Unpacking Female Athletes' Stories Through Photography:
Maria Noble is a sports photographer currently based in Los Angeles. In her own words, Maria’s interest in sports has always been "about the people and less about the games' Xs and Os". With this is mind, much of her work focuses on the athlete’s themselves - females athletes in particular - documenting the moments of victory, hustle, gratitude, and hard work. She’s photographed for a variety of folk including Good Sport magazine, UCLA Women’s Basketball, and the WNBA. We caught up with Maria to find out more about where her love of sports and photography stems from, how she writes a brief for herself, and what she considers to be the ‘dream’ commissioned project.
Hi Maria! Tell us a bit about yourself and how photography slots into your life?
Hi! I'm a sports and portrait photographer based in Los Angeles. My training is in the studio as I initially thought I'd be working in fashion. That never fully materialised but, thankfully, I found my way into sports and it seems to be working out. So now I do a mix of studio or set work, and on-court or live action coverage.
What is it about shooting sports / athletes that you find particularly interesting and inspired to pursue?
I'm a huge sports fan and grew up playing some basketball so it felt really natural when I ended up in photo pits shooting games. My interest in sports has always been about the people and less about the games' Xs and Os. I'm especially interested in those who play the less traditional kind. From my very basic understanding as an outsider, the fight and sacrifice these athletes put in to be able to play is immense. I can only dream of having that kind of dedication to one thing. For me, it's very fascinating to explore and unpack that.
"From my very basic understanding as an outsider, the fight and sacrifice these athletes put in to be able to play is immense. I can only dream of having that kind of dedication to one thing. For me, it's very fascinating to explore and unpack that."
How do you usually go about finding work / how does work find you? Has this changed in any way over the years?
I spend a lot of time building and maintaining relationships. That's essential to any career and over the years I've come to actually enjoy it. When I made the move to sports, it was initially mostly in tennis. I did a bunch of work for free for different magazines and blogs. Through that, I got to know folks in the industry and eventually received paid work. I still do those no budget editorial (sounds redundant) work for projects that I'm interested in. I'm a sucker for beautifully made indie magazines and jump at any chance to work with them.
I guess that's kind of my cycle for acquiring new clients until today. I reach out to magazine editors and try to create interesting work that can attract new eyes and, at some point, lead to jobs. There have also been multiple attempts at sending out promos but have not successfully done one. Maybe during this quarantine I can finally get my act together!
What’s one thing you’re always aiming to achieve with your work?
To communicate honestly and clearly. Especially in editorial where I have more control, I want whoever is looking at the photos to feel like they're there with me.
What’s been a stand-out project of your career so far?
The last three summers I've spent shooting the LA Sparks have been absolutely fun times. I'm bummed that this COVID-19 pandemic has put a hold on the upcoming WNBA season. The rest of the year is not looking good for sporting events so I can't wait for next summer!
How much of your work is client led vs self-initiated? And how do you divide your time between the two?
I'm probably at about sixty per cent self-initiated right now. I really like looking for "weird" stories and, unfortunately(?), have the time to work on them. Some eventually end up being published but a lot live on my Instagram or hard drive.
For the self-initiated projects, I typically research a topic of interest, write myself a brief, then put it out there and see if it lands anywhere. Currently, I'm exploring a rock climbing project that looks into the lack of diversity in the community. Since I'm still in the "research" phase, I read a lot of articles and talk to folks in the climbing world to see how I can approach the project (is it even still relevant?). When I eventually write the brief, it will mostly be a guide on how I can best present the topic in photos.
"Over the years I've learned to get comfortable in the uncertainty, and trust from experience that it usually works out - just don't ever get complacent."
It’s a Monday morning and you’ve just sat down to your emails.
What would be the dream brief to come through your inbox?
Aw, man. First thing that comes to mind is a major brand campaign (you said dream, right?) with female athletes unapologetically showing us who they are. I know some brands have started doing it but we need more. I'm still seeing mostly dudes on sports ads.
What’s the toughest part of your job?
The uncertainty of it all. Once a contract is finished, it's not always guaranteed they'll be others to follow. Over the years I've learned to get comfortable in the uncertainty, and trust from experience that it usually works out - just don't ever get complacent.
Finally, as our name suggests, here at Mantra we’re curious about what keeps our favourite creatives driven and pushing forward. What’s your personal mantra, Maria?
Plant seeds daily. I always try to do one thing everyday that I think can lead to future projects or work. It doesn't always have to involve a camera - even something as simple as an e-mail is enough... you never know where it can lead!