Critique the Community Episode 17: Sports Photography

Last week, we asked the Fstoppers Community to submit their best sports images to be critiqued by the Fstoppers team. We had a fantastic variety of images to choose from with over 250 entries. To keep in theme with this episode, we decided to film it during a recent ski trip. Lee and Patrick gave feedback to twenty images chosen from the submissions. Check out the selections and add your feedback and thoughts to the comments. 






















The Fstoppers Community Rating System

If you have an Fstoppers account, you are able to create your own profile and portfolio directly within the Fstoppers Community. Once you have a portfolio uploaded, you can browse images in the community and rate the photos of your peers. Even though art is usually a fairly subjective matter, we wanted to create a rating system that was as objective and unbiased as possible. This way, if one of your images has been rated 50 times and has received an average rating of 2 stars, you could feel confident that maybe that particular image is not up to par. Below is a simple explanation of the Fstoppers Community Rating System.

One Star: The Snapshot

One star ratings are limited to snapshots only. Snapshots are usually taken to document a time or location, but little to no thought has gone into the creation of the image. If an image has been "lit" with external light (besides a direct on-camera flash), it is at least a two star picture. The majority of one star images have had no post-production work done to them, but do often have an "Instagram style" filter added to them. The average person these days snaps one star images every single day with their smartphones. Most one star images that pop up on sites like ours are images of flowers, pets, landscapes, sunsets, objects around a house, etc. If you read Fstoppers, you should not be sharing one star images for any reason.

Two Stars: Needs Work

All images, besides maybe five star images, always have room for improvement, but two star images "need work" before they should be included in your portfolio. As photographers, we are snapping thousands of images per year, but only a few of those images should ever be shared or put into our portfolio. A photographer who has taken a two star image has put some thought into the composition, exposure, and post-production, but for some reason has missed the mark. A two star image should not be in the portfolio of a full-time professional photographer and amateur photographers should strive for something better. Even complete amateurs who don't understand photography at all are capable of taking two star images from time to time.

Three Stars: Solid

A three star image is an all-around good image. The photographer has a solid understanding of the basics: composition, color, focus, subject matter, and post-production. A three star image is "good," but it's not great. Most part-time professional photographers have mostly three star images in their portfolios. Usually, a level three image would have been rated four stars if it had been shot in a better location, or with a better model showing a better expression, or if there was better post-production. A photographer capable of taking a three star image is capable of taking four and five star images if they would simply pay more attention to the details. 

Four Stars: Excellent

Four star images are fantastic. In most cases, four star images have a certain style to them that links them directly to their creator. A four star image usually requires planning and attention to extreme detail. It's almost impossible to shoot a four star image by getting lucky. Four star images have almost flawless conception, composition, lighting, subject matter, and post-production. If you have any 4 four star images in your portfolio, you should be very proud of yourself.

Five Stars: World Class

Five star images are flawless and unforgettable. The amount of time, energy, and talent that goes into the average five star image is staggering. In many cases, these pictures require a team to produce, including a professional retoucher. The concept, lighting, subject, location, and post-production on these images has to be perfect. In some cases, the jump from four to five stars may be as simple as changing the unknown model in the picture with a celebrity or bringing in a set designer or stylist to make the image slightly better. Although there are always exceptions, most five star images take days, if not weeks, or months to produce.

Strengthening Your Own Portfolio

Even with our objective rating system, people are going to disagree with what they like because ultimately, art is still a matter of opinion. However, we believe once an image has been rated over 25 times, it will have a rating that is pretty fair and honest (we hope to deter trolls by giving negative Karma points when a vote is more than one star away from the community average). If one of your images in your own portfolio is rated lower than what you personally feel it should be rated, we would urge you to try to look at the image from an unbiased angle. Step back, erase your memory of the photoshoot itself, and try to imagine an art buyer, stock agency, potential client, or local gallery as they decided if they wanted to invest in your services. Would your image make the cut?

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Ted Merklin's picture

Very cool just to have my photo selected. You did hit the nail on the head - I was hired to do this for a local tournament to sell to parents. I do this as a hobby to keep myself in lenses and film, and don't consider myself a pro by any means. I noticed most of your higher rated photos were planned. What do you suggest to boost in-the-moment action photos? I don't have aspirations of SI, but I wouldn't mind showing something to get photo credentials at local collegiate events.

Lee Morris's picture

Well this is what we were debating in the video. I think that portraits of children playing sports will never look "professional" but if you took that same technique to the big leagues your work might really look amazing.

Ted Merklin's picture

I absolutely think thats part of it. Context plays a huge role. Thanks again!

Caleb Kerr's picture

#13 chiming in here. Thanks for the thoughts! Further information, if you're curious: the model is Trey Hardee, 2012 Olympics silver medalist decathlete. I was hired to shoot this by the company that manufactures the ball that he's holding because it's the signature Trey Hardee edition ball. They did request a pure white background, which is always challenging to not make feel like a stock photo, so I do agree with the comments in that regard. Thanks for the inclusion and thoughts!

Russell Johnston's picture

Thanks for picking one of my images #2 on the list, in the video you say you dont know who they are. This was a huge fight. Bellator 131 and it was a title fight for the lightweight belt, so why not as big as UFC it was good sized event.

Robert Wagner's picture

Thanks for the critique of my photo guys! Honored to have your input! Incase you're curious it's the Toledo Mud Hens. and I agree that I wish the pitcher had a better stance. The sky was like that for about 5 minutes and I had to run down to the dugout to get it and almost missed it. and I'm sorry for the on deck better in the top right... my bad!

Tomek Fryszkiewicz's picture

Hi there! Thanks for choosing my photo :) (#19)

A word of explanation. We took this photo just for fun right after we finished a commercial shoot for a fitness gear manufacturer - Apus Sports. The girl is a professional pole dancer. We had no poles in the studio so we decided to use another model :P I wanted to utilize my models' abilities to get an interesting shot for my portfolio and we had literally no time to perfect the pose because we had to leave the studio. It was already late and the girl was tired after lifting tons of kettlebells.
I agree that we could've done it better and I'm pretty sure that under different circumstances we would've nailed it ;)

Please take a look at all the other photos to get the whole picture if you like:

Notice the colors of clothes and gear, hence the make-up ;) This was a futuristic stylized shoot, not a lifestyle sports casual kind of shoot. You said the face is 'dead' - I'd rather say 'calm and focused' :) We wanted to show the athletes with a sort of 'monumental' attitude, with no sign of effort or fatigue.

Lighting! I had an assistant holding a strobe with a gridded beauty dish. He was directing the light manually depending on where the models face was during her crazy move. I wanted to light her face and the male model's abs. That's why he stays in the shade :) The colors are made with gels on strip boxes placed behind.

Thanks again for the critique! Looking forward to hearing more :)

Michael DeStefano's picture

Took a look at the actual shoot, amazing work. really like the way you did the Post.

Tomek Fryszkiewicz's picture

Thanks Michael :)

Peter Timmer's picture

You should've posted one of the other shots!

Looks like you combined multiple flashes to capture the models in a single exposure and using steady colored light to capture the movement in between these flashes. By doing this you really show the functionality of the product. The models look great and the post processing is done really well, i bet the clients are really satisfied with the results!!

Great job!

Tomek Fryszkiewicz's picture

I did post some of the other shots but they were not chosen to be critiqued ;)
Yes, I combined flash with slow shutter to show the movement and some activities you can perform with the gear. Unfortunately, most of the shots didn't come up perfect in a single exposure so I had to align multiple shots in post.
I'm very happy with the results and so is the client :)
Thanks for the feedback! :)

Patrick Hall's picture

Here is an article just posted on CNN with some of the year's top sports images just so everyone can have an outside perspective.

Grant McKinlay's picture

Was great having my image reviewed, thanks so much for including it in the selection. Here with a little background information and also the requested raw image. The image is a heavy Photoshop'd image as you will see with the raw, the bike was moving, shot in full sun, no lights ;) took a few takes to get the timing right for the shot I wanted. The cropping was deliberate for use on a website banner with supporting text on the left side.

Lee Morris's picture

thanks for posting this. great job on the edit.

Miko Montifar's picture

Thank you for the critique guys and for selecting my photo! agree with Patrick with the suggestion of cropping it and bringing down the saturation of the sky. nice suggestion of Lee with the lighting. enjoyed your comments! much appreciated!

Ps: Yes Patrick, he did land it! ;) hehehe!

Jarrod Moore's picture

Thanks for choosing one of my shots for the critique.
There was most certainly luck involved with the shot of the F1 car crashing. I was actually shooting this from the general admission area, as I did not have a full FIA media accreditation. Knowing what the crowds were like at this event, I headed to turn 1 about 3 hours before the start of the race to get a spot.

With new regulations as well as a new electronic braking system on all of the cars and it being the first time these systems would be put to use under race conditions, chances were higher of something happening at turn 1. So I guess, knowing where to be incase something happened had more to do with it than just pure luck.

I am actually head back to Melbourne in a few weeks to cover the event, with full FIA media accreditation.

Deleted Account's picture

Nice dig at the end ;)

Vegard Breie's picture

Thx guys!
Really love these articles in all different types of photography!
Constructive feedback can be hard to find! And really good learning to see image evaluation out loud!
Keep it up!

Tom Wall's picture

Nr 8. here. Wow I didn't see this until now. Thank you so much! I'm truly humbled by your kind words. And you guys are right, this wasn't taken during a race, but during a training session.