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A Photographer’s Story: The Six-Percent Challenge

Shooting a Tacoma Stars game on low battery life gives one of our photographers a fresh perspective on the community aspects of the team

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

My name is Max Aquino, one of the photographers for Sounder at Heart. Over this upcoming season, I will be writing a series of articles covering a variety of soccer photography topics, such as game day preparation, photo technique, favorite photos from the game, stories from the sideline, and anything else that you guys may find interesting. Feel free to add suggestions in the comments. Today, I talk a bit about my post-game process, shooting a game on six-percent battery life, and the Tacoma Stars.

When a game ends, I touch base with my writers to determine which shots (and how many) are needed immediately for the post-game articles. After that, I edit an additional 10-20 photos and put them into the online database for the articles over the next few days. After throwing a few photos on social media, I pack up, and go home, charge my batteries, empty my memory cards, and re-pack for the next event.

In Toronto, however, the process was a bit different. I had no more photo obligations for the remainder of the trip, so I left my cards and batteries in my hip holster, which got packed away in my luggage.

Traveling back from Toronto, my carry-on items were my camera backpack and my laptop bag. With the inclement weather, along with airline difficulties, it took two full days to get home. My luggage, however, decided that two travel days were not enough and decided to take a week-long tour of the United States. I’m not going to say which airline it was, but let’s just say that they sponsored a ill-received marketing “fan display” a year ago. Their customer service did their best to help, but there’s only so much a person at a service desk can do.

Fast forward to the weekend, where I traveled down to Kent to shoot the Tacoma Stars game against Sonora. As usual, I pulled out my camera for my pre-game shots. Fourteen percent battery life? No problem. The plan was to shoot the pre-game and switch out to a fresh battery while the teams were in the locker rooms.

Opening up my camera backpack to switch out the battery, a sickening realization hit me. My spare cards and batteries were still in the hip holster, packed away in my still-traveling luggage. I was about to shoot a soccer game on the remaining 6 percent battery life and an 80 percent full memory card.

How can that be done? At best, there was around ten minutes of battery life left. The only way this was going to work was to make a plan. The only time that the camera could be on is when there is something guaranteed to be available to shoot; for those scoring at home, action shots do not generally fall into this category. After checking with my writer, Ricky Varwig, we determined that the best bet was for me to not worry about trying to get game photos and for me to focus on fan and community interaction.

The results were interesting, both in product and thought process. Normally, the focus is on the action of the game: goals, moments, player reactions, maybe an interesting fan shot or two. Shots have to happen in the blink of an eye, so there’s no time to focus on anything else happening other than the game. The down time, such as halftime or when play goes to the far end of the field, is spent quickly grabbing a few photos off the camera for a quick edit and interacting with the writers. When a goal is scored, most people turn to their neighbor to celebrate, whereas the photographers bring their cameras up to get the immediate celebration. I honestly cannot remember the last time I saw the ball enter the goal for the Sounders; I rely on the crowd noise and flame throwers to know when the ball goes in.

That evening, I finally had a chance to sit back and absorb the arena atmosphere. Sitting in the press box and listening to the conversations between the working press as the game went on gave me more insight into the thought process of the writers. My photo preparation began as the quarter wound down and the other photographers were getting ready to take a break. I took a few basic shots to use for the photo recap but accepted that any key moments wouldn’t be captured. However, I gained a new appreciation for the efforts that the Stars put in to making games a fan-friendly event. My photos from the evening can be found in the gallery below.

Let’s talk about the Tacoma Stars for a minute. The games are genuinely fun to go to - not only are tickets affordable (they start at $10 and parking is free), but they make a huge effort to be fan friendly and accessible. Before home games, a youth game is usually played on the field by local teams. Former Stars player Elliot Fauske emcees the evening and adds a colorful personality, energizing the crowd. Most of the promotions and halftime events involve fans. There is a fund-raiser for Washington Youth Soccer after the third quarter where fans try to throw small soccer balls into an open van roof. Immediately after the game ends, the Stars set up tables and the fans are invited to come onto the field to meet the players and get autographs. Head coach Darren Sawatzky hangs out after the game and makes himself available to anyone who wants to talk. During this time, it’s common to see parents and kids kicking a ball around in the open area on the field.

The Stars are back in action tonight at Showare Center in Kent, taking on the Ontario Fury. Kickoff is at 7:35pm and the first 1,500 fans will get a free Tacoma Stars beanie. I already asked; re-entering with a fake mustache will probably not get you a bonus one.

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