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How to succeed in sports photography without really trying

By Staff | Apr 7, 2008

KEvin Mertens

Since the spring sports action hasn’t gotten into full action mode, I thought I might take this opportunity to answer some questions I’ve been asked regarding what I do for the paper. First of all my main occupation is as a farmer and has been since by college graduation.

Some people have inquired about my training for this job, wondering if I’ve had any. Now I can’t be sure if they are hinting that maybe I could use some or if they are thinking I must have had some. My father has a way of keeping me humble regarding my writing. He’ll get the Register on a Saturday morning, read it, see that I have an article in it and then give me a call and mention that he noticed they must’ve been desperate for articles again this week.

My first experience writing for a paper actually was in high school. Delavan High School had a monthly school newspaper called Static. I started as a writer for the paper in 10th grade and then was a co-editor my senior year. The people who really deserved the kudos for getting that paper out were the students who prepared the stencils to be run off on the mimeograph machine. Some of you younger people may have to find someone who can explain how that machine worked. Let’s just say there was a lot of rejoicing when copying machines were invented.

Upon graduating from DHS, I attended a two year junior college, the University of Minnesota-Waseca or UMW for short. This was primarily an agriculture school and thus its students also affectionately referred to the school as Moo-U or Silo Tech.

It was while attending UMW that the photography bug hit me. I took a photography class and learned all this stuff about f-stops, shutter speed, depth of field, rule of thirds and more, which are basics that I still utilize today.

While at Waseca I worked on the college newspaper doing some writing but the majority of my work for the newspaper was with photography. Except for when I was taking pictures at basketball games, or of some honcho from the main campus stopping in for a visit, my main subjects were animals (remember this was an agriculture school) and most of them were black and white and went moo.

The equipment was a far cry from what we have today. There was no auto anything. It was manual focus, manual film advance, manual exposure, but you really learned how to use a camera. Of course, these cameras used film and that made deadlines a lot more interesting. Digital cameras allow you to shoot your pictures, download them to a computer, choose the pictures and do any cropping or exposure adjustments and you are good to go. Using film meant you shot your pictures, and then developed the film which was a 20-30 minute process. The film had to dry before you could put it in the enlargers to make prints. Squeegees and a hand held hair dryer were tools for speeding the process up.

One last note on UMW, the fact that the college was closed some years after I graduated and turned into a federal prison has allowed me to have some fun when the Bucs play Waseca in sports. I might start visiting with some people from the Waseca area and casually mention that I put in two years at the facility in Waseca. I usually let that statement sit for a few moments before I further explain that the two years was when the facility was a college.

The rest of my education has come from reading, attending a seminar once-in-awhile, picking the brains of others and getting out and shooting a lot of pictures. Gary Sands is one person who has been most helpful in providing me advice and answers to my questions.

I started shooting a lot of sporting events three years ago. I attend athletic banquets and offer posters and photo books for sale. The digital age has made this more feasible than it used to be. One of the comments I hear a lot is, “I wish someone would have been doing this when I, or my kids were in school.”

The opportunity to free-lance for the newspaper came up last fall and has been extremely satisfying as it allows me to combine sports and photography which are two things I really enjoy. I hope you will find them enjoyable also.