Oct 16, 2020 | Sports

Should You Photograph an Athlete from the Back?



Is it okay to take a photograph of athletes in action from the back?

That is a question I have received regarding sports photography.  I’ll admit I hadn’t given it much thought.  I’m generally shooting my own daughter in sports so there are times I will get a good photograph of her doing something facing away.  I don’t see it as much of a problem, after all, she is my daughter.  If I get a killer photo of her facing away from me, it will be hanging in a gallery next to plenty of other photos of her with her face visible.

Take this photo for example.  This image was captured from outside the center field fence at an effective 450mm focal length and a distance of about 175 feet.  I really like this photo, even though I can’t see her face, but why?

First off, I know it is her.  The number on her back indicates it is her along with the team colors telling me what year the photo was taken.  

It follows the rule of thirds pretty well.  The pitcher is in the right third with her action and eyeline directing the viewer to the left third where the rest of the subjects are.  She’s even literally pointing with her glove to the batter.

I see action in this photo as she is in the middle of delivering a pitch to the batter.  The shutter speed of 1/500 gives just a little blur to her hand, not enough to be distracting, but it indicates motion.  The viewer knows what she is doing.

I like the duality of the scene.  She is delivering a pitch down range with a batter waiting to make an attempt on the ball.  The offense and defense, the yin and yang of the scene.  In this scene there will be victory and defeat, we just don’t know who will get what.

I also like that there is an audience.  The umpire for sure is an audience member of this scene.  He is waiting to see how the pitch breaks or is hit.  The catcher is observant and waiting to catch the pitch, lest it go wild.

The scene is dirty and hot.  Obviously they are playing on dirt, but you can tell by the way the girls are dressed, in sleeveless shirts or with the sleeves rolled up, that it is hot.  The catcher is wearing dirt on her gear, indicative of having been in the trenches of the game for a bit.

To me there is just so much going on with this photo.  The struggle between two opposing sides, the lone batter against the catcher and pitcher.  An impartial observer on the field as well as onlookers in the stands.  The focus, however, is squarely on #75 as she is literally the only one in focus.  She is the subject.

One other thing to notice on this one is the height difference between the pitcher (or any of the girls) and the umpire.  To attempt this image from the reverse angle, which would be considered more proper, was difficult.  To cut the angle over the umpire and still pick up the girls playing was not possible.  You might be able to stage it, but this was live action.  If they were taller, say in a 16 or 18 year old bracket, an image over the umpire would probably work great.

So in this case, I think it was perfectly acceptable to capture the image from behind the play.  Even though it breaks the “rule” of having the athlete’s face in the image, I think it does so many other things well, that it works.  In case anyone was interested, yes, this photograph hangs on my wall.  I’m a proud daddy.

Rules in photography are meant to be broken at times.  

Until next time, go take some photos.



Ralph is an avid photographer in his spare time. He spends a lot of his photography time shooting sports photos of his daughter, who plays softball and swims. He also has a keen interest in mobile photography.


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