Shooting the Shooting Match

For the past several years, I’ve been tasked with taking pictures of the Desert Midwinter competition in Phoenix and I’ve learned a couple of things others might find helpful.

Note that I am not a professional photographer. My equipment consists of a point-and-shoot digital camera with about 5-8 megapixels resolution. I only use two features on the camera, the built-in zoom and the ability to set the flash to “always”. [Edited to add: Lately I’ve been using only my Android cell phone. The camera is more than good enough and, because the phone “talks” to the outside world, I can post “interesting” pictures to the Facebook Bullseye group in near real-time as well as transfer them to my PC for later processing. Using the cell phone’s camera also means I have one less item to lug around at the range. You’ll want to read-up on your camera “app” and, if it isn’t flexible enough, you might even want to buy a better “app” for a couple of bucks. As with Bullseye, you need to learn how to operate the equipment, in this case, the camera “app.”]

Other than that, I let the camera figure everything out. Sometimes that means I get a “silhouette” of someone’s shape in black when they’re standing in the shade against the targets out in the sunlight downrange. Most of the time those shots are useless but, on occasion, they can be put to use as an artsy attention getter. (After you get a bunch of these, you also learn to watch the background on your shots so this doesn’t happen unexpectedly.) [Edited to add: I estimate that as much as 50% of the pictures I shoot are “no good” for various reasons. But shooting that many gives me a lot that are good. Moral of the story – If in doubt, take a picture. Then take another picture.]

Looking through the images I have collected, I can divide them into three categories: portraits of the shooters, equipment pictures, and action shots.

Here are my tips for each category.


Get faces. Forget the shooting and the targets and the equipment. Get the faces; get the smiling faces.

To get them, you’ll need to do several things.

  • Smile first! (They’ll smile back.) Be cheerful and never let that grin off your face.
  • Set your automatic camera to “flash no matter what” mode and leave it there for 99% of the pictures. Most shooters wear baseball caps and the shade bill puts a shadow on the shooter’s face but that’s exactly what you want to see. The fill-in flash will fix that. It’ll also fix things if you’re shooting under an overhang or in the shade of a tree. Turn on fill-in flash and leave it on.
  • Take individual portraits before a string when everyone is hopeful. [Edited to add: And especially NEVER after Slow Fire. Everyone is depressed. Wait for Timed Fire – that when most shoot their best targets and will be happy!]
  • When targets are being scored, stand behind the targets so you can see the faces. [Edited to add: If you can’t get back behind the target, then lean as far that way as you can. It’s Okay to frame the picture and then say, “Point at the target so you look busy.”]
  • Pictures in groups of twos and threes are fine but remember to smile yourself as well as telling them to “Smile!”
  • Take several pictures of each person so you can later weed out any with eyes closed or an odd grin. And the more people in the picture, the more pictures you’ll need to get everyone pleasant at the same time.
  • Most of the time, hold the camera so it is directly lined up between your eyes and the subject’s eyes. That way regardless of whether they are looking at you or the camera, they will be looking into the lens and, therefore, at anyone viewing the picture.
  • If you want them looking elsewhere such as at a target, position the camera well away from their sight line (eye to target) so, in the picture, it’s obvious they are not looking at the camera. Where possible, include a little of what they’re looking at so they’re not just gazing off into the distance. Show a little of what they’re looking at.

Who’s Who: To figure out who’s who later, take a picture of the roster sheet and then walk down the line in roster order and take a portrait of each competitor. Try to get them to smile – sometimes you’ll get a nice one – but these pictures are primarily for your use in identifying the individuals by using the roster.

Competing Yourself: You can also compete but, frankly, it’s going to be difficult to do well at both jobs, photographer and shooter. If there will be more than one relay, and the organizers put shooters into the same relay for each gun, ask the organizers to assign you to different relays for different guns. For example, if you’re in relay one for 22, ask to be in relay two for Center Fire. That way you can shoot your gun with relay one, take pictures of relay two and then, in Center Fire, take pictures of relay one before shooting your scores in relay two.

But it’s important to remember that you’ll be busy during the entire match looking for picture opportunities. You won’t be able to give 100% concentration to your shooting. Do you best, of course, but don’t expect to take first place in hole punching, just picture taking.

Equipment Pictures

… are boring.

I’ve tried different ways of taking pictures of equipment and, invariably, they just don’t appeal to anyone after the match.

I know that seems contradictory with all the time and money we spend on equipment but, unless it’s really something exceptional, nobody wants to see a picture of somebody else’s gun.

Action Pictures

What’s an action picture in a Bullseye competition? Shooting the targets? Rapid Fire?


A still picture has no action no matter how fast anyone shoots. It’s a still picture.

The action is in the scoring.

That’s when you’ll see scrunched up faces – that’s interesting – and fingers pointing, and two people talking and ignoring the camera.

And this is when you, the photographer, need to be paying the most attention. Have your equipment ready before walking out to score – fill-in flash already enabled – so you can quickly move to the action that comes up.

When shooters go down range to score targets, I hurry and get there first, and I stand so I’m behind the target. I’m looking for pictures of something happening. Scoring a target is action. The scorer counts up the holes and marks the card. Sometimes they point or turn their head sideways. If they move in close to use an overlay, stay where you are but move so you can be sure and get their face in the picture. No one wants to see an overlay laid on a target; we’ve all seen that. Instead, we want to see the scorer’s face.

If you hear, “Plug!” RUN!

Go there immediately. Drama is happening. Position yourself so you can see (and photograph) all the interested parties. And if it’s a really close call with lots of discussion, just keep shooting pictures. If you take ten pictures at a “Plug!” call, only one of them, at most, should be of the target. The other nine should be of the people.

People are interesting. Holes in targets are, with only a few exceptions, boring.

It’s OK to do a little staging when taking pictures.

Just as asking someone to “Smile,” it’s also perfectly all right to say, “Point your finger at a hole in the target,” or “Hold up that repair center you’re saving next to your face so I can get the both of you.”


  • People. Not equipment, not targets, not anything unless people are included.
  • Faces, lots of smiling faces.
  • Give someone a smile and they’ll give you one back.
  • Fill-in flash on just about every picture.
  • Individual portraits – Smile at them!
  • Twos and threes – Grin at them!
  • Scoring targets – Shoot from beyond the target to get their face!
  • Awards ceremony – Faces, faces, and faces.


Take a picture of the roster showing the firing point assignments, and then walk the line and quickly snap a picture of each person’s face. Put the roster together with the pictures (in order), and you’ll know who everyone is without needing to ask.

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