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Thread started 31 May 2010 (Monday) 12:32
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Taking Photos at Youth Sporting Events

 
Lennybird
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May 31, 2010 12:32 |  #1

Hey guys,

I recall a thread discussing what to look out for when wanting to shoot league or recreational sporting events (especially for youth). My nephew is currently five years old and is in soccer, and my sister was suggesting me to start shooting youth sporting events--because parents go crazy over their child's photos.

I recall the "red tape," and the cut the league wants, in addition to making sure you're not stepping on another photographer's turf. Can someone point me to this thread that I've searched for, or give me some new tips on where to start?

Thanks,
-Jake


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Old ­ Coot
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May 31, 2010 12:53 |  #2

I got started shooting youth baseball and softball. No one else was taking the photographs and I have students playing softball and a friend coaches one of the baseball teams, so getting in to take the pictures was the easy part. The parents loved the pictures, so I set up a smugmug account and they could purchase them online. I found out real quick that loving the pictures does not transfer into buying the pictures. Out of nearly 1,000 shots, I have sold about $20 worth of work. :( Good luck!


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eigga
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May 31, 2010 15:36 |  #3

My tip is dont shoot a game without a contract with the league or arrangement with the team BEFORE you go out. Showing up on spec and shooting does not pay ...maybe 10 years ago but not anymore.

Also dont be suprised if at least one parent from each team has comparable equipment to your...if not better

Making $$ in youth sports is a lot about marketing and even more about producing images they cant get close to producing.


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Lightworks ­ Imaging
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Nov 02, 2010 00:36 |  #4

Old Coot wrote in post #10276518 (external link)
I got started shooting youth baseball and softball. No one else was taking the photographs and I have students playing softball and a friend coaches one of the baseball teams, so getting in to take the pictures was the easy part. The parents loved the pictures, so I set up a smugmug account and they could purchase them online. I found out real quick that loving the pictures does not transfer into buying the pictures. Out of nearly 1,000 shots, I have sold about $20 worth of work. :( Good luck!


QFT. Spec is a bust. I shot a league this year. All in all, made about 300 bucks, before expenses. No profit here. Just a pain in the butt, the league wanting a KICKBACK? Yeah, I'll be sure to give you 5% of nothing. Seriously not worth the trouble shooting spec. 9 orders out of over 300 kids. The shots are great, but the parents are CHEAP. They are happy with a point and shoot from the stands. No more spec for me. I guess I'll stick to the company that I work for, and keep shooting T&I.


Just the humble musings of a beginner...
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photoguy6405
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Nov 02, 2010 00:57 |  #5

As a parent whose kids used to play sports, I can say that quite often it's the memories that are important... not so much the technical prowess of the photo itself.


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MJPhotos24
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Nov 02, 2010 01:20 |  #6

Damn, glad you guys told me spec was dead...though I guess I should return nearly 90% of my income this year that was made on spec, and defer the few grand I know that will come in by the end of the year telling people not to buy because the model doesn't work ;)

Just proving the exception to the rule folks! Stinking rich, no...surviving, yes. Making more than the local newspaper photographers, yes. Quit any non-photography jobs, yes. Growing each year, yes. All based off youth photography spec, hell no (about 25%).

For the most part spec is very difficult because like Matt said teams have a parent that has comparable gear to what amateurs are starting out with and getting the same or better results. They sure love looking at the photos, and even if it blows away what they can get free, they often don't buy. Of my events I'd say maybe at most 10-30% of parents buy. That's with having access they don't have, gear and the knowledge how to use it producing results they can not get.

The biggest problem with spec is simple, you just don't know. You can shoot a league all year and get a couple hundred dollars, or you can shoot one game and get a couple grand. I've been on the end of both spectrums, hell one shot about 8 games and made one $8 sale - guess what I didn't shoot much of this year? If you're looking for a guaranteed paycheck you think you'll make every game you won't find it in spec.

Second problem is figuring out what to shoot, the local youth league is probably not getting you much cash at all. I do a couple grand shooting the youth league portraits but when it comes to action the stuff sits there with the exception of a few loyal parents. Local high school league does very poorly, the one 45 mins down the road does better. Regular season games for a losing team do horrible, regular season games for a winning team do OK, playoffs and championships, all-stars, etc. do better. Even at the youth level it matters how the season is going, remember coaching 8th graders once and doing the photos, can't count how many times I heard "we're having a great season, I have to buy" or similar comments.

It's a hard market, most can't sustain it and most only do it as side income. Some do very well with it and others do not. If you're not producing quality that blows them away then your chances for failure are big, and remember they will ALWAYS tell you how great they are even if they are not very good. What matters is the numbers, you cut the bad and put in the good, you take chances and see how events go. Parents can easily tell someone there just shooting for the heck of it and doesn't know much of what they're doing and someone who does, that matters.

As for other questions...

Permission - yes you need to talk to the league coordinator to get the OK to shoot, spec shooting may be defined as showing up and shooting hoping to sell with no guaranteed paycheck but you still need permission. Even going to shoot photos of my cousin in a championship game this year I tracked down the commish before unpacking anything asking if it was OK to shoot images of my own cousin. Don't ever just show up and be the creepy guy with a camera.

Kick backs - whoever started this should be slapped. The local league asked about it and I told them no problem, but I'll have to raise the prices and it's the parents who are actually paying it. Soon as they realized I have a cost of doing business and the only way to get a kickback was to raise prices on the parents they said never mind. Now some leagues don't care, it's a fundraiser for them, whatever. Photographers now use it as an incentive to get jobs, you just have to price accordingly like most new photographers do not. Look around at peoples sites off here and you'll see prices all over the place that were not researched at all or have no backing at all. These are the people that are selling 4x6's at $2 and 8x10's at $15..the ones that make no sense.

Other photographers - if one has the league you don't go shoot, it's that simple. You want to shoot that league you get the contract! Stepping on toes does nothing positive for you and you can find yourself in the middle of a lot of problems, even if you're better than the hired photographer it's NEVER the way to go about it.


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Peacefield
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Nov 02, 2010 07:23 |  #7

As usual, I tend to buck the trend and have a long and proud history of throwing caution to the wind. I show up unannounced and shoot all the time without any permission at all and have never been challenged; not once. And that includes local high school football where I actually go out and walk the sidelines.

I don't make any REAL money at this, but I also go out first and foremost for the fun of it. I'll never have the kind of access at a profootball game that I enjoy at the local high schools. It's fun every now and then to go out, call the play, put myself into position, and get the shot. I shoot for me; for the fun of it. People will inevitably come up to me and ask where they can see my photos and I have cards to pass out. Digital downloads are only $5. I don't make it any bigger or more complicated than that (again, I'm out there for my own pleasure and the $'s are merely a bonus).

Admittedly, I shoot just 3-4 games a year and will make only about a hundred dollars each. There's certainly no living to be made here, but if you're like me and going out for the fun of shooting anyway, it's a nice little payoff.


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amfoto1
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Nov 03, 2010 16:02 |  #8

Spec is not dead.... Marketing is more important than ever and some people have very limited budget or less willingness to spend on pure luxury purchases these days. So you have to be creative with products, too. Try "magazine covers"... I.e put the kid's mug on the cover of a faux "Sports Illustrated"... Hey, who can pass up on that?

Plus more and more Moms and Dads think of themselves as photographers, at the same time the price of an entry level DSLR has come way, way down, yet can do a pretty decent job. To compete with that you need exceptional access (with the blessings of the organizers), the right equipment and skills using it.Anyone who just shows up and shoots will sooner or later be challenged... particularly at kids events and anything on school grounds. That is as it should be... organizers have a higher requirement to exercise caution when kids are involved.

Besides, it's just plain common courtesy to ask permission to shoot.

And the organizers' support is key to much of the marketing that's necessary.

I have never paid and refuse to pay "kick backs". You'll never get rich doing this type of shooting, forget "sharing" whatever minimal profits you might make. Anyone who asks me for a percentage simply gets quoted my $1600 day rate, 50% due in advance to book the date, the remainder due the day of the shoot.... Which I nearly always wave entirely for folks who don't ask for a kick back.

There is a "multiplier effect" shooting spec... If you can line up with a school to do their T&I, and shoot their games, and their playoffs and championships, and you do that year after year, you become "the" photographer most will go to for a commemorative print or two at the end of each season. Each year you have more established relationships with the participants and their families... Just keep in mind that kids grow up and move on every few years... Who do you have to deal with year after year? The organizers. Hey, another reason to introduce yourself and make friends!


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scorpio_e
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Nov 03, 2010 16:40 |  #9

amfoto1 wrote in post #11219145 (external link)
Spec is not dead.... Marketing is more important than ever and some people have very limited budget or less willingness to spend on pure luxury purchases these days. So you have to be creative with products, too. Try "magazine covers"... I.e put the kid's mug on the cover of a faux "Sports Illustrated"... Hey, who can pass up on that?

!

You nailed this one.You have to offer a different product than the parents can produce:)


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TheBrick3
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Nov 04, 2010 19:31 as a reply to  @ scorpio_e's post |  #10

I've have been thinking of taking pictures of high school sports in the hopes to be hired to do their senior portraits. Do you think this would work?

I'm not sure if charging for the pictures is good or not. It's not really important here, the main goal is to get the senior portraits. It would just go into how much I invest in sports lenses/cameras and revenue is always nice. But, I want to avoid any redtape over shooting kids and I am personally opposed to taking a picture of someone without being asked to and then trying to sell it to them. Also, there's a fair number of parents with DSLRs and long lenses.

I shot basketball last year to learn (with a 20D and 75-300 f/4-5.6) and somehow managed to get (and still do get) a lot of flickr hits as I tagged my stuff and people searched for it. So I think the idea has merit, especially with a more strategic approach to get the right games this year rather than just whatever was close and convenient.

I am a little worried that people will be less inclined to get senior portraits if I am giving away stuff for free on flickr. But it's a very affluent area, so they probably get them regardless. I am also worried that a watermark won't bring people back to my website. I don't have any other ideas on how to gain exposure, however. I have a reporter's background so I think a sports blog might help with that and be fun for me.

What does everyone think?


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amfoto1
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Nov 04, 2010 20:26 |  #11

If you give away your work for free now, your "customers" will learn to expect that all the time. Your work has value, your time is worth something, you will be putting heavy wear and tear on your camera equipment, and you will have ongoing costs associated with the work. Give it away free now, and I can almost guarantee you will be out of business in a year, unless you have a day job or big inheritance that funds continuing to give it away.

Will it leverage you into doing senior portraits? No, it won't. That's quite a different type of photography, for one. And, most schools have contracts already, there are a few big, national companies that specialize and hire local talent to do the shoots per their formulas.

If you can show good work on both sides, and have reasonable pricing and great customer service, you might be able to convince a school to award you both the sports and the senior portraits contracts. First find out who they have in place now. Then find out how much they are charging. This info is usually public record at any public school. Might not be at a private school.

The nature of shooting both sports T&I and senior portraits is that these are pretty much mandatory, so a highly guaranteed customer base. Shooting games is different. It's spec. If you wait for someone to ask you to shoot, you will never shoot. You need to ask for permission to shoot commercially, but once you have that shoot a lot, shoot everyone, and post the stuff online, continuously marketing yourself to encourage sales. Don't expect a stampede of sales initially. It takes time and continued marketing effort. And it builds over time as people learn who to look to for photos.

Flickr is not a good place to try to market your stuff. You need a vendor that's more geared toward the commercial work. A lot of folks like SmugMug. There are others that are similar or even more sophisticated. I know some folks who have set up their own websites and self-fulfill orders... I think they are nuts. That's so 20th century!


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Joe300
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Nov 04, 2010 20:52 |  #12

Hello,
+1 to amfoto1 he is right on the mark..
If I am doing the T&I part of sports then I will go out and shoot on spec for the action games. the post to my web site for parents to purchase..
Now if I am not doing the T&I for a team I will charge a fee to come out and shoot then post action of the game on my web site..
last week I went dow to a local University game on spec.... the AD loved the shots and wants to use them on the school web site and program books at the games.. Priceless.
I only tell perants that I have to charge so that I can buy better equipment so that I can get better action shoots of the kids... lol
the parents will know you are out there working hard for a dollar and will buy prints sooner or later.
Thanks,
Joe


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eigga
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Nov 04, 2010 21:56 |  #13

You nailed this one.You have to offer a different product than the parents can produce

Any parent can produce a magazine cover or picture mug. Have you been to Walgreens or Wal mart lately? Spec is NOT what it was. I dont think the time to pay ratio is worth it for youth sports.... as Mike said is "you just dont know" If your good you figure it out as Mike has...but few do that and leads to failure

I prefer to get teams to pay ahead of time and that is where I spend my marketing time. 3-5 game each Sat at $350 a pop is my happy spot.

Now for youth performances and low light events spec works GREAT... I feel it is becuase parent cant get anything usueful in those settings. JMHO


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TheBrick3
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Nov 04, 2010 22:19 |  #14

amfoto1 wrote in post #11226755 (external link)
If you give away your work for free now, your "customers" will learn to expect that all the time. Your work has value, your time is worth something, you will be putting heavy wear and tear on your camera equipment, and you will have ongoing costs associated with the work. Give it away free now, and I can almost guarantee you will be out of business in a year, unless you have a day job or big inheritance that funds continuing to give it away.

Will it leverage you into doing senior portraits? No, it won't. That's quite a different type of photography, for one. And, most schools have contracts already, there are a few big, national companies that specialize and hire local talent to do the shoots per their formulas.

If you can show good work on both sides, and have reasonable pricing and great customer service, you might be able to convince a school to award you both the sports and the senior portraits contracts. First find out who they have in place now. Then find out how much they are charging. This info is usually public record at any public school. Might not be at a private school.

The nature of shooting both sports T&I and senior portraits is that these are pretty much mandatory, so a highly guaranteed customer base. Shooting games is different. It's spec. If you wait for someone to ask you to shoot, you will never shoot. You need to ask for permission to shoot commercially, but once you have that shoot a lot, shoot everyone, and post the stuff online, continuously marketing yourself to encourage sales. Don't expect a stampede of sales initially. It takes time and continued marketing effort. And it builds over time as people learn who to look to for photos.

Flickr is not a good place to try to market your stuff. You need a vendor that's more geared toward the commercial work. A lot of folks like SmugMug. There are others that are similar or even more sophisticated. I know some folks who have set up their own websites and self-fulfill orders... I think they are nuts. That's so 20th century!

I appreciate your response, but I think my intentions weren't clear. The goal isn't to get contracts from schools or generate full-time income. It's really just a marketing effort. I can see how a couple interested parents or kids won't make much of a dent and appreciate diluting the value of the work. But right now my work is largely worthless and there's not any interest anyways. I don't have any ideas for creating somesort of base.


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Taking Photos at Youth Sporting Events
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