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|| News Item: Posted 2015-07-22

Sports Shooter Behind-The-Scenes
Documenting The Calgary Rage Women’s Tackle Football Team

By Candice Ward

Photo by Candice Ward

Photo by Candice Ward
Until three seasons ago, I did not even know there was such a thing as women’s tackle football. I don’t mean the kind done in their underpants – but full uniform, regular gridiron football.

When I found out about the Calgary Rage Women’s Tackle Football team, I was intrigued. I needed to know why these women of all shapes and sizes and ages decided they wanted to don pads and helmets and risk injuring themselves for the fun of it.

Beyond shooting the action on the field, sometimes, it is far more interesting to photograph the players of any team off the field. See what makes them tick and capture their individual personality, but still within the realm of their team or sport.

When the team was looking for sponsors for their 2013 season, I offered up some of my photography. My motive was more selfish than I let on. I really wanted to challenge myself shooting creative portraits of each of the players in relation to their positions. Part of the challenge was for me to shoot these quickly as well as bringing out the personality of 32 completely different women as well as executing such a large scale project on my own. The project went extremely well and I learned a lot in the process.

This year is my third season working with the team and each time I am pushed creatively. Last year, I took 11 members of the team and photographed them taking part in their other interests outside of football, but still in full uniform. The goal was to show how each woman comes from a different background with different interests, but they still unite under one uniform. Because of the logistical challenges of last season’s shoot, not all the players who wanted to participate could.

For this year’s shoot, I wanted to make sure that anyone who wanted to take part could. Because these projects are done on my own time (and dime), I simplified the shoot as much as possible. Everything was to be shot in one day and as quickly as possible.

Again, to keep things simple, the concept for this shoot was to get down to the root of why these women risk their bodies for tackle football. Each participant of the shoot was given specific directions on what to wear for the shoot, but that was about it.

The shoot took place right after the Rage’s home opener this year – which the Rage won by one point. I decided this would be a great time to shoot this year’s project because it is much more natural and realistic to the sport to have them step off the field, take off their helmets and jersey and walk right into a photo shoot. Thankfully, 19 (out of 38) of the players on the roster also agreed that this was great idea.

I shot this project in the locker room and I was actually standing in the shower while shooting it. I set up a grey seamless and used a Nikon SB-910 Speedlight with a softbox as my only light source (other than what was on in the locker room). Of course I used my Nikon D4s as my body and I rented a 85mm f/1.4 to try out. Previous years were done with full strobe set ups, but for time, I travelled light – pardon the pun.

I did make one stupid error on this shoot that could have made my life a lot easier. While setting up in a hurry with one of the players-turned-coaches, we failed to notice that the wall we were setting the background up in front was already grey. Oops.

It was raining the whole game so my viewfinder decided to fog up once I got in the locker room. To be safe, since I could not actually see where I was focusing, I shot the portraits at f/2 to f/2.5. About six players in, I could finally see what I was focusing on.

I knew about half of the girls and the other half was new to me. Since we only had the locker room for a limited time after the game, I just lined them up and took about six frames of each girl – three tight head shots and three half length shots. No messing around. The girls were amazing. Not a single one fussed about their hair or how they looked – except one of the girls who actually messed her hair up further as a joke. Each one was confident and comfortable in front of the camera. I could tell that they all trusted my vision for the shoot and that I would portray them as the serious athletes that they are.

Each of the players was also asked to answer one question: I play tackle football because… I got a variety of answers out of the women, but one underlying answer came through. Tackle football made all of these women feel confident. It challenges them and helps them to feel a part of a team.

Football is amazing in that there is a spot on the roster for people of almost any shape and size, not matter what background, or reason for wanting to play. It is a pretty inclusive sport and it is great to see the women of the Calgary Rage embrace that aspect of the game. Every year I work with them, I need to remind them to never let me join, despite how much fun it looks.

The best part of working on these projects is the relationship building I have done with the team. To have an organization fully trust the ridiculous ideas I come up with for photo shoots and then have people actually want to take part, is special. I think what make the Rage portraits great is that you can see the connection between the subjects and myself. Creating connections is one of the most valuable tools I have in my kit. I don’t care if the lighting is spectacular, if there is no connection, it is not a good photo.

Candice Ward is a freelance photographer based in Calgary, Albert, Canada. You can see sample of her work on her Sports Shooter member page:

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