Bows, Braids, Bands and Shoes Too

by | Oct 15, 2013

By John Anderson

Of all the field sports, I’ve taken the most photographs of soccer. This is simply because my son Robert has played soccer since he was 5 years old. During my brief stint with The Daily Voice, I also photographed basketball and indoor track. Working primarily as an advertising photographer for the past 25 or so years, sports photography was for fun – capturing action for my son and his friends. The advent of the Auburn Mass Daily changed everything.

In a newspaper, photographs need to be captioned, and captions need accurate identifications of the subject. This can be quite a chore. Team rosters are a good starting point, but you’ve got to find the number. This isn’t so much of a problem in soccer, basketball and baseball where players are generally upright during play – not so easy in field hockey where the girls are bent over in nearly every play, and equally difficult in football where its hard to visually separate players as they end up in piles on the field. The front and back jersey numbers are often not visible. Their protective headgear also makes face recognition impossible. Cross Country and Track and Field don’t have numbers at all.

While I’m photographing, I make some notes about significant plays and reference the unique file number in the camera. It is not unusual to come away from a game with 200-300 shots. After I download the cards to my MAC, I do a preliminary edit where I discard the out-of-focus images, those that simply aren’t interesting, and those where a player or referee has moved between my lens and my intended subject. At the same time, I write down those images that might be newsworthy. I process those shots in Photoshop to crop, sharpen, color correct, and resize. Then, I’m onto the captions.

In football, the uniforms have numbers on each shoulder which helps a lot. If I had my way, helmets would also display numbers on each side. Sometimes the helmet is the only visible part during a play. Field hockey presents a different challenge. It is often a photograph before or after my chosen image that reveals the number since the uniform front is folded over as the player leans over to move the ball or take a shot. Numbers on both sides of the uniform skirt would be nice.

The Auburn girls, however, help me a lot through their signs of individuality. The Rockets typically wear unique hair bands; hairstyling is consistent from game to game; the captains sport a striped “CAPTAIN” band on their left sock; many wear some type of bow or ribbon on their hair; and each has goggles of a specific color. Then there are the shoes. With a huge selection of cleats on the market, players pick their favorites, and few have the same. This is one of my easiest ways to identify a player, and I now know some shoes and the players wearing them instantly.


Identification is not foolproof. As an example, I put image 5814 in Monday’s slide show. Is this 22 or 23? Mary Grace Judge or Alexa Kennedy? I only had 2 shots of the player, and the first digit is obviously a 2. In the other image, the second digit does not look like a 3. I made the call on 22 and identified her as Judge. If I got it wrong, apologies to both girls. Have a look at the slide show to see my challenges: