washington Team’s game where they scored a touchdown and the team photographer was there and I guess the player who scored saw them and started to point at them and another photographer crossed the lines and jumped in from of them to get the shot. Understandably the team photographer was quite livid and rightfully so. Things like this happen more often than not. If you’re not in position to get the shot, don’t try to make up for it by ruining it for someone else. I get it, no one likes to miss a shot, but it happens. Hell it happens more than we all would like.

It must of been my fourth or fifth game shooting for the NHL where I didn’t stay in my lane. There was a miscommunication where I was under the impression that if a photo hole was open I could shoot there. Well I found a hole with a perfect line of sight of the benches right behind the net and I was shooting there and I got a tap on my shoulder and was told I didn’t have permission to shoot there and I had to go back. Next game the team photographer let me have it and rightfully so. The team photographer was the person who assigns the photo holes for the game and I didn’t check with him before I went to that hole. It was not being used for a specific reason and had I asked I would have known.

Check Your Surroundings

Similar to Stay in Your Lane, always check your surroundings. Don’t be that photographer who gets into position only to block another photographer who was already there. Things can get crowded in the photo wells and on the sidelines, but that doesn’t mean you can block someone. I’m notorious for asking if the photographer next to if I’m blocking them at all. I’ve seen people block others and didn’t bother to ask if they were blocking etc. When that person left the photo well, the other photographers bitched and complained about them.

And just because you’re done shooting a play or player that doesn’t mean that the photographer behind you is done. Don’t just get up and go back because you could block someone from getting their shot. Same with a photographer standing and you’re kneeling in front of them. Don’t just jump up and run down the sideline. Check to make sure they’re done before you run off into the wild. And if someone is kneeling and you’re standing behind them, let them know you’re behind them. That way they won’t assume no one is there and they block your shot.

I was shooting a Miami Hurricanes game and Getty photographer, Mike Ehrmann, came up beside me and noticed that the way I was positioned I was blocking him partially. He could have been a dick about it, but he said if I positioned myself a certain way we both could get the shot. I was like absolutely and I moved myself into position where we could both get the shot.

Side note, I learned a lot about how to photograph football games by watching Mike Ehrmann work. The angles and positions he took to get the shots; I learned a lot from observing him.

To Cheer or Not

Another incident that went viral on Twitter this past season was where a photographer was clearly celebrating the touchdown of a certain team. I think this person was a college student working for the university, but I’m not totally sure. Either way people were yelling for him to have his credential pulled for the season and the topic of cheering was raised. Some thought it was fine to cheer and others were adamant against it.

For me, I’m against it. I’m there to be impartial and keep my feelings in check. If I was a fanboy wearing my Brady jersey every time he played the Dolphins, I’m sure the Dolphins and the NFL would have not been pleased. Did I internally cheer when they scored; absolutely, but on the outside; nothing. I was like an ex, cold and emotionless.

I think if you work for a team or program, it’s probably ok to cheer since you’re affiliated with that team. Everyone else I think should remain neutral. It’s my opinion and I would never tell anyone to stop cheering.

No Autographs Please

A big no no is asking players for autographs at any point before, during or after a game. We’re not there to be fans. There is a time and place, but not when you’re there getting paid to shoot the games. There really isn’t too much to explain here; just don’t do it. Same goes for selfies with players; don’t do it.

Don’t Bash the Work of Others

This should be self explanatory, but there are photographer who openly bash the work of lesser experienced photographers. From commenting on their lack of gear or portfolio, don’t be the asshole bashing someone else. We’re all in different stages of not only our lives, but in photography as well. Just because you have a 400 or 600mm lens doesn’t give you the right to be a dick to someone else.

We should be uplifting and encouraging others to be the best they can be. Trashing them to others doesn’t help. Sports is small world. Everyone knows someone else and it will get back to you.

In my first season working for MLB, a photographer came up to me and asked if I know so and so and I replied yes. He then proceeded to tell me that he pulled up my portfolio on his laptop in the photo well and was showing other photographers, making fun of my photos. Making fun of my lack of long lenses, basically being the quintessential asshole who thinks they’re better because their gear costs more. Did I care? Not one bit. That jerk didn’t sign my paycheck. The Office Major League Baseball did and as long as they felt I was doing a good job and wiling to pay me for it, then I was more than ok. I’m not one to care about what people say about me. It doesn’t phase me, but there are people who will take someone trashing them to heart. Again we stress mental health and there are people out there purposely trying to break others with their ignorance.

These are just some of the rules or etiquette that I think sports photographers should follow. Let me know in the comments if there is any other rules, written or unwritten that I should add.

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