Sports Trader Card Photography: Part 1

We’ve all seen them, they have been around since I was a kid. Sports cards or trader cards are integral in growing up following rugby league or AFL. In my day, we used to collect the NRL cards from the teams that played in the NSW Rugby League competition and we traded them between friends. You might end up with two Steve Mortimer cards so you swapped one for a Perter Sterling card, trying to complete the set for the different clubs. They were fantastic, collectable and, in the US especially, can be quite valuable if you get the right one

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Shooting Star Sports Cards allows you to produce your own sports cards for your young sporting superstars. You can take your own images, go to the Shooting Star Sports Card web site, upload your images, one front and one back. Enter the players details and order. Sounds easy, but the quality of the cards will always come back to the quality of your images. So how do we get the best images for the cards?

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  1. Image size: Trader cards are not very big, about the size of playing cards, and the images are usually smaller still, though not always. So the image does not need to be massive. However is does need to be hi definition. So what does that mean?  Digital images are made up of pixels or lots and lots of little squares. How many of then are packed in dictates what the image can be used for. In photography, there are two types of images used, low resolution are images that are used in social media and on web pages. They contain 72 pixels/inch. So if the image is 720px long then the image is actually 10″ along it’s longest border. Hi resolution images are used for print. They have to be a minimum of 240 pixels/inch, but we usually default to 300px/inch. So if we take that 720px image and convert it to print size the image becomes around 2½” in size. If we use an image like this it will really depend on how it was saved, something for another post, but it would be pushing boundaries. Baring in mind pixels are actually square, the larger they are the more it will show in the print. So images that you use for the cards need to be of a hi quality, not web quality and to be safe probably at least 400k in size.


    Pixels when zooming into an image. Notice that they are actually square in shape.

  2. Image sharpness: How clear is the athlete in the image? If there is any doubt it will show up in the final print and you may be disappointed with the final product. Images may be blurry for a number of reasons. The athlete may be moving and the camera setting wrong so that there is no tracking of the athlete. The shutter may be too slow to freeze the action. Your timing may be out and you missed the frame you needed. Modern cameras and phones are actually very good at capturing and freezing the action, maybe with a few apps that you can download for you phone to help out. We will talk about iPhone and phone apps in another post. To help freeze the action we just need to remember light, we need lots of it to help have a high shutter speed. You do not need to understand all the terminology all you need to do is have the sun behind you and over your shoulder and have the athletes running generally towards the sun. This will help two aspects, their face will be in full light, and shutter speed will be fast.

    Images in sun, shadow and after sunset.

    Images showing differences in sun position. Image one one the left is into full sunlight and is clearly the best image, image two is in shadow and lacks the punch of the first image. Image three is after the sun has set, showing how amazing modern cameras are. It still lacks the punch of the full sun image. Image two also has a garbage bin behind it, not great look for your cards.

  3. Background: Backgrounds can make or break your image. Always be aware of what is behind the athletes when taking your photographs. I believe the best images for trader cards have the player isolated, without other players in the frame, or if they are they are in the background. Depth of field helps to blur out the background but is not essential. One of the reasons Leiden Studios shoots the individual photos as a training drill is so we can ensure all athletes are photographed and in a manner that is even across the team. Without big lenses it is very difficult to shoot all team members on large field sports like Aussie Rules, Rugby League, Football and American football.

So lets get to it, we want to photograph all the team to produce a set of trader cards for all the players in my team. iPhone or camera does not really matter, just ensure the file size is high resolution, not web ready or similar. Lets get them to the fields a bit earlier, take them as far away from the sidelines and distracting objects as possible. Have the kids running towards the sun, but be careful where your shadow falls. Take a couple of head shots for the trader card back and then run a simple training drill to get the shot for the front of the card. The training drill can be anything related to the sport but the object is to get the kids to look like they are actually playing the sport.

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Collect all the data for the back of the cards, player names, nicknames, favourite player, playing number. It can be anything. Then head over to

Create and account and away you go. Fantastic Christmas present or birthday present.

Stand by for part two where we will talk about the technical stuff to get the best images for your cards..

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