Tim Tadder Shares Tips for Photographing Famous Athletes

Tim Tadder has a style like none other and his professional athlete collection is top notch.  Whether your talent is a celebrity, an athlete or just an everyday person capturing a powerful portrait is not easy.  We asked Tim to share some insights he has learned over the years while photographing some of the most talented athletes in their sport.
Athletes are just normal people, they put their pants on the same way everyone else does.
The biggest thing I have learned over the last 10 years of shooting the worlds most famous athletes is that they are just normal people and want to be treated like normal people. For the most part (with exception of only a handful of super divas) the more natural I handle a subject the better the result.  Athletes can sense nerves so best to leave those at home. Prepare, plan and practice. When the shoot happens you will be ready. There is no need to be nervous, its just another subject, go make a kick ass photo.
Structure is essential.
An athlete’s life is based on schedules, routines, and following coaching. They live in a very structured time managed world. If you can share your shoot structure and expectations you will put your subject into a familiar space.Then you can coach the athlete into what you want to happen. Taking your subject to their familiar place will allow the athlete to feel more comfortable and be more likely to deliver a great result.
While recently photographing a NFL player the client told us that the previous year, the player, heard the photographer say one more, and after that one more, and one more again.  The player walked off set thinking he was done. We all know one more means 10 more minutes, but to the athlete, one more means one more. Knowing this, I walked my talent through the shots list and shoot plan which help set the correct expectations.  At least with me, he knew up front that one more didn’t not really mean one more..
If you can get an athlete to talk about themselves, you are set. 
Legendary boxer, Larry Holmes said it best  “I love me some me.”  Try to find a way for the subject to recant awesome plays, moments or triumphs in a storied career. After a little prompting, soon they will be very much into the process. Its amazing how quickly the shoot will begin to flow. The energy will loosen and you’ll be surprised  with what you might get.
While shooting a hall of fame baseball player I started probing him about his best years hitting.  He had so much to say, including sharing his World Series experience and his MVP season. Before I knew it he was doing everything I wanted while he was spinning tales about himself.
Know the sport, the strength and weakness of your subject; but only shoot the strength.
You might have a pre-visualized image, but the day’s subject could not be the right fit. I recently shot an NBA player and the creatives wanted a shot of the player flying through the air mid dunk. The problem, the athlete was known NOT to be a person that dunks but rather a layup guy. The subject saw the comps and said “I don’t dunk.” After and awkward moment I quickly  said, “layups are super graceful, that will be cool.” And then I tried to move the conversation forward as fast as possible. Problem solved but it took some work to gain the trust back from the subject.
 Share the image captures with the subject to make them part of the process.
Last year we photographed one of the NFL’s best QB’s. Everyone warned me about his Diva status. We were going to have 15 minutes tops. So I wanted to make sure that the takes we got were going to be good. After the first pass, I pulled the subject in and said, ” This is cool, but I would really like to see more turn and lean into the move, it will make the image feel more powerful.” He got it right away, did exactly what I asked for, and then came right back to the computer to check his adjustments. It was better, he saw it and right away saw another way he could improve the image with his body language. The 15 minutes turned in 45 and we got a bunch of extra imagery because he was so into the process.
To see more of Tim’s athlete imagery, please link to his Sports Portfolio on our site.

8 thoughts on “Tim Tadder Shares Tips for Photographing Famous Athletes

  1. This is useful information, but i think the real struggle is with getting the opportunity to shoot these folks in the first place. Some information about that initial interaction would be very helpful. Does his agency bring all these athletes Tim’s way (surely not exclusively)? If not, are their publicists just stumbling across his work? What is the relationship that keeps a steady, repeatable flow of high-profile subjects to Tim’s studio? I’ve shot some local celebrity athletes, but don’t have a steady flow of them.

    • Hi there. Thanks so much for reading the blog and taking the time to reply. Here is what Tim had to say when I shared your comment with him, ” Great photos are contagious, agencies find us to apply our skills towards their needs. I started with local athletes and it spread as the work got better the subjects got better. ”
      Happy holidays!

      • Thanks for the feedback. I spoke with Tim on the phone once, and between this reply and that conversation he seems like a really down to earth guy. I appreciate the response.

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  3. It can be very difficult to capture the perfect picture of an athlete. A picture that tells a story of struggle, triumph or defeat. But once you capture, it is absolutely amazing.

  4. I appreciate Tim sharing his insight on the art for and profession. How would an aspiring sports photographer go about finding representation? Is there a list of agents that is available somewhere somehow that one could access online?

    • Hi there! Thanks so much for reading the blog and commenting. You should check out workbook.com They are a great resource to find list of agents. As well as Aphotoeditor.com

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