Welcome to a new episode of the Marc Silber Show – Advancing Your Photography! We’re in San Francisco with our guest John Freeman Todd, a professional sports photographer for over 21 years. He shares a few sports photography tips that can help amateurs start taking better photos. John specializes in soccer photography, and as the team photographer for Major League Soccer’s San Jose Earthquakes and the U.S. Men and Women’s soccer teams, he has taken a number of stunning pictures over his career.
John’s style is to take bold, beautiful images. He keeps the background clean so the actions and emotions of his subject are the clear focus of the photo. He follows one of Ansel Adams’s best photography tips: think about the end result before you take the picture, and use your mind as a tool to achieve that goal. His advice for amateurs is to move beyond your camera’s full auto settings and learn how to use manual settings for focus, lighting, and exposure. He also likes shooting in RAW, which requires a fast memory card that can clear your camera’s buffer during continuous shooting. John recommends SanDisk cards for their speed and reliability.
Marc Silber: Hey John thanks for joining us on 'Advancing your photography'.
John Todd: Great! Glad to be here. Thank you.
Marc: Tell me about your approach to photography and the type of work you love to do.
John: I love big, bold, beautiful pictures and now with the digital I am trying to recreate the 'fujichrome velvia' in all my images. When I look back at my film days I look back at those slides still I think it is that color the beauty of the images that makes everything pop. So when I go to a shoot now. I am thinking how can this image look like fujichrom velvia slide.
Marc: When it comes to photography, what are you most passionate about?
John: Most of my work is in sports. I do a little bit of commercial work, little bit of corporate work but I have to say that is all about the image now, and it doesn't matter what it is. All I want to do is produce some great images.
Marc: How do you do that?
John: I like to characterize my images as being simple and clean. So these are the two things I am looking for when I approach a shoot, just how can I get the essence of my image that come out right away from my subject and make it pop out of the frame.
Marc: So John, what are some of the key points that you use every time you pick up the camera or even before you pick up the camera.
John: There is two points. One is I like to think about what the client wants and the other one is I like to think about what the images I am going to produce. Ansel Adams talked about when he was photographing that he would think about his images in his minds eye and then he would use all the tools that he had to create that image. So if I am shooting for client I am going to say "Hey what do you guys want?". They say "Well I want a sports figure to show the emotion in the action.". So I am going to do, I am going to take all the tools I have. My cameras, my lenses my computer, my software and think about the end result before I even start shooting. Same thing when I am shooting images for my self I figure out, 'what is it that I am going to do today?', 'what am I trying to show?' and then I line up all the tools I have to try to reach that goal.
Marc: Okay, can you walk us through a step by step of how you approach a sports shoot?
John: Yes, I'll give you a soccer example. I shoot a lot of soccer at the international level as well as domestically. So when I go to a soccer shoot I walk in and think about the shoot as a 'globe'. And I want to approach this globe, I want to shoot on the top, on the bottom, on the sides, on the back and then I want to go inside the globe. So I want to try to show the whole shoot with authenticity. So as I walk into a soccer match I would be looking for a couple of things pre-game. I will try to shoot some fans. I will try to shoot some fans outside the stadium, try to shoot the scene setter where the photo shoot is happening, I will go inside and shoot the fans inside, I will shoot the players warming up on the field. Then before game all the players line up. So I shoot portraits of each player who are lined up for the national anthems. Then I shoot the starting team photos. At that point you have to go one end of the field or the other. And then I will shoot the game action. If I can, during the half I will run up to the top of the stadium as far as I can go, try to get an overall shot as another scene setter and try to make it back down before they start the game. Post-game you're looking for reaction, celebration, dejection out of the players as the players walk off the field. And then I will hang around a little bit to see if anything happens with the fans after the game.
Marc: You, sure you really have dialed in your that formula.
John: That is really my formula. I do that almost every game that is really what I am looking for.
Marc: What would you suggest if we just want to get better sports shots of the friends and family?
John: You know, two of the things that I would suggest are that. One: clean. That is my biggest thing that I am looking for in an Image is make your background clean. Clean up those backgrounds, make the image, the personal subject pop out of the frame. So think of yourself as a director and you are placing people on the screen. So you are the person who gets to place them there you get to pick the screen. So when you are shooting your photos clean up those backgrounds, nothing to distract what is going on so you can focus right on that subject.
Marc: What are some of your own favorite photographs?
John: Took one USA vs. Ghana the world-cup in Germany 2006. And at that point I was just working on a tip that I got from David Bergan who is a sports photographer out of New York. And it was a kind of a one handed grab so you on in soccer and football you are always shooting with the two lenses. Use the four hundred two eight and you have your seventy two hundred on your hip and his key was that he would reach down and grab the seventy two hundred when he saw action right in front of him. Bring it up with one hand and it will be photograph one handed and that gave him a lot of faster reaction. So I started trying out this tip and so the players were running towards me too tight for the four hundred. So I went down grabbed with one hand, reached up grabbed it and got a picture of a player doing almost a bicycle kick right in front of me. And it is a fantastic - you know- image that shows the emotion and the power of the sport.
Marc: Any final tips for our viewers who just want to get better photographs?
John: You know the one of the biggest things that I think the imagers struggle with is taking their off full automatic. You know I would say learn that camera. Put it on semi-automatic, your time value, your actual priority, learn how those functions work. And the biggest most important thing that I think now is that you can shoot 'raw'. Sure it is an intimidating thing you get these huge files you have to manage them. But it's like having a negative. It's like having a fujichrome velvia and you get to print that image whatever way you want. When I see students work who had gone from jpeg to raw during one class session. It's amazing, and they come back and say "I will never shoot jpeg againî. So that would be the biggest tip I have for everybody-'Shoot raw'.
Marc: John thanks for joining us on 'Advancing your photography'. It was great to have you.
John: Thank you Marc.