There I was, making pictures for the athletics department to use in their marketing materials when suddenly, a soccer ball soared straight into my lens and smashed my camera into my face.

See, the plan was to make action pictures. We’d already photographed all the athletes’ headshots — about 200 people — for the website and programs. Now we were having some fun, and I wanted to catch the soccer players in the air in dynamic positions. Naturally, I suggested they kick a ball at me.

You’ll notice in the video that the flash goes off right AFTER the ball hits me. Here’s that frame:

The kicker clearly did her job well.

What to do when kicked in the face

The room went totally silent. You see in the video that I put my head down and put my camera down, and unfortunately, my assistant stopped filming. It’s unfortunate because the only sound was me laughing.

I saw the ball coming, and I felt it hit me hard. The viewfinder and the base of the camera, which had a tripod mount on it, smashed into my brow and just under my nose.

I had two immediate concerns: First, were my teeth broken? And second, how am I going to handle this so that I don’t lose the team’s trust? This went through my mind very quickly and I realized the only thing I could do was to laugh.

If I cussed or displayed the pain, I knew the gal who kicked the ball would feel terrible, and it was possible that no one else would want to perform for the camera — and maybe the other teams wouldn’t either.

As I put the camera down, I started laughing and realized that my body shaking could be seen as sobbing, so I lifted my head and smiled big. There were about 15 players in the room, and none of them quite knew what to make of it, but we quickly got back to work. We ended up making one picture that wasn’t too bad.

The setup

This was a difficult situation to make action-freezing pictures. We’re actually in a racquetball court and there are large windows that made it hard to let the flash freeze the action. I’ve got some more experimenting to do with my new lights; I’ve got to see if the high-speed sync settings will work better.

Basically, I’ve got a front light and a rim light or two. For this photo, I turned off one of the rim lights so that the front light would be more punchy.
The players on the ground are holding the mats so they don’t move under the kicker. I used the same setup for all the other action pictures we made that day.

Camera gear

I use Lumix S1‘s for camera bodies, and all of these pictures were made with either the 70-200mm f/2.8 or the Sigma 45mm f/2.8. Apertures were typically at f/5 or f/8 all day.

That Sigma 45mm is a terrific lens and stoutly built. Both it and the S1 are still working perfectly after taking a kick down the barrel.

The most essential tool?

What was the most important tool I used all day? Hands down, it was the Spider Holster hand strap. Without the hand strap, I would have dropped the camera when the ball came in. The camera survived the ball OK, but I don’t think it would do as well with a drop — especially the flash controller and hot shoe. It’s the one thing I always have on my camera and this wasn’t the first time it saved my bacon.

Think fast, act faster

Think about this now: What would your reaction be in this situation? Would you have cussed and quit for the day? Would you have curled up and cried? Either would be normal. Hopefully, by thinking about it ahead of time you’ll be more prepared if it happens to you.

Personally, I asked the dance team to use eye shadow to make me a shiner to show the soccer players later. I didn’t even get a black eye out of the deal.

Portrait Tips come out each week, and you can see them all right here.