The ad on Craigslist looked too good to be true. “Photographers needed for Ravens exhibition games. Please send details about your qualifications with contact phone number.”
I am a firm believer in the rule that if it sounds too good to be true it’s most likely a scam. But on the net, as long as it doesn’t require opening or downloading files, or giving out your social security number, I’m game.
I sent my brief photographer bio: yearbook editor (albeit many decades ago in the previous century), more than 25 years’ experience in PR (taking photos for employers and clients), and a few stints as an assistant to wedding photographers. My email included links to my photography website and my address on Flickr tm.
During the phone interview, I learned the job was for Fans Pix, a business that takes photos of the Ravens’ faithful tailgating before the game and capturing them celebrating, hopefully, during the game. The photos are then posted on a website for sale.
After persuading my interview screener that I not only love photography, which I do, and I’m a rabid Ravens fan, which I am, I got a tryout for the first exhibition game. The assignment sounded simple enough. Shoot at least 400 photographs of fans but not candids. You must ask permission before you take a person’s photograph.
Pay is 20 cents per photograph of a person or group, and no payment for multiple pictures of the same subject. However, if you add or subtract someone from the group, it’s a new photograph.
My incentives are watching the Ravens games and honing my photography skills so the money isn’t an issue. (Two years ago, I decided, after a quarter-century career in public relations, to aspire to a new career as a professional photographer.)
Based on my past but limited experience as an event snapshot shooter, I thought, “How difficult can this job be?” Turns out, it’s not quite as easy as I thought. The job requires sales skills: Surprise, some people hate — and this is not too strong a word — having their picture taken. Other people view you as being akin to those guys on the beach who ask to snap your photo and sell you those mini thing-a-ma-jigs with your photo inside. People snarled, “No!” when I asked in my most polite tone, “Can I take your picture for the Ravens’ Fans website?”
(We received instructions not to ask only, “Can I take your picture?” We were told to emphasize, “Ravens Fans website.” It’s a selling point that never escaped me.)
Fortunately, many people enjoy posing for the camera. My first goal: to learn how to identify the ones who like it and then shoot enough photographs to make the cut, while meanwhile still watching the Ravens game. After the first game, I was among the eight out of 15 wanna-be Fan Pix photographers invited back for the second game.
The second game was easier; I’m learning. At both exhibition games for tailgating photos, they assigned me to Ravens Walk, the path from Camden Yards to the front of M&T Stadium. It’s lined with businesses featuring attractions and games to lure fans, such as throwing footballs through tires for a prize.
I saw what looked like a flash mob…it was the Ravens cheerleaders pep squad strolling through Ravens Walk signing autographs. Men stalk them like they are celebrities — they are as far as these guys are concerned. The guys pose with the cheerleaders, handing their cell phones to friends to get their picture so they presumably can text it far and wide. Seeing an opportunity to cash in on this, I scurried to the spot like a halfback scrambling to daylight. No permission needed here, I just snapped away, then handed them my Fans Pix card.
Maybe it was moments like these, and others getting shots of kids with their parents, that helped me make the cut and get the job. Like any rookie, I was thrilled to be on the roster for Opening Day, Ravens versus the Steelers on 9/11. This was potentially the game of the year. My goal: to meet my quota before the game so I could concentrate on the game.
The game, as we now know, was one of the best Ravens performances of the year. They kicked Steelers butt. I observed that day, there is a direct correlation between the Ravens’ performance and people being willing, even clamoring, to have their picture taken. When the game was going well fans asked me to take their photo and then thanked me for doing so.
As the season progressed, I developed the photographer’s equivalent to a quarterback’s pocket presence. I began to know who was around me, who to avoid and who to target. And I learned not to judge prospects prematurely. Just because someone looks like a sourpuss who would spit in my face if I put my camera lens in front of them doesn’t mean that dour look won’t metamorphose into a smile. While sometimes I was surprised, more often my gut was right — but I followed the salesman principle that if you don’t ask they can’t say yes.
On Monday mornings, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh likes to cite what players and the team learned. I assess my game day as well. After all, for me, this is also practice for weddings and events. How do I get people to smile, open their eyes, and loosen up? (When I am finally able to take easy photos of people tailgating in the parking lots, getting people to relax will not be an issue.)
People’s presence in front of a camera lens fascinates me. There are women who immediately, comfortably, flash a wide smile. There are men who grimace their best grin as if they are about to have prostate surgery without an anesthetic.
After one game I received an email from my Fans Pix supervisor complimenting my photos. I wanted to frame it because I do take pride in my work. I may not meet my quota because my goal is for people to really like their photo. I show them what I shoot and I’m surprised by their surprise when they say, “Hey, that’s really good.”
I’ve been fortunate. Most of this season, my assigned area during the game has been on the 100 level, with sections that are in between the 50 and 20-yard lines. I could never afford to watch a game from this vantage point. But I’ve stood with the cops and security detail taking in the action and watching the Ravens compile an undefeated home record. It’s been a winning season for the team, their fans and me.