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Getting closer: capturing moments beyond the match

Rachel Bach, better known as By The White Line is back with her photo diaries, sharing moments off the field, getting closer to the players.

An off-pitch shoot with Ellie Carpenter in Portland. Image By The White Line. Getting closer
An off-pitch shoot with Ellie Carpenter in Portland. Image By The White Line.

Early on in my photography journey, I focused – almost exclusively – on capturing match action. I loved the celebrations, the battles, and the athleticism. It was challenging, but it was also safe. I sat on the sideline, shooting mostly from a distance. I could go relatively unnoticed. Slowly, I started documenting more pre and post-match moments, and my focus started to shift. My interest in people, and in the moments beyond the pitch, increased. I wanted to weave that into my storytelling.

In order to do that, I had to get closer. Standing in my way was self-consciousness. I’d never enjoyed being photographed, having found it uncomfortable. As such, I was worried about subjecting someone else to a similar experience. Perhaps I was projecting my apprehensions, somewhat. 

Related—How one photo summed up my World Cup experience

In time, I learnt that my job is certainly not only to take photos. Building a trusting environment is key, but that can take time. On my first off-pitch shoot with Caitlin Foord, I documented a day in her life in Wollongong. We’d only met once or twice prior to that day, and so we were still getting to know each other. As a result, there were a few awkward shooting moments, which we’ve since laughed about. We ended up in a cafe, where Caitlin assured me I was about to try the best smashed avocado. A big statement, I thought, but she wasn’t wrong – it was amazing. That probably helped build some trust, too…

That famous smashed avo with Caitlin Foord. Image By The White Line. Getting closer
That famous smashed avo with Caitlin Foord. Image By The White Line.

As I started working with different athletes, I enjoyed the challenge of catering to the different personalities. This is where collaboration became crucial, too. It can be as simple as talking to the person about their style, and about what they like. One of my favourite people to collaborate with is Sam Kerr. She has a real eye for design, and we like to talk through our ideas. When we’re shooting, we often pause to look through the frames. This allows us to make tweaks, or to decide if we want to try something new. Plus, shooting with Sam is always fun. One minute she’ll be standing still, and the next she’ll be flying through the air (often without giving me any warning). I learnt to expect the unexpected.

A Sam Kerr surprise in Chicago. Image By The White Line. Getting closer
A Sam Kerr surprise in Chicago. Image By The White Line.

Getting to know the people I work with is also incredibly important. As you can imagine, that can be difficult when there’s a big piece of equipment covering your face. So, I make sure to not hide behind my camera for the entirety of a shoot. I always try to take the time to listen and learn about the person I’m working with. In Turkey, last year, I had the chance to shoot portraits with several Matildas. I chatted with the players about all sorts of things – not only football related. It allowed me to get a better sense of them, and to take more natural photos, too.

A lighter moment with Tameka Yallop in Turkey. Image By The White Line. Getting closer
A lighter moment with Tameka Yallop in Turkey. Image By The White Line.

The more I work with athletes outside of matches, the more I enjoy it. I try to portray them in the way I see them – as people with unique stories. I appreciate their openness towards me, but I also know that without trust and time, that doesn’t happen. In a way, I think my unease towards having my picture taken has helped. It’s afforded me empathy – I’ll go to any length to make sure that whoever I’m working with is comfortable. Sometimes, that means going outside of my comfort zone. If that’s what’s needed to tell their story, however, then that’s what I’ll do.

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