Local shutterbug, Dawn Shattles, discusses the art of sports photography with the Times-Recorder
By MICHAEL MURRAY
For thousands of years, since the first person picked up a stick of charcoal and made markings on a cave wall or a slab of wood, human beings have been interested in creating art. As civilizations have grown over the millennia and technological advances have been made, humans have continued to strive to perfect the process of creating more dynamic, action-packed images.
It’s evident in art history through the ages, particularly in the modern era, that humans love to see images of people, places, and things in action. From Michelangelo’s narrative depictions on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel to Vincent Van Gogh’s swirling, inundating depictions of flickering lights, to Brancusi’s minimalist masterpiece, Bird in Space, humans have attempted to perfect the art of capturing images that tell a story.
Luckily for modern humans, twenty-first century technological advances have provided an outlet for capturing realistic depictions of kinetic energy that does not require hundreds of hours of poring over a canvas, capturing each minute detail with a fine-tipped brush.
One of the greatest venues for this type of outlet is in the sports arena. Today’s sports are chock full of opportunities to illustrate action, from the instant that the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand to the crack of the bat.
One Americus local who has spent years honing the craft of capturing athletes doing what they do their best is Dawn Shattles.
As a mother of two active boys ages 16 and 20 and a devoted Southland Raider fan, Shattles has definitely learned her way around the world of high school sports. To Southland’s sports fans, Shattles is always a welcome sight on the sidelines of any athletic event, devoting countless hours to the documentation of the teams’ greatest moments.
As the famous saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” In the hands of a talented photographer with an eye for composition and a great deal of patience, a camera can tell the story of an exciting sequence of events, both before and after the shutter clicks. This happens to be one of Shattles’ specialties when shooting local high school sports.
Shattles recently spoke with the Times-Recorder to discuss her craft and what it takes to snap the elusive, perfect action shot.
“Through the years both [of my sons] have participated in football, baseball, basketball, track, and cross-country at the Sumter County Recreational Department and at Southland Academy,” Shattles told the Times-Recorder. “I have always enjoyed photographing and capturing memories of the boys playing sports since an early age.”
She went on to say that she began investing in better camera equipment once her oldest son, Dustin, reached high his school years and the action and speed of each sport increased.
Shattles said that her favorite sports to shoot are football and track and field. “Track offers many events and is also photographed during daylight hours,” she said. “Football is by far the most challenging because of bad field lighting, but it’s exciting in many ways. You not only have the game to shoot, but the sideline shots of players, cheerleaders, the band, the dance team, and fans of all ages.”
As any experienced sports photographer can confirm, one of the most difficult challenges in capturing a dynamic shot of an athlete is finding the ideal camera settings to ensure that the photo accurately depicts the subject matter without any blurs or distortion.
“Every situation is different,” Shattles said. “Typically, one would not shoot sports with a flash for fear of distracting players. Using no flash causes a challenge in finding the correct camera settings, such as the ISO, the f-stop, and the shutter speed. School stadium lights and gymnasiums are different at each location. At the kickoff of a football game, you find the sun setting and the light changing every second. Good lighting is imperative. Florescent lighting in gyms, dark patches across fields, and end zones are some of the most challenging places to photograph without the use of a flash.” Shattles went on to say that the setting of the camera’s ISO, which determines sensitivity to light, is a very important factor in sports photography. She said that shooting without a flash requires the photographer to set the camera at a very high ISO, which can produce a grainy image if the person behind the lens is not careful.
She continued, saying that there are many other challenges that a shutterbug faces while capturing amateur sports. “Knowing the rules of the game is very important,” she said.” “It’s imperative to be able to read what is about to happen in order to capture a great hit, catch, or touchdown.” Shattles said that she also struggles with finding the perfect position on the sidelines from which to shoot. With each sport’s field varying in size and shape, she says, “I’m not able to always be in the right place at the right time to capture the action.” Shattles offered an example of this scenario, saying that a receiver may pull down a great, game-saving catch, but if he’s all the way on the other side of the field, even a photographer with her experience may not be able to grab a great shot of it.
She also said that camera settings used on the field would not typically be what you would want to use if you turn to snap a shot of a cheerleader or a fan in the stands. “That takes you away from the game when you have to stop and adjust the settings,” she said. Shattles stated that attempting to capture fast-moving subjects who are surrounded by other players can be challenging as well because, in a fast-paced game such as football or basketball, the players’ movements are often unpredictable.
Despite these obstacles, Shattles has managed to grab some amazing shots of the Raiders and Lady Raiders in action on a variety of playing surfaces and in many different lighting conditions.
She told the Times-Recorder that some of the factors that she looks for in an ideal action shot are rich, bold colors, sharp focus, and the clarity of the final image. As far as subject matter, she says that she always makes an effort to capture the eyes and the jersey number of the players involved while she records their athletic feats. Of course, the action itself is integral to a great photo as well, she said.
Snapping photos from the sidelines can be perilous. Athletes often concentrate on their jobs on the field, determined to carry out those duties with precise focus. A photographer watching the action through the lens of a camera can often find him or herself directly in the path of a foul ball or a basketball player making a last-ditch effort to keep the ball in play.
During her time on the sidelines, Shattles has had her share of close calls. On the most memorable of these near-misses, she told the Times-Recorder, “The closest I have come to being hit was actually by my son, Dustin Shattles, who was a Southland Academy running-back and 2014 graduate. He was running hard up the sideline towards the goal. An opponent ran up to him and hit him, pushing him way out of bounds, directly towards me. He missed me, but it was a hard hit, causing him to fly all the way into the players’ benches… I’m sure it was quite a sight to see. Me, being a middle-aged female, 5’1”, with a petite build and a camera and monopod in my hand, running out of the way as quickly as possible.”
Shattles’ youngest son, Brody, is an active sophomore on the Raiders’ football, basketball, and track and field teams, so Southland fans can likely count on seeing her for years to come, using her skills with a camera to document the Raiders’ and Lady Raiders’ successes.
Editor’s Note: Here at the Times-Recorder, we receive submissions from several skilled photographers who have been kind enough to use their talents behind the lens to ensure that our sports page can accurately deliver the amount of action that we see on the field on a regular basis. To name a few, Sheri Bass, Tammy Satterfield, and Chris Usrey have each also been instrumental in ensuring the quality of our local sports coverage. Be sure to continue to read our sports section for even more exciting pictures from each of these proficient photographers in the coming months.