Team Sports Pre-Shoot Checklist

Team Sports Pre-Shoot Checklist

2.12.15BLOG > Featured | Sports & Events | Tips

Matt Hernandez is a photographer located in Paducah, KY who specializes in sports and senior photography. To see more of Matt’s work, check him out on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

With spring right around the corner, it’s time to start preparing for lots of team sports photos. Making sure you have everything in order before your sessions is important because shooting teams can get overwhelming. This is my foolproof checklist to make team shoots run as smoothly as possible.

Matt Hernandez Photography Sports Team Posing

Locations for Your Shoot

  • Make sure you have permission to use the team’s field or court well in advance. The last thing you want to do is show up to see a team practicing during your shoot time!
  • Ask ahead of time if you can have field lights turned on. This isn’t a make or break detail, but it will help give your images something extra if the lights are on (even during the day).
  • Scout locations so you know where to shoot. Try to figure out where you want to shoot both the team and individual shots. Plan your setups ahead of time so you know what you are doing. Do a test shoot if you have time so you know your ideas will work.
  • Arrive at least 45 minutes to an hour early to get set up. You never know what might go wrong so the earlier you get to the shoot, the better.
  • Bring any sports gear you may have – balls, bats, helmets, etc. – in case the players don’t have what they need. It’s always good to tell the team’s coaches what they need ahead of time too, but bring extra gear if you have it in case someone forgets something.
  • Set up two stations: one for portraits and one for team shots. This will help save time if you have multiple teams at once. It gets old having to drag equipment around.

Matt Hernandez Photography Sports Volleyball


  • Sports photos tend to be very generic so try edgy lighting and creative posing. People like to have something different than the stereotypical “unit kneeling with the ball shot.” Err on the side of caution and don’t go too overboard or dramatic, but still try to give them something cool and unique.
  • Having printed posing options available is good for saving time. If you don’t have posing examples printed, gather the group before you start shooting portraits and show them what poses they can pick from.
  • Once you are set up for individuals, mark a spot on the ground or bleacher where you will have each player pose and tell everyone ahead of time to stand on the mark. This doesn’t sound like a big deal, but having to tell each player to scoot over, forward or backward can add up and waste a lot of time.
  • Know how many players are on each team ahead of time so you can plan your lighting for team shots. If you have more than 10 together, you might need more than one light (if you’re lighting them, which I highly recommend).

Matt Hernandez Sports Team Photography


  • Have backups of everything! I realize if you’re starting out you may not be able to afford two of each lens. If that is the case, bring your regular portrait lens (I use my 70-200mm 2.8) and have a 50mm as a back up. I also use a second body with a wide angle for my teams. It can really save time if you have two cameras for individuals and teams so you don’t have to change lenses all the time. If you are outside and it’s a windy day, you will also stand a much greater chance of getting dust on your sensor if you change lenses frequently. I learned that the hard way during little league photos a few years ago.
  • Sandbags! Youth sports photos can be hectic and you want your equipment to be safe, especially if you’re photographing younger subjects.
  • Bring a long lens for portraits and a wide angle for teams (35mm or wider).
  • I light all my sports photos with strobes. Speed lights can work too, but whichever it is, it’s good to have backups. I always have at least 3 lights on hand with which to shoot and a few extra.
  • Have plenty of extra order forms with you and bring change. My studio always emails the order forms ahead of time or delivers hard copies so the parents can have them filled out with payment ready to go, but there will always be some that forgot theirs or didn’t receive them in advance.
  • At least one assistant to help with the shoot and take forms/money is a must for me. It’s extremely hard to shoot and take the forms by yourself! When I started out and tried that approach, it was a huge mess. If you can’t afford an assistant, you can always ask a family member or friend for a favor until you can.
  • Having samples of Posters, Memory Mates or other specialty items on hand is good for sales. Physical samples are the best idea, but brining an iPad with samples on it can also work. If people can’t see how great your products look, they won’t be nearly as likely to buy them.

Matt Hernandez Sports Photography Player Posing

I have been shooting high volume sports photos for 5 years and it has been a big learning process. Find a plan that works for you and be ready to adjust to life’s curveballs.

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38 thoughts on “Team Sports Pre-Shoot Checklist

I appreciate you taking the time to explain the processes you have been through in order to help to me and other be successful. I enjoy looking at your work, it really motivates me to keep trying new things. Thank you .

Great article and the images you have taken are truly works of art. I’m sure the teams/players/coaches all loved them. Thanks for the advise/tools.

Josh Jordan says:

Great info Matt. Your work is off the chain! Would love to see a video about how you light teams of 10 or more.

kurt says:

WoW really nice work and tips. All your shots are great, but the volleyball portait with the net in background, killer shot!

Naomi says:

This is great! Love your examples and your tips! I’ve found very little help online for this sort of thing!

This is exactly the style of sports photography I am trying to achieve.

Bob Hurt says:

Very good information. Also, very good image samples.

Stan Kerns says:

Well, all you say is well and good–but–without your input on how to set up your lights and such it isn’t too useful to any but the most experienced–Having taken over two million pictures I could look at the lighting and know pretty much how you did it, but even then I don’t know the ratios you used–If I happened to have a spare team I could do test shots–not likely–so, if you really want to help you need to give lighting placement diagrams and ratios–which would be of considerable value, particularly to the less experienced shooter. Also controlling remote lights is challenging–I use Pocket Wizard and a Sekonic 478–but other stuff would work to–I would be interested in knowing how you do it.

Jonelle says:

Great tips, I have a question though, how do you keep the pre-pay orders matched to the correct player? I am doing my first sport team shoot for over 500 soccer players and can’t figure out the logistics of that.

Lisa Hill says:

Great tips! Thanks, Miller’s, for organizing guest posts!

Rod Arroyo says:

Thanks for the sports photography tips!

Craig Marshall says:

This is for Jonelle – since this is your 1st sports shoot suggest slating each of the players – have an assistant hold the players order form directly under his/her chin and shoot them both up close. Do this prior to taking their posed shots. When you have more experience under your belt you can refine your method for keeping the players straight. Good luck.

patti says:

For Jonelle – write the image # on the player’s order form. If the player doesn’t have a form, write their name, uniform # and image # on the team’s slate.
Reset your camera’s image numbering before the shoot, so you’ll have less numbers to write.

Joe says:

Hey Jonelle, I have a form with me when I shoot where I list the common elements like team name, division, age etc on the top and then as each child comes up I ask for first name, initial of last name and then their uniform number. All that info is to be written in on the order form as well so then I can simply cross reference them. I have photographed as many as 700 kids in one day and not one was misplaced.

All the information Matt gave was helpful, except he forgot to inform on how to manage the shoot. I have been shooting team sports for over 25 years. I’ve made all the mistakes.
Resetting camera numbering is not necessary. just record the full file number on the first child and the last two from there on.
I have a coach hold envelopes and call the kids up for individuals, then the coach records the file number on the form for you. This helps the process go faster which all coaches will appreciate.
I shoot with a D800 with at 28-70 f2.8 lens. I find I don’t need to switch to a long lens, the 70mm works perfectly for the individuals.
Remember to shoot loose, with the large files of todays cameras, it gives you more room for cropping, the final prints for individuals usually aren’t bigger than 11×14, the file from a 25-35 mp camera is overkill.
Millers does custom templates, a great service to make your imaging stand out from the crowd.
Feel free to contact me for more street level, shooting and processing info,

Steve Lucas says:

A quick question on payment. Have you ever allowed for your clients to order on line instead of prepayment? We have been doing this for several years and have found that not everyone orders but our average is higher because those that do order have a chance to see the results.

Bill Caddell says:

Great information Matt and your images are stunning and inspirational. You’ve inspired me today to work on my craft and stepping up my sports images to the next level. I love the lighting and punchy yet subtle post processing. Don’t pay attention to the whiners and complainers who criticize someone giving free information.

JH3 says:

Hi, some photos have somewhat of a solarized effect. I’d like to know if that was achieved via Lightroom presets (version 4 or 5)?

Dana McKenna says:

Jonelle- that’s a lot of players for your first shoot. Make sure you have a time frame nailed down because these organizations normally run on a tight schedule…or a second shooter, have poses nailed down and mark the spot for the players to stand in so all runs smoothly. An assistant to help with the order forms and organzing them is very helpful too.

Have the players’ jersey numbers on your order form template. All forms need to be completely filled out. Make sure when taking the frames of each player you get a clear shot of their jersey # in the image even if the one you use doesn’t have the full number showing, you still can refer to it quickly. With 500 players, depending on the unis you just need a way to separate teams on your frames. Either make a list of teams with corresponding frame numbers (U11 blue girls 20-60) or take a shot of a premade piece of paper with team names on it before you start the next team..

Your order forms should include athlete full name, jersey number, team name, coach name, parents name, number, email address.

Jersey # identification has always been super simple for me in matching them up. When you get home, organize your order forms into teams. Put them in team the order in which you took them.

Load just one team at a time to sports and events when you are placing orders. This prevents jersey # confusion.

I hope this helps! This is a method that is very efficient for me.

Robbie M. says:

Matt, nice work and tips.

I do a lot of commercial work, but we are currently expanding our family photography department.

I guess my question is how do you get into these schools? We are starting to have success with junior and senior portraits, but teams are illusive. Keep getting the same answer. Oh, LifeTouch does our sports teams.

I mean, ya, for static yearbook photos, but what about the individual creative shots that really show the childs persinality ans spirit. Any pointers would be great. Thanks!

Thank you for these tips. One thing I had suggested to be when I started hockey photos was to bring a white board and quickly write the name of the athlete on it first. Then, I take a photo of the white board with the athlete (a coach or parent writes and holds the board for me) then I take the photo of just the athlete.

This basically guarantees that I won’t ever get a kid and his order mixed up because I have a visual of the name and the athlete together!

Thank you for all the great comments! I am glad all of you enjoyed my post.


Thanks for taking the time to read the post! I totally understand what you are saying. However, the intent of this particular post was to show everyone my pro-shoot check list, not to go into detail on lighting. Maybe I can do another entry some time with more details on that! To answer your question about ratios…. I don’t get very technical with lighting ratios. I typically use the back of my camera or tether to see what my lighting looks like and adjust it as needed. If I’m outside I always try to underexpose the ambient light to darken the background in sports photos. If I’m using rim lights I try to make sure they are around a stop brighter than my key light. I know that is not much info but that’s how I work in a nutshell. I do have a system to get the lights looking how I want, but I may have to include that in a later post that is geared more towards lighting. Thanks again!


We always have our clientsfill out order forms with details such as the player name, number and team name. Then, we have each athlete hold a dry erase board with all that info in it for the first photo, then I match the players photos up with their order forms once I’m at the studio. I hope that helps!


We try to encourage everyone to prepay because it can be hard to get clients to view photos online and make a purchase in a timely manner. We typically have them prepay, then tell them they can order more after the shoot online if they want. This can help you make sure you make up front money, and have extra sales later.


For youth sports I try to get as much right in camera a possible. I do have presets I use in Lightroom during my post processing. Depending on the shoot and the client I may do custom retouching in Photoshop also. The Photoshop work is usually done for higher end clients like seniors or teams that set up the shoot for team schedule posters or senior night gifts.

Thank you for the very informative post. I’ve been doing athletic portraits for many years but it’s always in the bright sunshine. Are you using high-speed sync to achieve the near “night-time” look in some of your portraits or are you actually taking them at night? If you are taking them at night how do you get a whole team done?

Robbie M. says:

Would really love to hear how folks actually get their foot in the door with these schools.

How do you get in front of them. How do you get in?

Nobody ever talks about this and it is really frustrating.

Any and all ideas are greatly appreciated.


jh3 says:

Good question Robbie. Not an easy task when they’ve been working with photogs who they’ve developed a reliable, working relationship with. I’m attempting to make that leap this season with youth sports. I began laying the groundwork last spring by “self-appointing” myself as my granddaughter’s soccer team photog. I shot every game, their post-season awards banquet and posted the photos for all parents (and whoever they gave the link to) to download for free. Obviously I shot the opposing team’s kids as well and ensured the coach got the link for their parents. I uploaded no junk shots and sent everything through Lightroom to show them what they couldn’t get via their camera phones and various other camera’s that practically everyone had. Point being, I sought to make my photos stand out and as a result my name became known, if only around the U6-U7 Soccer league; gotta start somewhere right. I’ve already received requests to shoot several teams’ “official” photos this spring.

Naomi says:

There is a presentation on CreativeLive about large volume photography. I watched it and it had a lot of great points. I had a lot of other questions too, but I’ll have to look elsewhere I suppose. One note he makes on getting into schools is that a person has to be completely in the community and really boast up how great local service is compared to a larger corporation. Lots of schools don’t want to have to deal with finding or working with a new photographer if the one they currently have is doing an ok job and parents don’t complain too much. I have no experience in this area, but that’s what he recommended. I currently have contracts with one school because I’m a part time teacher there. The principal mentioned that there are a few other very small schools in the area who are looking for someone other than Lifetouch since Lifetouch doesn’t like small grade schools and it doesn’t pay very well for them to come for 75 kids. Or sports teams of 30. It works for me right now since I have very little overhead. My long-term goal is to get my name out there in hopes that eventually I can do awesome high school photos (like these) that look nothing like the boring ones from Lifetouch. Maybe that helps someone out there…maybe not…. 🙂

Robbie M. says:

Thanks JH3 and Naomi 🙂

Good tips. Yes , we are quite involved in the community and with the local chambers. Actually just joined an educational committee with the chamber of commerce, and implementing a mock interview program, where jumiors and senior meet with local businesses for mock job interviews. Also put together an entrepreneurial program. Have kids coming in for that who are now becoming model reps. It is starting to work. Also we started a program with the PTA and fund raising by giving a portion of the proceeds back to like the theatre department, baseball team, etc…. Anything and everything to get the word out 🙂 Hope all have a great 2015! Thanks!

Kenny D says:

I use around 4 assistants during league shoots. I’ll have 3 taking money, processing credit cards and validating order forms and the other with me doing the photos.

I print a team sheet for each team with name, coach and assigned time. I photograph that sheet at the start of each team. The assistant gets the form from each player and writes the image number I call out. She will also verify the form is as complete as possible. When the team is done the team sheet and order forms are wrapped and banded together and dropped in a box. Processing by team is easy back at the computer. This is helpful because one of the leagues I do all teams are the same name and have the same uniforms. So you have to keep them straight and the teams individualized. Which leads me to my next point.

As for jersey numbers, don’t count on it. Some teams will have multiple players with the same number. Many teams, especially soccer, do not have a number on the front. If there is even the slightest wrinkle in the jersey that 8 may look like a 0. I’ve seen so many fonts too that may make it more difficult. This is why the image number goes on each player order form. I have no doubt who is in that image.

As for getting your foot in the door. Pretty simple. Ask and offer. I offered a better deal and the leagues took me up on it. After doing the local youth leagues for a couple of years the school called me to take team photos. It can snowball if you let it.

As far as Matt’s lighting goes it is great for a single high school team like baseball or football. And it is awesome!!! Doing high volume league shoots it is not going to work. The sun is around the horizon for just a short time. Doing hundreds of kids doesn’t really offer itself to that type of lighting.

Sorry for the ramble but there is so much that could be talked about and so many great tips and advice from Matt and many others here.

Good luck and keep shooting!

Diana says:

I have been shooting teams for several years now and rarely does everyone fill out the forms completely…especially when they know that I pretty much know all the kids by now. I do have an assistant taking forms/money and verifying uniform numbers, but, after the team shot I always write down the uniform numbers by rows or however I have them lined up. I have a couple different points to cross-reference that way. I try to keep the uniform number “clear” in the individual shot as well, if available. The challenge is when you get to sports that just have different colored shirts and not numbers. Then, it is necessary to physically write down their names after the group shot as a cross reference.

I agree with Kenny….different types of lighting are great, but when you’re shooting all day, it isn’t possible to get all the dramatic lighting. We give them great individual somewhat traditional (with a flair) shots for league sports, then when the All-Star/Tournament teams are selected, we come back and do something more dramatic. That way, we can shoot just one team per evening and get the sunset, etc. We also, like to save the awesome lighting for our Seniors or individual sessions!

Stas says:

Wow, I’ve never took a photo of such a big group of people, what Kind of lighting you used ? must be at least 3 strobes? I’m a wedding photographer, and sometimes I have to shoot a group, but usually it’s during the day so I don’t have to use as much equipment

Kylie Dotts says:

I like your advice to scout an area beforehand to know what it’s going to look like when you go to take their pictures. I am a huge fan of preparing and being ready for anything so this is great advice. Playing on a sports team is one of those things that you will probably never forget and having amazing pictures to go along with the experience would really help and add to that. Hiring a team sports photographer would be the best way to achieve that. I loved getting pictures when I was a kid on my sports teams so it would be a great way to improve the experience for others as well.

Stephanie Dillon says:

Hello, I am helping my brother do his first photo shoot for multiple club volleyball teams. I was wondering if you would be willing to give me some tips on how to organize it. I figured you probably do this a lot and have some sort of system. We are in the process of deciding the details of the packages and creating an order form. However, we are starting from scratch and need some advice on how to do the rest. I would greatly appreciate your advice if possible.

Thank you

Judith Gould says:

Your portraits are gorgeous! It’s so inspiring, they are really professional!

I like your tip on posing, how most sports pictures are very generic, so it’d be good to try some edgy lighting or creative posing. I coach a youth wrestling team and I have to get some pictures taken as a team. I don’t want it to be just generic though, so I might suggest some edgy lighting or something.

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