by Les Stukenberg
Staff Photographer
The Daily Courier
Prescott, AZ

Some days in this business I think I have STUPID written in invisible ink on my forehead that only others can see. Let me tell you about my latest adventure into the STUPID category in freelance photography. Plug in your Pink Floyd CD and listen to the song Money because in this tale that's about all the change you'll hear jingling but maybe you can learn something through my misadventures.

Arizona Diamondback Reggie Sanders hits a home run on June 1,
2001 in a game against the San Diego Padres. Would I do the same
and hit a homer with my new freelance job?
© Les Stukenberg

Seeing as I am a staff photographer for a small daily the lure of freelance photography is sometimes strong; recently I saw a job offering the chance to shoot freelance professional sports so I kind of jumped at the opportunity. I had shot professional sports for the paper but now doing it for me, on my own and possibly make really good money was something I really thought I wanted to do so I took the chance. I didn't get any kind of agreement in writing, number one stupid move, but the guy running the service was nice enough and I thought what the heck I’ll try it for a couple of months and see how it goes, what can I lose except for my time. Yes for those of you in the know, the first stupid thought. So now in the first week before even going to a game I've had a stupid move and thought, not a good start.

Cincinnati Reds Pokey Reese is safe on a steal on May 9, 2001 as Arizona Diamondback Tony Womack bobbles the ball. Sometimes you have to take a risk to get a reward; the key is knowing when the risk is a good one.
© Les Stukenberg

So baseball season opens April 6 at Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix with the Diamondbacks facing the St. Louis Cardinals and I am there freelancing for a sports wire service, whoopee! I should have known this endeavor was doomed from the outset when in the only meeting this year in Phoenix between the two clubs the “big guy” Mark McGwire is out injured and didn't play the whole series. Oh well make the best of it, and cover the games. So onward through April I make the 120 mile one way trip down to Bank One Ballpark covering a total of 11 games. In a ten day stretch I got to see Colorado sweep the Diamondbacks, then the split with Florida, then the Braves rolled into town for four games in one ten game home stand. Lot's of images being shot and transmitted, you know the ones, starting pitchers releasing the ball, plays at second, the occasional swing of the bat, and of course Luis Gonzales chasing the record book for homers in the month of April. It was all fun and I hoped I was making money as I slept after getting back home at midnight and then up at 6 to do my eight hours for the daily paper I am still working for. Game days really began to drag on me as I was putting in 16 hour days with my regular duties and then traveling down to Phoenix for the games, but what the heck maybe someday I could just be doing the games if the money was good enough. Correct stupid thought #2! Yes right still no money coming in, just going out as I finally figured out it cost me $30 a game to travel down there, park and get the Press Room meal.


Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Robert Person found out it could be a lonely place on the diamond as he faced down a group of Arizona Diamondbacks after throwing a pitch that hit Reggie Sanders in the sixth inning May 13, 2001. I wonder if my freelance job will make me feel as lonely as he did that night?
© Les Stukenberg

April finally ends and I have a bit of a break because the Diamondbacks leave town but all too quickly return. My money is supposed to be in my mailbox around the middle of the month, so I start covering the games in May with Cincinnati and Philadelphia from the 7th to the 13th. Again the big draw, Junior, is out with some kind of injury, I don't really care because my check should be coming soon so I can start replenishing my bank account. Mid month comes and goes and no check in my mailbox, but what the heck there are only three more games this month. The big matchup with San Francisco is worth covering just for a chance to get home run leaders Luis Gonzales and Barry Bonds in the same frame maybe during batting practice. I head down really early for the first game of the series so I can make sure if they're out at BP together I can get the image. Well sure enough being there and being prepared like the good photog I am, I get the image and low and behold no one else is down shooting so I might have something. I put my camera down in the photo well and head up to the press box to get my laptop and send the image but when I return someone has taken the card from my camera. Now this really makes me mad, my camera and lens would have been covered by insurance, but the compact flash card and images are not. I don't have any idea who would have done it everyone there are regulars and no one looked guilty. Oh well another learning experience, this lesson is easily remedied I don't leave my cards in my camera anymore, and I take my gear with me when going back up to the press box. Anyway I move on and get a similar image the next day but Barry is still hitting homers and Luis has kind of let up on his torrid April pace so does the image really mean anything anyway?

San Francisco Giant Barry Bonds and Arizona Diamondback Luis Gonzales share a laugh during batting practice before the May 22, 2001 game in Phoenix. This is similar to the image I lost when the compact flash card was taken from my camera the night before.
© Les Stukenberg

So now I've covered two months of baseball and I have yet to see any money. I start asking questions and all I get is there was a merger and they are screwed up and we are all waiting. So finally today, June 7, I get a check in the mail; I rapidly open the envelope hoping to see a really nice figure for my efforts for April. When I finally got to the check and saw the amount I had to sit down. No bills would be paid off, no money put away to invest in new equipment down the road, no nice dinner for the girlfriend who has put up with my travels and time away from her, no monetary reimbursement for the lack of sleep during those long 16 hour days. I really don't know what I’ll do with the $140 check I received for covering 11 games, traveling 2750 miles, working 44 hours, driving 33 hours, the $77 in meals, the $192.50 to fix the laptop they sent me to transmit images and the $275 CF card that was stolen. I do know this I am taking the weekend away from photography and heading to mom and dad's house where joining mom and dad are my sister, brother in law and niece from Hawaii and we are going to have a family reunion of sorts.  

Cincinnati Reds catcher Gary Bennett tags out Arizona Diamondback Mark Grace at home May 9, 2001. Like Grace I didn't score any runs in his try for home, neither did I with the freelance job I took, however I did learn a lot
© Les Stukenberg

So yes my tale of woe started from a stupid thought in my brain and believing what I read in projected income expectations from the service provider. Then I didn't figure out my costs of doing business nor getting a signed contract at least guaranteeing my expenses would be paid. The next stupid thing was keeping at it while having this ever-growing feeling in the pit of my stomach that something was not right. Then putting off some bills because I expected to be paid when someone said I should be but not having anything in writing. Then finally getting the check and not having any recourse because I had not protected myself in anyway. So maybe STUPID is not tattooed on my forehead but rather had to be learned through a bad experience.  

I can say this however I did get to know the other photographers around the photo wells in Phoenix, so now when I am down there we can all share a coke and a dog and a story or two. I also got to meet some out of town photographers whose work I have always liked and admired. Hi to John I, Peter R.M. and Brad M. And lastly I learned a valuable business lesson. Next obstacle to tackle; my staff photographers job has now gotten more interesting, my hours have been cut to 37.5 and we now must get pre approval for any “looking for wild art” mileage. It looks like another lesson about to be learned.

Les Stukenberg
Prescott, AZ