Sports Shooter Academy IX

Andy Wilhelm used off-camera techniques to photograph boxers during a workout at the La Habra Boxing Club. Photo by Andy Wilhelm, Sports Shooter Academy IX (c)

“The instructors at the Sports Shooter Academy were without a doubt the highlight for me in a week full of highlights.”

By Andy Wilhelm

As I drove north on the freeway from my home in San Diego heading to Irvine for Sports Shooter Academy IX, I had a number of questions: How would I feel on the drive home in five days? What would I know at that point that I don’t know right now?  How would my work compare to that of the other attendees and what would my overall SSA experience be? I eagerly looked forward to finding out.

At the Sports Shooter Academy there are a ton of opportunities to learn, grow as a photographer, network, meet new people, and make new friends. It is all about what you make of it and if you are motivated to get all that you can out of the workshop the possibilities are limitless.

So what were the highlights?

Getting to experiment with different gear. It was great to have such a variety of camera bodies, and lenses of all lengths that we could check out and shoot with for the day. Never used a 600mm before? Well now’s your chance. How about a 50mm 1.4? Go for it. Being able to try out so many things that I normally would not have access to was fantastic and I learned quite a bit by doing so.

It was interesting to hear Cal State Fullerton assistant Sports Informational Director Mike Greenlee’s presentation about the relationship between a photographer and a school’s athletic department. Learning about what they expect from us as photographers, the types of photos that are needed, proper and professional business practices, and how working together makes you an asset to a sports information director was very beneficial.

Andy Wilhelm improvises a speedlight stand while shooting at the La Habra Boxing Club. Photo by Rafael Agustin Delgado, Sports Shooter Academy IX (c)

Being taught how to set up and use cameras with remotes was a valuable part of the workshop, as was learning how to go about selecting interesting and effective vantage points. Find a clean background for yourself or create one in camera (by shooting at a wide aperture), and make sure to crop tight! I have put this knowledge to use since the academy ended and can see a definite improvement in my images.

When it all comes down to it though, the number one highlight of the week for me were the instructors. I was so impressed with the Sports Shooter Academy staff, they were helpful, personable, entertaining, always willing to answer a question and give advice and were down to earth and approachable, which is saying something considering that they are some of the most accomplished professionals in the business.

The workshop instructors genuinely want you to learn and succeed, and SSA attendees have so many resources at their fingertips. Having a chance to bounce questions and ideas off of such established creative and getting a personal critique of your work from someone who has your “dream job” is amazing.

The instructors at the Sports Shooter Academy were without a doubt the highlight for me in a week full of highlights. From the nightly  critiques I learned about what editors look for in a photo.

From the nightly  critiques I learned about what editors look for in a photo. Having clean backgrounds once again are a must and I learned where to crop an image in order to draw attention to the most important part, while discarding the rest. Very important stuff to know.

A Belmont Shore player is lifted up by teammates during a match against Sacramento during SSA IX. Photo by Andy Wilhelm, Sports Shooter Academy IX (c)

We were lucky to have such a great group of people at SSA IX. Everyone was very open to helping one another, and, let’s face it, why shouldn’t they be? We were all in the same boat, trying to learn and better ourselves as photographers.

Check your ego at the door, try new things, learn as much as possible, and HAVE FUN! I certainly had a blast.

I walked away from the workshop a more thoughtful photographer with more photographic knowledge than I had before and with a great network of people to turn to if I ever needed them.

The Sports Shooter Academy is a great opportunity for those of us that are interested in pursuing a career in sports photography. SSA IX was an event that I will never forget!

Thank you to the instructors and sponsors that made all of it possible.

(Andy Wilhelm is a freelance photographer based in San Diego, Calif.)

Read more.. Thursday, July 19th, 2012

Sports Shooter Academy IX

4/26/2012 --- Orange Coast College v. Irvine Valley College Baseball --- Costa Mesa, CA: Bijan Rademacher (#28) slides into home adding another run to the Orange Coast College Pirates 5-2 win over Irvine Valley College. Photo by Elaine Villaflores, Sports Shooter Academy (c)

“Out of the 4 days of intense training, there was one event that stood out to me: baseball.”

By Elaine Villaflores

Last fall I attended the Sports Shooter Academy to improve my sports photography, build my portfolio, and most of all work with a great lineup of instructors.  It was the most intense four days of photography I had ever experienced and to be honest I was a bit overwhelmed.

At one point I was a bit frustrated that I was not able to create the images I wanted. One of the instructors saw that I was struggling and came by and gave great pointers, advice and most of all encouragement. I really appreciated that the instructor took the time to give feedback and it really pushed me to produce better images.

By the end of the workshop, I felt that my sports shooting had improved in just a few days. While I had gotten better, I knew there was much more I needed to learn.

Sports Shooter Academy IX held in April had a truly amazing line up of instructors. But most importantly to me, it featured many different sports on the schedule that I have not shot before. Sports like baseball, rugby, track and field and a session with Dave Black on high-speed shutter action photography. I knew I had to make another trip to Southern California.

4/26/2012 --- Orange Coast College - Irvine Valley College Baseball ---Costa Mesa, CA: Orange Coast College Pirates 3rd baseman jumps over an Irvine Valley College base runner as he tries to tag him out. Photo by Elaine Villaflores, Sports Shooter Academy (c)

Out of the 4 days of intense training, there was one event that stood out to me: baseball. People in the room kept saying: “Don’t fall asleep at baseball!” I had never shot baseball before so I was not sure what to expect. But one thing I knew for sure: I would think of the experience as a challenge and soak up as much information and advice I could.

The instructors a the Orange Coast College – Irvine Valley College game were John McDonough and Shawn Cullen, who both work for Sports Illustrated.  I was really excited to work with both of them.  While Shawn was helping some of the other photographers with their remote setups, I was soaking up all the words of wisdom from John.

He gave us his insights on where to position ourselves on the field, how to read the different plays and most important of all, he said look for the emotions and details of the game. These words of advice really struck home with me.  John said: “Use your cameras to tell the STORY of the game.”

Once the game started, I went around the field looking for different angles and perspectives always with an eye toward storytelling. John came by to talk about the game and asked if I had any questions. he was also interested in what I had shot, so we did a little “chimping”.

In the end, I was very happy with my images and feel comfortable shooting baseball in the future.

One of the reasons why I come back to the Sports Shooter Academy workshops is the photographers that are on the faculty. Their tips and the immediate feedback are invaluable… you’re out covering these sports and they are right there to help. The nightly critiques also helped me improve over my past workshop experiences. It was nice to hear from one of the SSA instructors he felt that my photos improved from the last year.

Thank you Sports Shooter Academy faculty for the advice, confidence, and for giving back!

(You can view samples of Elaine’s work at her Sports Shooter member page:

Sports Shooter Academy instructor John McDonough of Sports Illustrated, checks in with workshop participants, including Elaine Villaflores (right) during the Orange Coast College - Irvine Valley College baseball game. Photo by Christy Radecic, Sports Shooter Academy (c)

Read more.. Tuesday, July 17th, 2012


A look at a portrait and video shoot at the Olympic Training Center
By Robert Hanashiro, Sports Shooter Academy

Here is a fun little time lapse made during a portrait and video assignment I had at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista Calif. Helping me is The King of photography assistants Shawn Cullen.

A white seamless was used to give all of the portraits and video interviews a similar look so the individual projects had a cohesive feel to them.

To view the time lapse, click this link: OTC TIMELAPSE

High jumper Jamie Nieto, pole vaulter Melinda Owen, kayaker Carrie Johnson and field hockey striker Michelle Kosold. Photographs by Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY (c)

There were several challenges in shooting outdoors using a seamless, even a slight wind would move and buckle the background. Spring clamps and some weights helped alleviate that problem. (You can see the seamless move quite a bit because of the wind in the first part of the time lapse.)

The biggest issue was maintaining a 1 to 1 1/2  stop difference between the subjects and the white seamless. Shooting outdoors, even in the shaded patio area outside of the OTC’s cafeteria, the available light wrecked havoc on keeping the backgrounds consistently bright-white. A good light meter, patience, chimping and most importantly a good assistant that is on the same page as you are the things that will help insure success.

A good assistant will keep an eye on the background, notice even subtle changes in the ambient light that could (and did) affect the overall look of the portrait — so you can concentrate on developing a rapport with the subject. For this assignment, freeing me up to work with our subjects was essential because I was shooting a still portrait, then conducting a video interview, followed up with shooting b-roll with a handheld camera.

We worked with eight athletes, which eventually produced six videos that were posted on USA TODAY Sports Media’s website.

Tech Notes:
- Cameras: Nikon D3s and D7000
- Lenses: Nikkor 24-70; 70-200; 105mm
- Lighting: Dynalight M1000 (2); 4 strobe heads
- Audio: Sony wireless lav mics
- Focus assist: Zacuto Z-finder

Carrie Johnson

Melinda Owen

Jamie Nieto

Michelle Kasold

Lex Gillette

Here is a fun video made up of clips shot with a GoPro from the various videos produced at the Olympic Training Center:

Read more.. Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

PocketWizard Remote Winner

SSAIX and Pocket Wizard's Winning Sports Remote Shot - © Elaine Villaflores/Sports Shooter Academy

Sports Shooter Academy IX participant Elaine Villaflores’ image of a collegiate soccer goalie won “best action remote shot” of the workshop made with a PocketWizard product.  SSA IX faculty selected the photo from dozens of submissions by workshop participants made throughout the week.

Elaine will receive a pair of PocketWizard Plus III transceivers for her winning image.

Using the PocketWizard Plus III’s system on a camera mounted directly behind the goal, Elaine was able to capture this goal scoring moment without any obstruction.

The Sports Shooter Academy would like to thank tech/marketing rep, Ian Ray and PocketWizard for their amazing on-site contributions of  knowledge, remote equipment and most importantly support throughout the 4-day workshop.  We had a record number of remote units in field with faculty expertise at each and every location that helped make SSA IX THE coolest sport photography and remote workshop of the year!

SSAIX Faculty Member, Michael Goulding helps Elaine set up her remote which produced her winning shot.

SSAIX Faculty Member, Michael Goulding, helps Elaine set up her remote which produced her winning shot.

Read more.. Monday, June 4th, 2012

PocketWizard Portrait Winner

Winning portrait shot with a PocketWizard product. © Mat Boyle/Sports Shooter Academy

Sports Shooter Academy IX participant Mat Boyle’s image of Cal State Fullerton soccer player, Jordan Wolff, won “best portrait” of the workshop made with a PocketWizard product.  SSA IX sponsor, PocketWizard selected the photo from dozens of submissions by workshop participants made throughout the week.

Mat will receive a pair of PocketWizard Plus III transceivers for his winning image.

Using the PocketWizard Flex system’s high shutter speed sync feature, Mat was able to shoot at 1/4000 to freeze the player in mid air while still able to light him.

The Sports Shooter Academy would like to thank tech/marketing rep, Ian Ray and PocketWizard for their amazing on-site contributions of  knowledge, remote equipment and most importantly support throughout the 4-day workshop.  We had a record number of remote units in field with faculty expertise at each and every location that helped make SSA IX THE coolest sport photography and remote workshop of the year!

Read more.. Thursday, May 31st, 2012

SSA IX Photo of the Day: Sunday

By Christopher Mast

Before I set off to participate in Sports Shooter Academy IX a few weeks ago I was very excited but nervous about how I’d stack up with so many other talented photographers shooting at the same events.

Nonetheless, I had the goal of capturing one of the ‘best of the day’ photos before I left.  I quickly learned after day one that having a goal and achieving a goal were two entirely different things.  When the group sat down for the first critique session, my photos just did not stack up to some of the beautiful images that were captured the day before.  I was motivated from that review though.  After looking at all of the images I knew I could do it.

Then came day two of the Academy. I feel I performed better, but my images were nothing to write home about yet.  I adjusted my goal from capturing an image of the day to just making the final instructor selects.  All the while I was getting invaluable feedback from the instructors. On day three I had an image make the final three in the instructors selects. All week, the instructors encouraged us to seek out unique images, to work differently than the other students.

A running falls just before the finish line during the women's 800 meters at the Steve Scott Invitational Track & Field Meet at U.C. Irvine. Photo by Christopher Mast

I decided to shoot the Steve Scott Invitational Track & Field Meet on the last day of the Academy. Before the meet I made the decision that with all of the events that would be happening, I’d stay light and mobile and not carry around a ton of gear. The second event of the meet was the women’s 800 meter race.

I noticed a lot of the photographers set up on the first turn to capture the final straight and finish line with big glass.  I needed to find a different location so I opted to sit about ten feet off the finish line with my 70-200mm. I was hoping for a close finish and that I could catch a tight shot of two runners battling out at the finish line from the side. While the runners came down the straight and completed the first lap of the race I worked out my plan and practiced as the runners went by.

As the race neared its conclusion I was ready to shoot and the unthinkable happened. The leader in the race, a Long Beach State runner, fell about 75-feet from the finish line. I grabbed my backup camera with a 24-105mm lens on it and shot as she fell. I shot loose enough to capture the other runners on the infield react to what was happening. I stayed with the runner as she fell, got back up and stumbled and fell again across the finish line, finishing third in the race. At this point I left the spot and went to photograph the other events during the meet.

Christopher Mast with SSA instructor Michael Goulding at the La Habra Boxing Club during Sports Shooter Academy IX. Photo by Rafael Augstin Delgado

When I got back to the hotel to edit my photos I saw that I had captured this perfect moment when the runner had hit her face on the track with the reaction of over athletes in the background.  I cropped the photo as tight as I could to really draw the viewer’s attention to the fallen runner and the faces of the people in the right of the frame. I learned through the week that capturing the story was what photos should show. Nobody could plan for a runner to fall in the final moments of a race but I did plan for where I wanted to shoot from and how.

There were many beautiful images made on this day by each photographer, but this image captured an entire story. It was the emotion, the human side to an athletic event that draws us to sports. At the end of the workshop, with a little luck and some planning, I was successful in achieving my goal that I had set for myself: A photo of the day.
(NOTE: Christopher Mast’s image was also selected the Best Of SSA IX.)

(Thanks to SanDisk and Nikon for sponsoring the awards for the Photo of the Day; Thanks to Think Tank Photo for sponsoring the Best Photo of SSA IX award.)

Read more.. Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

SSA IX Photo of the Day: Saturday

By Annika af Klercker

My winning picture is a remote shot during the men’s long jump competition at the Steve Scott Invitational Track Meet at U.C. Irvine on Saturday of the workshop.

When I mounted the remote camera, I didn’t have the chance to use a colleague or a friend to assist me in setting the focus. Instead I had to set it as best as I could while the jumpers were warming up. Unfortunately I was a bit fooled about that because the athletes don’t jump as far — if they jump at all! — during the warm ups as they do while actually competing .

A long jumper hangs in the air during the men's long jump at the Steve Scott Invitational. Photo by Annika af Klercker

Personally, I was not that satisfied with my remote pictures – so I was really surprised and REALLY happy that the faculty selected it as the best picture of the day! (And thanks to SanDisk for my new memory card!)

I decided to convert my picture to black and white because I felt it give it a more timeless feeling. I also thought it made it cleaner.

I traveled all the way from Sweden to participate in this workshop and I can tell it was totally worth it! The Sports Shooter Academy gave me an opportunity to play, try new angles, look for interesting lightning and let go of all thoughts of performing and work.

I have a desire to constantly develop myself as a photographer and my goal is to do something stimulating every year. Attending a class or a workshop is a way to accomplish this. I really wanted to take my sports photography to the next level and the Sports Shooter Academy workshop was a perfect kick off for that. And like many of the other participants, learning about remotes was one of the top items I wanted to learn more about. For me, working with remote cameras will allow me to be in two (or more!) places at the same time and also to set up cameras in places where I can’t be.

Annika af Klercker sets up a remote at the long jump with the help of SSA IX instructor Shawn Cullen. Photo by Christy Radecic, Sports Shooter Academy

In the end this picture was more or less a gamble — when the remote was fired in the long jump pit I was most of the time a hundred meters away, shooting the pole vault and firing the remote as much as I could!

One of the first and most important things the instructors repeated was never to trust the remote. Every picture you get from it is a bonus but nothing you can ever count on!

After Sports Shooter Academy IX, I definitely felt I gained a lot more confidence to use remotes more often. Because of what I learned and my experience during the workshop I now have a greater understanding of how remote cameras work technically. The workshop also gave me the opportunity of using remotes in real-life situations.

(Note: Thanks to SanDisk and Nikon for sponsoring the awards for the Photo of the Day.)

Read more.. Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

SSA IX Photo of the Day: Friday

By Jane Gershovich

(Note: Second in a series)

I had heard a lot about Sports Shooter Academy from many colleagues. I was nervous, excited, and anxious to see what was to come. I was at the point in my photo career I was ready to really push myself, and what an opportunity than to learn from some of the best in the business.

I’ve never photographed lacrosse before, and when the opportunity during the workshop came I was excited. We arrived at University High School in Irvine, CA and photographed the high school’s baseball game and followed up with the lacrosse game across the way.

University High School lacrosse player celebrates his goal the end of the game Friday, April 27, 2012. Photo by Jane Gershovich

Not knowing the rules of the game made shooting interesting. The energy from the players was exciting and I tried to focus on capturing the action and reaction as much as I could.

At around 6PM and the sun was beginning to fall near the end of the lacrosse game and that golden light started to shine through. Matt Brown, Sports Shooter Academy co-founder, was nearby and was consistently reminding me to not zoom in and out and just focus on what’s going on during the game and most especially, not to “chimp”. I was shooting with a Nikon D3 and a Nikon 200-400 zoom lens. Matt had me stay at about 400mm.

Jane Gershovich has her hands full as she balances two cameras while covering the Belmont Shore rugby playoff match during SSA IX. Photo by Robert Hanashiro, Sports Shooter Academy

No “chimping!”  That was a huge part of Sports Shooter Academy IX; keep shooting, keep shooting – you’ll see what you got later. The more you focus on the situation around you and really try to capture the “moments”, the better your photos will turn out.

Near the end of the game University High School scored. I immediately tried to focus on the all the reactions on the field. I concentrated on the player that scored and finally caught him celebrating with his teammate. I positioned myself to get the opponent, with the dejected reaction in the background.

This picture is an example of that. As one of the teams scored to take the lead, I searched for reactions after the goal from both sides. I captured this image, finding jubilation and dejection in one shot. The epitome of sports and what we as sports photographers aim to accomplish, telling a story with our photos.

I shot this photo using a Nikon 200-400mm f/4 zoomed in all the way at 400. I shot at ISO 400, f/4, and at 1/2000 of a second.

(Thanks to SanDisk and Nikon for sponsoring the prizes for the photo of the day.)

Read more.. Sunday, May 20th, 2012

SSA IX Photo of the Day: Thursday

4/26/12 - Irvine Valley College and Orange Coast College players react as the umpire calls the base runner out during a baseball game between Irvine Valley College and Orange Coast College. Photo by Luke Johnson

By Luke Johnson

(Note: First in a series.)

Going into Sports Shooter Academy IX the one thing I really wanted to learn and take back with me was an understanding how to set up a remote camera.

On the first day I was intent on learning as much as I could about remotes, so I decided to shoot the Irvine Valley – Orange Coast College baseball game.

SSA instructor John McDonough checks out the Luke Johnson's remote. Photo by Christy Radecic, Sports Shooter Academy

One of the important things about remotes that instructors stressed, was arriving early to the game. This gave me the time to look around the stadium in search of the perfect spot to hang my remote. I decided to mount my camera on the third base side, aimed at home plate.

With the help of SSA instructor Shawn Cullen, I attached my Nikon D700 and a 70-200 zoom to the fence along the 3rd base line using a Manfrotto Arm and Super Clamp.

Another thing that we were taught is to never think of a remote as a sure thing. Even if you’re prepared, there’s a lot that could go wrong.

I pre-focused on home plate, hooked up a set of PocketWizard Plus III radio triggers and just hoped for the best.

A while later in the middle of the game, I was shooting on the opposite side of where my remote was located and I saw this play begin to develop at the plate. I quickly grab my PocketWizard, smash down the trigger, just praying that it’s receiving on the other end.

Luckily it did.

(Thanks to SanDisk and Nikon for sponsoring the prizes for the photo of the day.)

Luke Johnson at the Irvine Valley - Orange Coast College baseball game. Photo by Christy Radecic, Sports Shooter Academy

Read more.. Thursday, May 17th, 2012

Sports Shooter Academy IX: MAHALO!

By Robert Hanashiro, Sports Shooter Academy

The saying goes “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

For me, the Sports Shooter Academy turns that saying on its head. This workshop keeps me young and I always learn … a lot.

So with apologies to David Letterman, here are:
Top 10 Things I learned (or relearned) at Sports Shooter Academy IX

Workshop faculty member Mike Goulding with a order of chili cheese fries at The Hat. Photo by Robert Hanashiro, Sports Shooter Academy

10 I love the The Hat’s chili fries (but it sure doesn’t love me!)
9 The Nikkor 200-400mm zoom is the IT lens
8 Rugby players are the toughest SOBs out there

Stephanie Moebius had her smile on throughout Sports Shooter Academy IX. Photo by Robert Hanashiro, Sports Shooter Academy

7 Biggest smiles of the week: Stephanie Moebius
6 We need to start off the workshop with eliminating P from the alphabet (NO PROGAM MODE!)

Sparring at La Habra Boxing Club. Photo by Swikar Patel

5 Projects live! (i.e. Swikar Pitel shooting a cool picture story at the La Habra Boxing Club)
4 I am going to fix the Chinese Fire Drill that is the event signups (I promise!)

Looking over workshoppers' images is a highlight. Here I am looking over images with Carrie Jesenovec and Merrian Lucando (far left). Photo by Christy Radecic, Sports Shooter Academy

3 Looking at workshoppers’ images makes me re-fall (is that a real word?) in love with photography
2 I’ve grown more patient over the years … but I need a bit more
1 Chimping is the biggest stumbling block to shooting

There are many people and companies that make the Sports Shooter Academy work and simple thanks is not sufficient in thanking them. But I can at least acknowledge them and give them all a big shout out…

The faculty, staff and speakers educated and inspired us all: Wally Skalij, Rod Mar, Shawn Cullen, Michael Goulding, Myung Chun, Sean Haffey, John McDonough, Dave Black, Christy Radecic, Rafael Delgado, Dave Honl, Matt Bailey and Mike Greenlee.

The #1 reason this wonderful educational program exists and continues is because of Matt Brown. His contacts, business acumen, experience, talents, sense of humor and sense of purpose drives The Academy, giving us the fuel to propel this (sometimes unweildly) bus.

Bill Pekala and Nikon provide The Academy with the resources, support and the funding that enables me to make this program tuition-free for college students. On the ground in O.C. during SSA IX Nikon’s Sara Moosebrugger, Mike Corrado and Ronal Taniwaki gave us their time, knowledge, experience and good humor. Nikon and their people share our dedication to education and photography… which is truly cool.

Nikon's Sara Moosebrugger talks to Jane Jane Gershovich during a rugby match.(Yes, both are shooting with the IT lens: the Nikkor 200-400 zoom. Photo by Robert Hanashiro, Sports Shooter Academy

Samy’s Camera provides the SSA with support, including marketing help and resources to help us throughout the year with planning and logistics. Thanks Sam, Louis, Terry and Patrick.

Think Tank Photo has been a part of the Sports Shooter Academy since Day One. Whatever we ask for, they provide without hesitation. Thanks Doug, Brian, Deanne and Kurt…you’re gear and your support of the SSA is the best and appreciated.

Working with remote gear is always on the top of participants’ list of what they want to learn at these workshops and having PocketWizard involved has allowed up to really amp up our teaching in this area. Thanks to PocketWizard and to Ian Ray who journeyed from Vermont to be a part of our faculty.

Sports Shooter Academy Class of 2012.

liveBooks is the SSA’s home on the Internet, providing us with a wonderful website plus they are an active part of the SSA, as exhibited by co-founder Matt Bailey’s appearance at the past two workshops. His vision and words on wisdom both inspire and educate us.

My good friend Dave Honl is always there when we hold an event, need Honl Photo gear or to have him speak. When they coined the expression cool dude they must have had Dave in mind.

Thanks to CameraBits and SanDisk for providing their wonderful products for us to give to the workshop participants.

And lastly … I am able to continue working on the Sports Shooter Academy because of the Deanna and Emma. Their unending devotion to me and my work isn’t deserved but I continue this crazy notion of “giving a little something back” to photography because of them. This workshop is always devoted to them.

(Robert Hanashiro is USA TODAY’s west coast staff photographer. He is the founder of Sports Shooter and co-founder of the Sports Shooter Academy.)

Read more.. Wednesday, May 16th, 2012