Sportsnet: Assigning Sports Photography, Canadian Style

Posted by on Wednesday September 17, 2014 | Uncategorized

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A multiple-expsoure composite of Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman for Sportsnet © KC Armstrong

If you’ve never heard of Sportsnet, you probably don’t live in Canada. The brand is a Toronto-based cable sports network that publishes an award-winning print magazine with a tablet edition and website. And although the bi-weekly publication relies heavily on photography from wire services—particularly Getty Images’ National Hockey League coverage—Sportsnet photo director Myles McCutcheon commissions photography in almost every issue.

“We certainly don’t have the resources of Sports Illustrated, [with] an army of photographers on our payroll,” McCutcheon admits. “A lot of the time it’s [about] getting creative with pickup, and when we do feature stories, we’re doing in-depth profiles, interviews, stuff that we want a little more punch to.”

One strategy McCutcheon uses to get photography that stands out from competitors (and wire service fare) is to hire photographers with specialties other than sports.

Last year, for instance, McCutcheon sent photographer Mark Peckmezian to shoot the Arnold Sports Festival, a bodybuilding show and convention in Columbus, Ohio. Peckmezian rarely shoots sports, but it was his outsider perspective that McCutcheon hired him for.

“I was encouraged to shoot it the way I saw it,” Peckmezian says. “I [viewed] the festival and the bodybuilding culture critically, and [found it] a bit funny.” He delivered a series of portraits that were bizarre—almost alien. “I was really happy, because I was given a lot of creative freedom,” he says. “That’s always very exciting.”

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Layout from a feature on the Arnold Sports Festival, a bodybuilding convention & competition in Columbus, Ohio. Shot on medium-format and 35mm film © Mark Peckmezian

Sportsnet’s editorial budget is lean, so assignment fees are modest. But McCutcheon argues that access to elite athletes can make up for the lower rates.

“If an up-and-coming photographer gets [Pittsburgh Penguins star] Sidney Crosby in his book, whipping down the ice, that could mean a Nike campaign in the future,” he says. “I’m lucky in that regard, because I can say, ‘Our budgets aren’t the biggest, but you’re shooting Sidney Crosby.”

McCutcheon does hire veteran sports shooters, especially when an idea for a particular story calls for it. For a cover story earlier this year on Toronto Blue Jays pitching prospect Marcus Stroman, the Sportsnet editors wanted a multiple-exposure composite of his pitching motion to illustrate his transition from the minors to the big leagues. McCutcheon hired photographer KC Armstrong, who had already demonstrated a mastery of the multi-exposure technique for clients such as ESPN.

Sportsnet’s take on SI’s Swimsuit and ESPN’s Body issues is its annual “Beauty of Sport” feature. This year’s iteration from Toronto-based commercial photographer Mark Zibert featured half-naked athletes posing with exotic animals, posing on sandy beaches and rocky shores.

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Evander Kane, left wing for the WInnipeg Jets, in Sportsnet’s Beauty of Sport feature © Mark Zibert

McCutcheon estimates that on average, he commissions about 40 percent of the photography published in Sportsnet. But there’s a catch. Because Sportsnet is subsidized by the Canada Periodical Fund—which helps Canadian publications survive tough competition from US publications—it is required to rely on Canadian citizens to produce at least 80 percent of the magazine’s content. So the best way to get an assignment is to be good, but also Canadian.

McCutcheon does still hire photographers from the US and other countries, and says he’s looking for the best voice to tell a story, regardless of nationality.

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