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How to Quickly Lose Your Job As A Professional Sports Photographer

By Anthony Thurston on September 23rd 2013

Almost everyone who shoots sports has the dream of one day “making it big” shooting professional sports. Every once in a while one of us dreamers gets their big chance and so it is important to understand proper etiquette and ethics when working sports in a professional setting. Below is an very recent event that I want to use as a teaching moment, the photographer mentioned below lost their job over this so pay attention.

A Swing, A Hit, And a Miss

New York Yankee Ichiro Suzuki hit his 4,000th career base hit during the first inning of the Yankees home game against the Toronto Blue Jays on August 21st 2013. The baselines were about as full of photographers as they can be and as Ichiro hits the chorus of shutters goes off like wildfire.

But there is a problem, at least two of the photographers along the 3rd base line did not get a shot of the hit – one from apparent chimping (checking her cameras LCD) and the other from getting their view blocked by the person chimping. Its not uncommon in sports photography (or any photography really) to miss a shot here and there. You simply can’t get them all no matter how good you are (or think you are, haha). This is where everything goes wrong for USA Today Sports Images photographer Debby Wong.

Debby was that photographer that was chimping and blocked that other photographer’s view of the historic event. That other photographer was Andrew Theodorakis of the New York Daily News, who as you can imagine was not very happy with Wong for blocking his shot of what would undoubtedly be a very popular photo. Theodorakis got into an argument with Wong, which was heated enough to catch the attention of Yankees Chief Photographer Ariele Goldman Hecht – who went over to investigate the commotion.

“To begin with, she [Wong] wasn’t where she was supposed to be,” Hecht said. “I had put her in the second row. It was crowded because of the record, and she told me that she had switched positions with one of the Japanese photographers. I told her that wasn’t allowed. The Yankees decide who sits where.” According to Hecht Wong apologized and the game went on without further incident.

Before we go on, lets dissect this further. Wong was not where she was assigned to be, and due to that she ended up causing another photographer to lose the shot. Her first mistake was not understanding the rules of the venue in which she was shooting. Had she taken a few moments to understand the rules this – and likely what comes later- may not have happened.

Wong’s second mistake was not taking other photographers into account. Unlike at local youth events or high school stadiums where you and your 300mm may by the biggest and best gear on the field at a professional event like a game at Yankee stadium you are just one of the crowd. It is important to be courteous to your fellow photographers, do unto other as you would have them do unto you and all that jazz.

Ok, now lets continue.

Strike Three

Ok, so we have established that Wong made two errors at the game. Neither of which alone was enough to get her fired, but they were enough to cause problems. But, the game went on without incident and that was the end of it… or was it.

usatodaylogoLater that night a picture appeared on the USTI (USA Today Sports Images) website credited to Wong that featured the historic hit by Ichiro. But if we remember from above, Wong did not get the shot. She was busy looking at her LCD screen and blocking the view of Andrew Theodorakis – so that begs the question, how did she get the shot?

This question was starting to be asked by other photographers who worked the game and had seen the commotion or heard of it. A few days later, to make matters worse for Wong, is when Reuters announced that they were dropping all of their contracted sports photographers in favor of a new contract with USTI.

The heat turned up big time in the sports journalism circles in New York. As a result 5 days after the events of August 21st USTI sent out a “Picture Kill” on Wong’s photo, telling their clients to quietly take it down or replace it with another.

“We were made aware that an image provided by one of our contributors was not correctly identified and we immediately looked into the situation,” Bruce Odle, president of USA Today Sports Images,  said. “After determining that the photo was incorrect, we issued a Picture Kill to alert our customers consistent with industry practice and to minimize disruption or resulting impact, if any.”

There it is folks, strike three for Debby Wong. Instead of correctly labeling her shot, she chose to misrepresent the content. In case this is not common sense to you, that is a big no no in the sports – or any – photojournalism world. You may be able to get away with shady stuff like that when you are shooting the local youth leagues where parents and family would be none the wiser. But when you step into the big leagues you are not the only person who got a shot, and you are not the only person to scrutinize your images.

As a result of this gross ethics fail, Wong lost her job with USTI. Odle confirmed as much in his comments during the aftermath of these events.

Wrapping It Up

Strike One. Strike Two. Strike 3. Debby Wong made several mistakes, though in reality Strike 3 was enough for her to lose her job, but hopefully by sharing this with you we can make this a teaching moment.

If you get the opportunity to shoot sports in a professional setting you may want to take notice of the mistakes that Wong made, and make an effort to not make them yourself. Its really not all that hard people: Know the rules of the venue in which you are shooting, be courteous to and conscious of the other photographer around you, and always label your images correctly. If you follow these simple rules you can avoid a fate similar to Wong’s.

[via NPAA]

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Anthony Thurston is a photographer based in the Salem, Oregon area specializing in Boudoir. He recently started a new project, Fiercely Boudoir to help support the growing boudoir community. Find him over on Instagram. You may also connect with him via Email.

Q&A Discussions

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  2. steve

    2 wongs dont make it right…

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  3. AD

    Hey Leroy, you are a freaking idiot. Grow up!

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    • theo

      AD Lighten up….Leroy didnt do anything wong…..

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    She made the Womg move! ….Thank you , thank you! I will be here all week!!

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