Celebrate Your Goals, Please.
Finding a niche that is your real home as a photographer is a pretty exciting experience. I shoot rugby professionally, but I do definitely have a first love. Between the Sounders, Sounders 2, the Sounders Academy (can you tell who is the big game in town?) and the numerous recreational teams in the Seattle area, there are a lot of feels surrounding the teams I’ve covered. I’ve even joked that the only reason I met my Husband was because of the Seattle Sounders and no, sadly, it didn’t end up being Mauro Rosales. In the plethora of teams that Seattle has to offer, I have built long term relationships with several, but one really stands out.
A team I’ve been shooting for now for a year and a half or so by the name of Nido Aguila Seattle FC; officially flying under the flag of Club America (yes, THE club America) but operating as a part of the Western Washington Premiere League (WWPL) that spans from Gray’s Harbor to Bellingham. Previously known as Puget Sound FC; these guys have been able to expand their player base not only for adult leagues but for their Academy teams as well; hoping to send players up the ladder who may have been overlooked by the ‘path2pro’ pipeline in the United States that many, many people find fundamentally flawed.
The team is great, the guys are great, the owner is a good friend of mine and It does feel like a great anchor to have in the community. The cultural diversity of this team makes the experience all the more interesting, from refugees to long-time Seattle locals, these people are a very small representation of the greater commonality that is soccer in the Northwest. Building a relationship with the team members, the coaches, and their staff has been quite the time. One of the best shots you will ever get in soccer are goal celebrations, and when I don’t get them; I make it known, and once even to the point where an assistant coach was lecturing the team about it in the pre-game huddle. The games are cold, the lighting is usually bad, but the warmth and love I feel from the guys upon my arrival is palpable, which to me puts a ton of meaning behind every photo taken, and in some ways, that’s where I find my best motivation.
One of the best things about this team? I have complete creative control when it comes to my assignments, and while I don’t want to say I ‘use’ them to experiment with lighting or teach myself new things, I definitely use them to experiment with lighting and teach myself new things. Not one person on that squad has walked away unhappy with my work (at least not to my knowledge), and therefore everyone gets what they need.
Sometimes shooting sports, especially when they are not for pro teams, your purpose is a little different then when your photos are being used as promotion or marketing materials. I shoot differently, i think differently, and to be perfectly frank I look more at what the team members would best use to feed their social media accounts. Hero shots, goal celebrations, epic saves, bicycle kicks, 1v1s, and of course the very essence of a sports photo, peak action. Those are the high demand photos. Crowd shots don’t exist in recreational sports, sponsor shots are in lesser demand, and because the level of competition is often a little lower, photos that convey strong emotion are in much lower supply. In short; I think more from an individual’s perspective instead of the team’s perspective, if that makes any sense. The thing I look for the most are those photos that demonstrate camaraderie and friendship, because what is soccer if it isn’t a massive pillar of the international community.
For me its a level of exposure. Not everyone has the opportunity to have professional photos taken, not everybody at sixteen gets to go to a practice and have lights set up in the section of a field to have their headshot taken. What we are able to do with the reach that we have means a lot to a lot of people; even if for me it exists within the realm of normal. There is no scale of ‘better’ or ‘worse’ when it comes to shooting recreational teams vs professional teams; the bottom line is; and the prayer that every sports photographer lives by, is that we shoot every game, every goal, every kick and every run, as If it’s the World Cup Final. Or the World Series. Or the Super Bowl. Every game shot my mindset is ‘this is the game that is going to make my career, so I better make sure these are the best photos I’ve ever taken.’ By applying this attitude from kids’ soccer, through beer leagues and right up to the pros, I make every single game my best game.