When news sports photography fails…

Warning – this is a very opinionated post!

I just followed a link to a set of Olympic photos on the Boston.com website expecting to be absolutely blown away. And I was, except for a very different reason than what I had expected. I am completely blown away by the number of what I consider to be really horrible photos that made it into this list. 15 out of the 45 images on this page shouldn’t be there in my opinion, that’s 30% of them. There are a couple of amazing photos here, but not many. Allow me to explain…

What makes a good sports photo?

As a teacher of action sports photography I try to get several very important concepts into my students heads. Everyone of these concepts is important, and missing out on any of them really makes for a poor photo in my mind. At least as far as action sports and editorial photography go. Here they are.

  1. A photo needs to tell a story, so you should be able to tell what’s happening when you look at a photo. Even if you know nothing about the sport being portrayed, you should be able to look at the image and get at least a rudimentary idea of what’s going on.
  2. Composition is important. I won’t go into the details here, but the artistic composition of an image is very important, whether it’s the relationship between foreground and background objects, diagonal lines and triangles, or simply the rule of thirds or golden section composition, it matters in how a photo looks. Things in a photo should be arranged, not just stuck in the center.
  3. Timing. Not as important in some sports, but in sports that involve tricks you need to have an understanding of the tricks being done and how they’re supposed to look. Especially if that trick has a key moment when it is fully tweaked or extended.

I could go on and on but I think I’ve said enough. Time for some critiquing…

Refer to this webpage for the images I’m referring to.

The Critique

  1. Woman on the luge. This shot is amazing, this really got my hopes up for the rest of the images. the diagonal lines of the image and the blur really give a feeling of speed. And the positioning of the athlete within the frame is pretty much bang on.
  2. Women’s biathlon. Not a horrible photo, but does the subject need to be dead center horizontally? I’d give any of my students an average mark for composition on this one.
  3. Snowboard halfpipe. This is what we refer to as a ‘guy in the sky’ image in sports photography. You can’t see where the athlete is coming from, or where they’re going to, most of the story is missing. Even if you know this was halfpipe and not just a jump somewhere the athlete could be 3 feet above the ground or 20, there is no way to tell from the photo.
  4. Ovechkin, I know it’s tight shot of his face and probably show’s some sort of emotion or something, but does it have to be dead center? And really, there’s not much emotion in this, it’s just a long lens shot of some hockey players face. Who really cares?
  5. Curling, but you couldn’t really tell from the photo. The emotion in her face is great, but couldn’t there have been some reference to what’s going on? I mean really it’s a girl on the ice screaming.
  6. Huh? what’s this? yeah the guy’s wearing skiis, but apart from that I can’t tell anything. Which way is up? Why is he dead center? Come on people we can do better than this….
  7. Figure skating, this isn’t a horrible photo, but I’ve seen so many great figure skating photos that make me wonder why this was included, is it just his hair?
  8. I like this shot of the flame. I would like it more if you could see it on the point and shoot as well, but it’s cute and it tells a story.
  9. Speed Skating. I like this. The athlete is a little too centered really, but the lines of it are nice and the shadow works.
  10. Curling, this is an awesome curling shot. It’s fun, it has good emotion and concentration, you can see a curling rock being slid down the ice, I like it.
  11. I’m undecided about this one. It’s bobsleigh, but there’s so much snow in the air you can’t really tell anything.
  12. Biathlon, it appears part of this photo is missing. But I like it, from the concentration on the face of the girl shooting to the shallow focus in line of the lanes, the sign, the girl skating into the image in the background, I think this is a great shot.
  13. Net cam hockey shot. Great timing, but really how you mess this up? The camera is fixed and probably shooting 9 or more frames a second. Push the button. Still a great photo, I like it.
  14. Yeah I know it’s ski jumping, but maybe he jumped out of that hot air balloon? Maybe he… You can’t tell, there is no ground, no point of reference. I know it’s hard in ski jumping, but that’s not an excuse for a ‘guy in the sky’ shot with a hot air balloon in the background.
  15. Biathlon again, great expression, but this is one of those photos that probably would have been best vertically. Then you could have seen the ski poles and the rifle perhaps. Without the caption it’s really hard to tell what sport he’s doing here so who cares?
  16. Mountie, I love this, it’s amazing. If you don’t know what a Mountie (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) looks like you won’t know who this guy is but it’s a great host, captured light is awesome.
  17. Skiing, a little bit dead center, but timing is great.
  18. Ski crash, I like it.
  19. Skiing, although you can’t tell from the photo. Snow, helmet, goggles, you could guess. Great emotion captured here.
  20. Skiing, great emotion, I don’t like the way the pole in the photo in the bg merges with her upraised hand, but still a great shot.
  21. Podium, great shot.
  22. Boardercross. Anyone I know could have taken this shot with a camera set on auto. I know the light was bad that day, but a little more thought to composition and exposure could have gotten a great shot here. This is a snapshot, not a thought out photograph.
  23. WTF? What sport is this? What’s going on here? The color is nice and it’s sharp but that’s about all I can say about it.
  24. Classic short track figure skating shot. Nice, I have a few just like it, the lines are nice, composition is tight.
  25. Great spirit in this shot!
  26. Good shot, a little too tight for my liking, would like to have seen at least part of a ski, but that’s ok.
  27. Hockey, great angle!
  28. figure skating, don’t personally like it, but it’s okay I guess.
  29. course worker, great light, good angle, would be a way better shot if we could see the ground.
  30. ouch! Nice close up of bruised and bleeding. Can’t tell what sport but…
  31. This has got to be the worst shot of Shaun White ever taken. This is a guy that does double cork flips more than 10 feet over the lip of the halfpipe and someone shoots this? WTF? Do they know anything about the sport they’re shooting? Same goes for Boston.com for publishing this. I know the snow looks nice but….
  32. Shaun White, ‘guy in the sky’ which way is up? What trick is he doing? What’s he doing? who cares?
  33. Love this shot of Shaun and his mom!
  34. Skeleton, this is an amazing shot!
  35. Very funny looking shot. I can’t really tell what’s going on, but it’s funny, looks like he’s being eaten by a foam monster…
  36. Tilt Shift lens shot of curling, great shot, I like it!
  37. Moguls, composition in this shot could be a lot better, but at least it’s all there. You can tell it’s moguls, and the guy is doing a flipping/twisting, course looks steep. Shift the camera a little bit to the left and down a tiny bit and this would be a great shot.
  38. Cross country, this is a great shot, I really like the composition and light in this!
  39. Skeleton. The track is pinned in the bottom left corner and creates a nice curve. A little experimentation with composition could have turned this into a really outstanding dynamic shot, but it’s still a pretty good shot.
  40. I like the focus in her face in this shot, and the way you can see her eye between her hands as she puts her visor in place. close up of a face done well!
  41. I guess this is okay, I think I might like to see more of his feet.
  42. Another snapshot, give a monkey a camera and tell it to shoot the finish and you might get better than this. I know the angle shows how close the finish really was, but dead center with no real thought to composition at all. Maybe it’s the best the photographer could do given the position he was allowed to be in and the lens he had on his camera, but that doesn’t make it a good shot.
  43. Figure skating, average light, dead center, poor shot.
  44. Woman with medal.
  45. Guy on skis flying over the mountains. Can’t even tell if it’s Olympic ski flying or where in the world it is. Don’t know where he came from or where he’s going. Bad shot.

So that’s it for my critique of these image that Boston.com felt were worthy of publishing. There were a few great images here. Please understand that this is my opinion and yours may be different, although I teach sports photography and you probably don’t. I’m marking assignments right now, and I like to think most of my students could produce better than most of these shots. Please feel free to leave your comments…

3 Comments

  1. Re #5 — She’s got a curling broom in her hands. I agree that it’s subtle, but there is a reference to the sport in the frame. No one else does stuff like that with a broom/sweep on the ice.

    Otherwise, great analysis of the shots. I liked some that you didn’t, but more for aesthetics than as sports photographs. 😉

  2. Good comment Beth, I did look at the broom, then decided that I could barely tell what it was. Agreed, and we have different opinions on some but that’s because we’re people. There were a few that I liked for an aesthetic reason, even if they weren’t “technically” good photos as well.

  3. I’ve said it before: Bad photography pains me, and people gushing over bad photography pains me more.
    Your critiques take me back to portfolio reviews that left me confused in college. Largely I agree with you; if anything I’d say you were more generous than I would be to many of the shots, but there’s one or two I’d defend.
    If one is lucky enough to go to Olympics and have choice of gear, I hope they’d dig for personal-best images. But I understand limits of access and event credentials, not to mention the meat & potato shots that have to be filed on deadline.
    But it’s nice to see large image use online and hope that more pubs use this–responsibly.

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