Candice Ward's Ability Behind the Lens Adds Flair to Her Sports Photographs

Mark StaffieriContributor IIJune 9, 2013

Candice Ward was meant to take sports photographs. Her photos of the women of the Calgary Rage have an allure that is all their own. The beauty of her sports photographs are all unique in the fact that it looks like no one was even there to take a photograph. The majesty and grandeur in which Ward’s subjects are immortalized makes one feel as if they are right in the middle of the action.

Studying at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (she graduated in 2008); she quickly caught on in the field of newspapers. From working with the Metro chain of dailies in both Calgary and Edmonton as a photographer and as a reporter, Ward then jumped to the Edmonton Sun. She would serve on their staff as a reporter while contributing in multimedia journalism.

Her sports photography manages to add a new element of excitement—one that shows she truly knows the camera. She captures the essence of competition, the emotion of battle and the struggle between highly conditioned athletes clashing on their field of choice.

“I have always loved photography. I love skipping over the written words and knowing what is going on by looking at a single image. I am lazy like that (laughs). About seven years ago, I decided to go to school for photography, but decided to go with the photojournalism route.”

“This was because I thought having writing to fall back on would be a good idea. I had never thought I would be interested in shooting sport, but ever since I started shooting sports, I knew that is what I wanted to do for the rest of my career.”

While employed by the Sun chain of papers, she had the task of taking images of Sunshine Girls (a bikini clad model which is featured daily in the Sun’s sports section). She excelled at the job, capturing the spirit of other famous sports photographers like John G. Zimmerman (who took images of Christie Brinkley for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue), while motivated by a unique aspect.

“I was definitely not uncomfortable. I actually really wanted to start shooting Sunshine Girls and sought out the work myself. The thing about Sunshine Girls is that they are not usually models and don't have a lot of experience in front of a professional camera."

"My job is to make these girls as comfortable as possible, and as quickly as possible, so we can both be happy with the product we are producing. Generally, there has never been a subject that has made me uncomfortable, no matter what they are wearing or who they are."

"(As a side note), one of my photography dreams is to shoot for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue one day.”

Famed female photographer Silvia Pecota once immortalized boxers on film such as Mike Tyson, took images of the war in Afghanistan and even had photos featured at the 2006 Torino Winter Games. Prior to these accomplishments, she did the Sunshine Boy feature for the Toronto Sun.

Perhaps it is a good omen, which foreshadows a great future ahead for Ward.

Her body of work with the Calgary Rage of the Western Women’s Canadian Football League is nothing short of exciting. While the roster is comprised of a diverse and eclectic group of amazing women, Ward captures each player’s remarkable individuality. Of all the poses that Ward has the Rage players take, no two are alike. 

From Lisa Gomes looking like a rocket hurtling towards the skies to Connie Fekete’s eyes showing the intensity of a predator about to capture its prey, Ward captures their grace and beauty while showing a dignified side that is fearless. As women’s tackle football starts to gain momentum, Ward’s portraits have a breathtaking impact.

Her work with the Rage is a template of how to photograph female football players. Like Neil Leifer’s photo of Muhammad Ali knocking out Sonny Liston in 1965, or Walter Iooss, Jr. capturing Michael Jordan’s iconic dunk at the 1988 NBA Slam Dunk championship, Ward has created a definitive set of portraits that are truly masterpieces.

“I actually got involved with the Calgary Rage through one of the players that I had met through my work with one of the local papers. She had posted that the team was looking for sponsors and I thought it would be a great opportunity to get involved in something that I am passionate about.”

The beauty of Ward’s portraits with the Rage is that there is a big league flavor to them. As the WWCFL tries to build a brand, Ward is a remarkable asset for the budding league. Ward’s talent truly shines in capturing the soft, human side yet competitive and determined edge of the competitors.

“Doing 32 portraits of these amazing women was definitely a challenge for me, as I did not want them to look like high school portraits or all of them to look the same. I really wanted to bring something creative to each shoot, but at the same time, shoot quickly.”

The quality of her work made an impression on Rage players.

Candice was really great to work with. Her attention to detail and desire to get that "right shot" was impressive. Thanks to Facebook and Instagram, everyone thinks they are either a photographer or photo-journalist. I have pretty high expectations and her creativity and professionalism set her well above the rest in my opinion. Kait DiNunzio, Linebacker

She has been extremely fun and professional to work with. Her creativity and enthusiasm made the photo shoots fun for the players, and the results were outstanding! I for one will be buying prints of my portraits as a reminder of how amazing I feel when playing football. Candice is an incredibly talented photographer and I would highly recommend her. Connie Fekete, Defensive Back

Her portraits of our team are stunning. When I look at mine, at times I cannot really believe that it’s me. She was able to capture my intensity and my “energy” in a way that pretty much left me breathless, and shaking my head saying...”that’s me?!?”. I mean, she made me look like a quarterback and a running back in one shot...that really impressed me.

She also made me “look” how I think I look, or maybe more so, how I want to look when I play the game (the fact that the helmet totally destroys my hair on game day will always be a bit of a challenge!). The experience itself was wonderful. Candice’s whole idea was to have each of us get a unique shot or look, that represented our position and personality and captured us not only as football players, but as women too, and she just nailed it! Erin Walton, Quarterback  

The challenge of sports photography is to capture the moment in the game right away or it is lost forever. With photography being an art, Ward is her toughest critic. Like any sports photographer, there is a great analysis that comes in framing a shot or looking to capture a particular essence. In asking if there is a photo that she is proud of, she replied with candor,

“There are plenty I am not proud of! After years of shooting sports and standing on the sidelines of games, I cannot see any sport now without breaking it down and freezing moments in my head.”

“I think about what angle that would have looked best from, where I would have shot it from and the technical challenges of lighting. I am the most annoying person to watch sports with. There are so many factors that go into taking a great sports photo. For instance, does that particular image tell the story of the game, does it show the emotion, the absolute peak moment of the play, along with about a million other things?”

“I know I am being a bit modest when I say that I am still waiting for the one image I am really proud of. I know I have gotten a lot of good ones over the years, but I am still waiting for the history making frame that will define my career, if there is such a thing anymore.”

Walter Iooss, Jr. loved photographing Michael Jordan and called Jordan his muse. Of note, the two would observe Iooss’ images together. In mentioning this process to Ward, the question arose as to her experiences with athletes and what their reactions were to the viewing of her work.

“Man, I wish MJ was my Muse. Basketball is my sport (laughs). For the most part, athletes are usually quite happy with my photos. I can usually rip the photos apart all day long, but as long as the subject/client is happy, and I hear from them again, it is all a win. I guess picking my photos apart is what will push me to be better and hopefully, one day, great.”

As a woman of Aboriginal origin, Ward is doing more than shattering barriers in the traditionally male dominated field of sports photography. She is serving as a valuable role model for young women looking to pursue any field of choice.

“There are definitely a lot of challenges in being a woman in this field. It is not the easiest field to be in. It is like being a new member on a team. As rookie, you have to endure the pains of being new to an already established roster but over time no one even cares if you are a man or a woman, as long as you get the job done.”

While she continues to build a remarkable portfolio of captivating images, Ward also understands that the quality of the work is what truly defines a photographer. “I think after putting in the time and work into your craft, your work will speak for itself and the respect on the (athletic) field, and in this field (of work), is earned.”

When an athlete poses for a photograph, Ward tends to have an idea of what type of pose she would like. It is part of her preparation. Sometimes, the need to improvise with an athlete becomes an unexpected part of the process. The ability to improvise is one that truly helps to define the ability of a good photographer, one that Ward is quickly cultivating.

“I always walk into each shoot with a relative idea of what I want to do with my subject, and then I have to throw that idea out the window. I generally do as much research on the subject as I can to find out what type of player they are, their position and their sport (if I don't know a lot about it), but once I meet someone, new ideas can spring up, or sometimes the idea just does not work for them, so I have to wing it.”

“My assistant on this shoot "loved" that I was winging it all the time. Thankfully, I had a lot of help with these shoots for the Rage, so I was able to move very quickly to adapt to the environment or personality of each player. Sometimes the photograph I have created in my mind is just not possible, but other times, making it up as I go has paid off huge and I have created some images I am really proud of.”

In getting the opportunity to photograph female athletes, Ward is working with other women that are shattering barriers. Dedicated and professional, her photos of the Rage players bring an importance to the growth of the game while helping provide visibility to the sport. Just like the fearless competitors of the Rage, Ward is a remarkable individual and a terrific role model for young women.

“I love working with athletes in general. They are all inspiring. When it comes to women athletes, I love the challenge. I find them a little more difficult to shoot than male athletes, but they are also a little more versatile.”

“I am extremely proud of the work I did with the Rage. These women were amazing and really fun to work with. They were all extremely supportive of the work I was doing and of each other as a team and there was not an ego in the bunch. I honestly wish the season would have been a little bit longer!”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated