Show and tell

Reading into sports photography

Reporters tell stories through words and images, though it’s often the text that gets the most attention, response and analysis. But humans are very visual creatures. A 1967 study produced the oft-repeated statistic that 55 per cent of communication is in body language (38 per cent is tone of voice, and 7 per cent for spoken words).

More than half of the information we share and receive comes through reading the body. So outside of text, how do we build meaning through images of people? And how does that meaning relate to the context of an image’s creation?

Sports photography presents a specific challenge for creating and communicating through still images. Players might be in a state of near-constant movement. The narrative of the game, small advantages and drawbacks, can twist and tumble back and forth from one team to the other. A final score might say little about the process of play. And an image?

An effective image conveys emotion through composition, timing and the form of the subject themselves. One challenge faced by sports photographers is how to portray dynamic activity while freezing movement itself.

In any specific moment, a gesture, a posture or a facial expression can lead the viewer to build associations with emotions or processes familiar to them. A crouching or slouched figure may signal defeat or resignation, and confidence or victory might be shown through a strong stance, or through the posture of standing with arms raised.

Images are created in context, which sometimes appears in the picture, and other times supplements the visual in text form as a cutline (the caption beneath a photograph). If we see a successful goal, that doesn’t always mean that the home team won.

Through these photographs, we receive a highlight from the narrative. And the story told about a single image might be vastly different from the game, or the season as a whole, nevermind the players’ own experiences or mentalities at that moment. Controlling facial expressions and all the information they convey could be the last thing on a player’s mind as they’re engaged in the flow of play.

As readers of text and image, we don’t always have all the information, but we can’t help it — we are visual creatures, and prone to storytelling. A great photograph will inspire us, even just for a moment, to come up with a small tale around what we see. And if we’re still curious, perhaps we can learn more about how that image came to be.

The facial expression, the collision of bodies and the ball teetering on the touch-line make this an image that screams grit, toughness and determination.



Here, Spartan Mikaelyn Sych’s expression and outstretched arms reaching towards the ball (which is positioned much higher above the net than she is) give the image a feeling of exertion and desperation. Visually, the composition is completed by the player in the background, who is set and also watching the ball. Those three main elements of the two players and the ball also create a triangle that moves the viewer’s eyes around the frame.



Sometimes, the most interesting part of sports photography is the expressions. Caught up in the intensity and concentration of the moment, the last thing likely on players' minds is how they look, which can lead to some rather comical expressions.



Not all sports images convey feelings like strength, determination or concentration. In this image, two Wesmen players nearly collide as they miscommunicate and both challenge for the ball. The facial expressions and body language once again say it all.



Here is one of those rare lucky images that sums up an entire game in one go. The Wesmen and Vikes played a tightly contested and fast-paced game. In the last moments, the Wesmen drove to the net, only to watch a last-minute, buzzer-beating, potential game-winning layup bounce off the rim as time expired. The Vikes won by a single point.

In sports, as with any live event, there are elements that the photographer can control, and there are elements they can't control. I knew if I got low and close to the court with a wide-angle lens, I could probably get some good photos. What I wasn't expecting was this image that almost appears to be from the Wesmen player’s perspective as she falls to the ground and watches her layup bounce away, two players still battling for the ball, and a Vikes player’s arms raised in celebration.



One of the hardest things can be to isolate players during gameplay and separate them from everything going on around them. Here, Wesmen player Taylor Boughton serves. With some luck and persistence, I was able to catch the right moment while the ball was suspended in the air, and the player’s body position was open and symmetrical. The crowd in the background is not strongly lit at Duckworth Centre, which helped separate Boughton from the background but still showed her within context of a game situation.



Calm, cool and collected is the sense I get from this photo. The grip on the ball and the casual confident expression lead me to think he could make baskets all day.



This photo was taken as the Wesmen celebrate a goal from forward Shae-Lynn Dodds. The excitement is accentuated by the figure of an opposing player in the foreground, who looks on with a slouched posture.



Expressions can be crucial to telling a story and making an interesting photograph. Here, Bisons forward Bruna Mavignier plays the ball past Wesmen goalkeeper Madie Fordyce. Fordyce's expression, as well as those of defender Nicole Redekopp (#17) and the other Wesmen players, belies the danger of the situation.



This photo is of the Wesmen Women's soccer team taking the field before a game against the Calgary Dinos. The proximity of the players, the happy expressions and the body language all suggest camaraderie and a team that’s excited to play.



This image invokes a sense of dominance. Bisons goalkeeper Maddie Wilford has a reputation as a confident and aggressive player. Here, Wilford's taller position, intense stare and the posture of both players reinforces that narrative as she comes out to claim the ball.



Timing can be everything. The angle of this picture shows players from both teams watching the ball moments before it reaches the net. Though hoping for different outcomes, their expressions all reveal anticipation.



Height, position, body language and the lower position of the camera add to the sense of power in this photo. The expression and popped collar of the TWU player in the centre also adds an air of confidence.

Published in Volume 73, Number 10 of The Uniter (November 15, 2018)

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