Athletes around the area are coming out of the summer lull, heading back to their teams on Aug. 1 when official practices are set to begin.
Following close by to capture those moments will be a group of freelance photographers who provide action shots for area newspapers, including The Mount Airy News: Charles Leftwich, Dale Sands and Michael Mullins.
Once, newspapers employed photographers to capture those priceless moments, but many papers now rely on the generosity of shutterbugs to help provide local coverage to prep athletes.
“The established athlete can always give you that high-quality result, and that’s always cool, but that first-year tennis player or golfer that no one knew about can bloom over the course of the season and witnessing that through your viewfinder can make you a quiet fan,” Leftwich said.
“I bond with many of these athletes with just a look or a facial expression that establishes a rapport. I leave the verbal relationship to the reporters.”
Leftwich is already preparing as he transitions into fall sports.
“Action photography needs a strategy. I like to have a few ideas prior to the shoot, and I scout angles and unique capture moments that will reveal a closeness or intimacy with the athlete,” he said.
He also encourages parents to get the best out of their personal cameras.
“Take full advantage of these first games that provide sunlight for the first hour or so, these may be your best of the season. When shooting into the sunlight if you have no choice, use flash. I can’t tell you how many people bring me photos they took with a new camera kit of their cheerleader that’s a silhouette.”
While he shoots many sporting events and teams, Leftwich developed a strong relationship with Forbush over the past year and has followed its many sports teams.
Dale Sands may be more popular than the athletes he shoots in North Stokes territory. A fixture at Viking games for years, Sands even travels with teams to many venues, including Surry County schools.
Over the summer he’s stayed busy photographing senior pictures and weddings along with spending time with his family before his son Mason, a basketball standout, makes his way to college in a few short weeks.
When it comes to photography Sands believes practice makes for perfect.
“I do a lot of testing and trying out features on my camera that I haven’t used very much. I’m getting better using flash outdoors; it’s been one of my projects this summer,” he said.
Sands is a fan of all sports and doesn’t pick favorites.
“I love them all. I’ve always loved football but over the years I’ve learned to enjoy cross-country, track, cheerleading, volleyball, and tennis. High school sports is a fantastic way to spend a day shooting pictures.”
Sands is quick to say sports photography is much more than just shooting a game.
“It’s the emotion the kids and coaches produce for great action pictures that I love,” he said. “Everything is happening so fast that you must plan ahead. Most of the sports are played after school and some are indoors. This creates a problem with light for action pictures. You’ve got to buy good equipment and learn how to use it correctly to shoot high-speed pictures in low light.”
Sands tells parents to wait until a point in the action when an athlete isn’t moving at maximum speed to take a sports photo.
“Plan ahead for your shot. Wait for the picture to come to you and don’t chase the subject,” he said. “I’ve learned so much from some wonderfully skilled people over the years. I always look forward to another sports season.”
Mike Mullins is more than a friendly face at West Stokes. Behind the lens he captures riveting photos that keep parents and athletes asking for more.
Mullins said he’s honored and humbled to do what he loves and work alongside other skilled photographers.
During the offseason, Mullins said, “I’ve been doing some hiking, and I love shooting God’s beauty he places in my path. I’ve shot some portraits as well and some youth rodeo. I enjoy the action of the rodeo because it’s a nice mix of rider and animal interaction. It’s fast, exciting and different skill levels in competition.”
The photographer continues to improve his craft by repetition and utilizing tips and tutorials available.
“There’s endless information out there for all skill levels if you just take the time to look for it,” he said.
After a summer hiatus, he said, “I’ve been looking forward to football since last season ended. It’s always been special to me. I love the enthusiasm and raw emotions of the kids, coaches and fans in high school sports. It’s a great atmosphere to be a part of.”
Like Leftwich and Sands, Mullins has captured the highs of state championship wins and the disappointing lows of defeat.
“You’re looking for the second of a catch, hit, or an expression. The moment before or after are ok but there is one sweet moment in time that is the defining shot.”
Follow Michael Mullins on Facebook to see more his photography.
Leftwich shares a sampling of his photography on Facebook (Leftwich Photos), and his work can be viewed and purchased at http://leftwichphotos.smugmug.com.
Throughout the school year Sands photography can be viewed and purchased at dalesandsphotography.zenfolio.com.
Amanda Dodson writes for The Stokes News and can be reached at (336) 813-2426 or on Twitter at AmandaTDodson.