FHS Boys Basketball Team Photos - 2024 edition.
By Sean Openshaw
The fifth time was a charm, but it was also a nail-biter.
It was a charm because of the hard work, luck and a little magic and duct tape that went into photographing Flagstaff High School's boys basketball teams on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023. This was my fifth time photographing the team.
It was almost a disaster because that’s just how photographing events like this go down.
In the past, I posted photos of the things I photograph, along with brief, scrambled-together paragraphs about how amazing everything was and how amazing my clients are – and here are the photos to prove it.
But there is so much more to the story than what the photos show. So much more goes into creating these images than what they look like.
My day started with a bit of a scramble.
Even though I have my lists, I forgot a bag of essential extension cords at home, which led to a series of unexpected events involving my wife, Keli, my assistant, Sam, and a dead car battery.
Because things inevitably go wrong, I arrived at the school 30 minutes before my 8 a.m. appointment with the coach to let me in. I like the luxury of setting up with as much wiggle room as possible since a 30-minute head start can quickly turn into a 15-minute deficit before you know it.
I'm determined to set a stage that makes these young athletes look amazing and ensures they have fun in the process. I also know that the more perfect I can make the image straight out of the camera, the less work is required to process the thousands of images that inevitably get taken.
Most of all, I believe that photo day should be fun and not a dreaded requirement.
It's my goal to capture the personality and athleticism of these players in a way that leaves their parents no choice but to want every picture.
I know that photographing 50 players in four hours can feel like a production line where I only have about three minutes with each athlete. This is why I have four poses that flow from one to the other, but I leave myself open for inspiration. I also leave the last pose up to the athletes. I let them decide based on some suggestions that I printed out. Many of them come with their own poses, which show me what's trending and give me ideas to adopt into my next shoot.
My approach to photography is relatively straightforward.
I'm not a fan of fancy Photoshop work or glamorous composites. Instead, I focus on creating clean, simple, energetic, and honest images, including some custom black and white photos that allow me to interject my 'art' into the process.
The setup for team photography shoots is an extensive process.
It involved assembling a large 40x20 foot black backdrop, setting up 6-8 strobes with light modifiers, and dealing with the logistical challenge of having only two power outlets for 300 feet of cords. This setup takes about two hours. I can do it in an hour, if necessary, but I prefer to give myself a buffer for when things go wrong.
Shooting tethered, I displayed low-resolution images on an iPad so the athletes and parents could see the dramatic lighting and poses. It's always rewarding to see the excitement in the players' eyes as they await their turn or jokingly harass the player on deck. This approach transforms the often-dreaded 'Photo Day' into an enjoyable experience.
In the past, we've started this shoot at 7 a.m., but anyone with a teenager knows that a 7 a.m. start is a non-starter. We decided to do 10 a.m. this year, and the resulting demeanors were rewarding. This year, everyone arrived just in time, dressed and ready to go.
Before we begin, I like to address the athletes, introduce myself, and walk them through the poses. I still have to guide them during their shoot, but it’s much easier if we’ve had the talk. Either way, my voice is gone by the end of the day.
Throughout the shoot, my assistant Sam was indispensable, managing the flow of players and capturing behind-the-scenes footage. We use a QR code system to efficiently sort photos into each player's private albums, streamlining the ordering process for parents and the postproduction for me. It allows me more time to do what I love: taking photos.
Parent and booster extraordinaire Jodie Centner also helped. Jodie has been helping me for the past five years, and she’s indispensable in organizing the day. Her involvement has been invaluable. But with her last son, Jake, graduating, she doesn’t have any more kids in the program. I don't know what I will do when she's gone. Jodie, if you are reading this… THANK YOU!!
It was a perfect opportunity to show what happens behind the camera.
As we came into the last stretch of the day, wrapping up with the Varsity team, Jake Bacon, a local photojournalist and former colleague at the Arizona Daily Sun arrived to capture some behind-the-scenes action.
After a strenuous five hours of shooting and two hours of setup, it was time to pack up. Fortunately, the breakdown process is much quicker, usually taking about 30 minutes. And yes, I was looking forward to a pizza date with my wife she'd texted me about earlier.
Reflecting on the day, it's more than just taking photos. It's about creating a fun environment, capturing genuine expressions, and making art that reflects the spirit of these young athletes.
It's a process I cherish and look forward to each year.
If you have a team that needs to be photographed, please get in touch with me. It doesn’t even have to be a sports team. It could be a club or an organization. I take photos of physician teams, dance companies and relator groups. Most of the time, I can do these without any cost to the club or team, so contact me for more information on how to capture amazing photos of your team.