Photographing an Ultimate tournament

A happy Quentin

Today’s guest author Quentin Dupré la Tour –  founder and chief reporter of FOCUS Ultimate – is well regarded for his Ultimate Frisbee photography. Spotting Quentin at a tournament camera in hand means a great album is coming soon. He has been taking pictures since age 10, and photographing Ultimate since 2005. Actively involved with TOKAY from the very beginning, Quentin has kindly agreed to share with us some of the insights and methods he has gained in his long photography of Flying Disc Sports career.

“Photographing an Ultimate Tournament” is a detailed look into the strategy and technical aspect of photographing a tournament, with a lot of additional insight into general Ultimate photography.

Photographing a tournament is quite different from photographing a single match, it doesn’t stop at the story of the game. A tournament encompasses many stories that bump into each other along the entire weekend with events that might change the importance of the picture taken. Therefore you have to approach your weekend both strategically and technically to capture the range of emotions felt during the weekend in order to realize an album that feels complete.

The Strategy

You have to start your weekend with a clear idea of the album you want to create and its boundaries. To help you get started, answer the following questions :

  • Which types of shots do I want to capture?
  • How many pictures do I want?
  • What do I want to publish?

Once you have a better idea of the outlines of your album, you can set up an action plan to quickly get the “easy” but essential shots, pictures that won’t necessarily be the most outstanding ones but will ensure you have a solid basis to build your album on. This also removes the pressure of needing to succeed at shots, because you already have a good chunk of your album shot. Make a quick tour of the tournament grounds to get some game pictures, team pictures and sideline moments. In only 2 to 3 hours you should have between 100 – 300 pictures that will ensure an album of average quality.

The second part of the weekend is more artistic: you’ve already done the job, now you can use your eye to make the difference. While continuing the search for team pictures, try to feel the emotions around you and immortalize them. Move around the fields, observe, feel… In order to capture the atmosphere of the tournament you have to capture the emotions. If you keep photographing the ordinary actions, it’s mainly to be ready to shoot the extraordinary ones. You can now also play with the changing light that will come at the end of the first day.

On the second day, the morning always offers different lights and temperature conditions. Try to concentrate outside of the fields to find moments of life. Before you have completed your pictures, focus on remedying the weaker parts of your album, always trying to find the find the right balance between action on the field, off the field, as well as finding any missing team pictures. At last it is time for the finals, a key moment for you with no room for error: take your shot at the beginning and the end of the game, leaving more room for creativity in the middle of the match.

Hammer time!

The Technical

Possible settings at the beginning of the weekend:

shutter speed : 1/400 to 1/100
aperture : 6 to 8

shutter speed: 1/800 to 1/2000
aperture : 4 to 5

Once your first pictures are ensured, GAME PICTURES
shutter speed : 1/4000
aperture : 2.8


If the aperture size depends on your zoom:
You can choose P-mode, or use aperture priority set to the widest possible aperture if your aperture is not open enough and you wish to gain more shutter speed or light. If there is enough light, it might also be interesting for you to stay in manual mode and choose an aperture suitable for all the zooms you will use.

If the size of the aperture is fixed:
Stay in manual mode on a setting that suits you according to the shutter speed you want to have.

For a static picture :
You can either get the desired light with manual adjustments; or you can use the automatic mode of your camera without flash, allowing you to rest and trust your camera to guarantee the picture (useful for team pictures).

broken disc
don't forget the team

Further Considerations


Look around the fields, you will see a lot of photographers “camp” always at the same place, and that was also my situation. You will also see a lot of photographers stay next to each other: don’t do that! There is no perfect spot to photograph ultimate; it varies according to the game, the division, the level and even some external conditions! Putting yourself near another photographer puts you in direct competition while the field is large and you can get another angle elsewhere! Furthermore, you will never have the same settings or equipment as your neighbor, and just risk having the same picture… but maybe a lesser version.

To determine your position, you need to identify :

At what distance are my picture good?
There is not need to photograph something that happens on the other side of the field if you have a 100mm lens. Take time to think about this, it will help you to analyse the game.

What is the direction of the wind?
An essential parameter of the game since it will determine the type of pictures you can expect.

GAME IS UPWIND: short play, mark is often flick.
In this case, if you are looking for duel pictures and layout bids stay on the break side a little deeper than mid-field. Stay on the open side for aerial duels with discs flying up.

GAME IS DOWNWIND: Long game, mark is often flick.
Teams will generally try to break or huck it. If the team plays the long game, position yourself near the corner of the endzone to capture some diving bids. If the team is more patient, stay on the break side for aerial duels.

SIDE WINDS: different kind of plays, often forced flick.
In this situation the game will be pressed on a line, you have two option: either go for aggressiveness, nervousness and small cuts with contact, or shoot from far to get the duels on unsure passes. I now have a weakness for the first, while I used to prefer the duels initially.

NO WIND: party on the field, everybody knows how to throw.
It is up to you to position yourself according to the situation on the field, move with the lines to the prefered throwing areas of either the more nervous or the more confident handlers: they are the ones who will force their throws and provoke the duels or risk the turnovers.


How to act in accordance to the level of play?

Ultimate is not played in the same way at the second regional level as it is at the highest national level. Still, at any level, all the field will be used. Either due to a lack of tactical or technical discipline, or because a tight defense forces the use of all the available space.

The higher the level you will photograph, the more space you will need, but the less you will be surprised by the game. At a lower level stay alert since the action can happen anywhere. At a higher level, try to anticipate the game and read the strategies to get a head start on the action.


How to act in accordance with the division you are photographing?

Boys like depth in their cuts and throws, a lot of them will look for strong and fast moves. If the weather conditions are good, don’t stay close to the line, you put yourself at risk and risk missing some good shots.

In this division, everyone agrees that the girls will make the difference. Keep an eye on the boys trying to poach and get a slightly errant pass. Position yourself near mid-field to capture the duels. There are also a lot of hucks in this division.

Women tend to use the width of the field more, and use the depth of the field less. Often you will find more action on the sides of the field, position yourself near the sideline and near the endzone for a lot of the duels.

Juniors have no inhibitions, so keep your distance. They are sure of their physical capacities and won’t hesitate to send their teammates into a duel. The game will move quickly downfield, so it is convenient to stay near the endzones.

Masters like to keep the disc, but do not like points that last a long time. At first stay focused on the handlers, they will often be the first to show signs of fatigue and send the huck. So if the point drags on, move closer to the endzone.

Quentin (5)

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