Kids in Sport Photography Project – the idea behind it

What a whirlwind this past month has been for kids in sport photography! What started off as request on facebook for some dance models (I saw some incredible images taken by a mentor of mine of a young dancer and I thought it looked liked fun and wanted to give it a try – the photographing that is, not the dancing)  lead to four evenings of shooting the most incredibly talented, inspirational and passionate young people, performing the sports that they know and love. This all evolved under the umbrella term of Kids in Sport Photography.

So how did it all happen?

There is so much in the media at the moment of how 1 in 3 children and young people are now classified as obese and lead such sedentary and passive lifestyles and yet how much do we see about the inspirational and active children? The ones who put in hard graft day after day to enable their sporting dreams to come true? Or even the children who just absolutely love their sports and look forward to their clubs, sessions or training, no matter how often they attend? What about the chance to focus on the positive role models for once and celebrate their achievements and talents?

I realised that this was an amazing opportunity to capture these children/young people doing what they love. I wanted to focus on their drive and determination and capture them at their very best. I also realised quickly that it didn’t have to just be a focus on dancers – why should it? I envisaged taking images of children producing big and powerful shapes outside, regardless of the sport that they wanted to showcase.

As a family photographer in Hampshire, I always work in the outdoor environment using only beautiful and natural surroundings and using natural light, so I wanted to make it clear to the clients that these shoots would only take place outside. I liked the juxtaposition between the sporting moves normally only performed in a gym or studio, being represented between soft and wavy grass!

I also needed to make it very clear that I was very new to all of this and so it would be as much about me practising as the children demonstrating their moves. I therefore made it very clear to the parents that their children would need to produce their moves for me in a controlled and precise manner. I wasn’t offering to run around after them and take photos, rather this was the opportunity to perform in a more stationary and controlled way and potentially several times over.

So this idea took hold in my brain and I can honestly say I was totally overwhelmed with the response I got from people all over the country. I don’t know if it was because I was offering a free shoot, or because their children just do not get to demonstrate and show off their moves, or because their parents never get decent photos themselves, but my three evenings of 1/2 hour mini shoots quickly became very booked up with a fabulous selection of different aged children offering the most brilliant variety of sports!

I then became very nervous as the expectation and anticipation became very high and I worried that I wouldn’t be able to do the children, parents or myself the justice that everyone deserved. I needn’t have worried – the children were amazing and were so patient with me while I got my head around it all. Several times (mainly with the dancers and gymnasts), I had to ask them to repeat the moves a lot so that I could really focus and nail the shot and they did without a blink of an eye. One mum said that it was really good practise for her daughter to have to repeat the same move so many times (I was trying to get her to leap between two bushes and be centrally positioned mid-leap). It was worth it in the end (I was happy with the photographic aspect and she was happy with all the body positions) and we nailed it!

Kids in Sport Photography – 1st evening

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I was as prepared as I could be, but it’s amazing how much I have learned since that first evening. I was more concerned with shutter speeds, light and making sure that there was no motion blur, that I perhaps was not concentrating on the backgrounds, exposure and composition as much as I was by the last night. I had an 8 year old performing martial arts, a 12 year old dancer and a trio of baton twirlers (who were off to a European tournament the following week)!

It was an awesome evening and I was so excited by it all, but I realised afterwards that I definitely needed to consider the background a lot more in the following evening to ensure that it wasn’t as distracting! I was so inspired already and I still had two more amazing evenings to go!

Kids in Sport Photography – evening 2

So this evening I felt far more relaxed as I had a better idea of what I was doing, what I wanted to achieve and how I was going to do it! This time I changed the location a bit so that nobody disappeared into the background! I was also excited as I had gymnastics, sports acrobats, Badminton players and another dancer (the majority of who had all represented their county recently if not their country)!

I managed to find a location where I was able to place the children at the top of a hill in between two bushes. This was ideal as I could lie on the hill shooting up, so they were framed by the bushes and then only had the sky behind them. This ensured that there were no distractions and they were very much the focus of the shot. A big learning curve from the previous night and one which made a huge difference to the look and feel of the shot. Plus the sky and light were both playing ball and producing the most incredible colours and textures which made an amazing difference.

This evening however, I didn’t put as much thought into the exposure as I should have done, so the exposure was either for the sky or I did under expose a lot (hence all the silhouettes). This meant a huge amount of work was needed in post-processing, whereas if I’d got it right in the camera, I would have been able to save myself many hours of work! Something to think about for the Saturday night!

It was interesting to have a couple of badminton players along, especially as it got quite gusty in parts. Badminton is not a sport known for its outdoor play, so it was great to mix it up a bit. Both Mum and Dad are very good players, so were more than happy to feed the shuttlecocks to allow the girls to play. I used to think that I was pretty handy with a badminton racquet, but then I saw these girls and realised I was deluding myself. They just didn’t stop moving- they were jumping around the spot like energiser bunnies, constantly preparing for the next shot. I was definitely not like that!

One girl in fact, was getting so good that she is going to Italy in the summer to train up a mountain somewhere to do some altitude training which is apparently very good for improving lung capacity? I learned a lot!!

And the sports acrobats? Well seeing as my previous experience had only been watching various acts on Britain’s Got Talent, these girls absolutely blew me away. the two bases were 11 and the little one on top was just 9 years old, but the confidence, excitement and strength that they exuded was like something I had never seen before. And they were buzzing! They were so excited just to be able to showcase what they could do, that by the end they were making up their own positions and moves! Jaw-dropping doesn’t come close!

Kids in Sport Photography – evening 3

So this evening was to be the one – I had to nail the shutter speed, light, background, composition and exposure and create some beautiful pictures at the same time! As I said before, I learned such a huge amount, both about what these kids could do (and were happy to do, even if you had to ask them to repeat things a million times over because you were missing the focus or you needed them composed more centrally), and also what I could do. At the end of the day, these children came along because they love their sports. They love being captured and they love seeing themselves performing, so they were so obliging and helpful and happy to repeat things many times over.

I realised quite early on, especially with the dancers and the gymnasts, that it was really beneficial to all if you showed them the images on the back of the camera after each sequence or leap. They were perfectionists as much as I was, but I’m obviously not qualified or experienced enough to know how high up a leg should reach, or where an arm should be. I thought we’d have a shot perfected, would show the girls and they’d ask to repeat it as they knew their leg would go higher, or they wanted to achieve more height! It was commendable that children as young as 8 were so ambitious, so dedicated and so aware of their talents that they only wanted to be captured doing their very best!

Kids in Sport Photography – evening 4

My initial mini shoot offer had ended and I was left with the really light work of culling and processing the 3,000 photos that I’d taken! It quickly became apparent though that although the background was better after I’d moved from shooting in front of the trees to up the hill, it still wasn’t great as there was no variety. So I asked to meet one of the dancers  (and her friend) again and shoot in a completely different location to mix up the background!

This time we shot again, from 7pm (to avoid the strong and fierce sun) but as it was the New Forest, we were really able to have a wander and get a real range of backgrounds to offer variety. This made a massive difference to the look and feel to all the photos as, yet again, the sky and light were just on form for us and offered the most incredible colours!

I also think that because I was able to offer the two girls my attention for the whole evening, they became far more imaginative and creative and in some respects were able to take control of the shoot a lot more. This was great for me as that is exactly what I wanted them to do (clearly a 1/2 hour window just does not offer that opportunity). They were asking if we could move here, or if they could do that. This is exactly how a shoot should work. Although I had worked with one of the girls previously, I did not know what the other girl was capable of, so she needed to show me, and show me she certainly did.

So now what?

Well now I feel I have the understanding, experience and confidence to offer this as a package to more young people. I cannot explain just how much of an inspiration these children were for me or just how blown away I was by their attitudes or determination and hard work. And I want more! I want to be able to offer beautiful and inspiring photos to the young people so they can see and appreciate just how amazing they are, not to mention add to their portfolio or instagram should they have them! The shoots would be entirely lead by them – I have no idea what their talents and capabilities are, so they would need to have a think about what they would like captured!

As well as offering this as a package, I am also hoping to put together something to present to Sport England as well as individual sporting governing bodies. As I mentioned in the beginning, there is so much media attention around childhood obesity and screen-dominated lifestyles, I can only dream how much a positive influence these young people might have on others around them!

Amazingly, I have also had the artist David Manners contact me to ask if he could look at my portfolio as he is very interested in producing a painting of at least one of my photographs! As somebody who has painted the Obamas, he is no slouch when it comes to producing amazing masterpieces so I can’t wait to work with him!

If you are interested in finding out more information about how you could have this opportunity for your son, daughter (or yourself for that matter), then please visit my Sports Photo Portfolio Package or contact me.  This should hopefully answer any questions you may have.

Thanks and I will hopefully get to meet you soon.


Love Caroline xx