More Than a Guy with a Ball: Laura Lee
Laura Lee’s work is the definition of “candid”—nothing posed or planned, just pure reaction. Through her work as Real Salt Lake’s Team Photographer, she has perfected her photography skills in capturing fleeting moments in a single shot.
Lee took some film classes in high school and fell in love with the process. Using her dad’s camera and spending hours in the dark room, Lee decided that photography was the career she was made to chase. “I loved the hands-on process of developing your own film and working in the dark room,” she says. “I studied photography in college, and I took all of the alternative processes classes I could get my hands on … Of course, now I’m only shooting digital stuff—had to start somewhere.”
“[It’s] a huge department that has the goal to engage with the community and get new fans, creating this really cool experience that is live sports.”
Coming out of college, Lee’s first professional gig was as a photographer for Sundance Catalog, a women’s clothing, jewelry and home decor company. She was grateful for gaining the credentials in editing and working with the finest retailers in Utah, but it wasn’t fulfilling in places that mattered most. Lee wanted to be more involved with the community, believing that her passion could make a connection to a wider audience.
Lee’s old high school soccer coach caught wind of her aspirations and invited Lee to create some content for the nonprofit Goals for Girls, whose goal is to work in underdeveloped communities and “bring girls with different backgrounds together and play soccer.” For the U.S. division, Lee would travel to communities in South Africa and India and build a shared language out of playing soccer.
Many of the photos from Lee’s time in these communities are available on her Instagram page (@lauraleeimages). Scrolling and catching glimpses of her time overseas evinces a sense of tender care: The young girls radiate energy as they come together and play, accepting each other as friends. You can’t help but want to scrimmage with them.
In 2018, Real Salt Lake announced their women’s team and collaborated with Girls with Goals on a leadership program. “We brought girls from India, from refugee communities in Utah, and girls from the Salt Lake area all together to do a soccer leadership program,” says Lee. That’s how she got in with Real Salt Lake, and they offered Lee the lengthy title of Creative Director of Community Relations in 2019.
Since 2020, Lee has been Real Salt Lake’s Team Photographer. She gets to work with like-minded videographers, graphic designers and social media managers who all want to connect with the community through a love of the game. “[It’s] a huge department that has the goal to engage with the community and get new fans, creating this really cool experience that is live sports,” she says. According to Lee, the team grinds on promotional projects and decides what that is going to look like for the following year.
Lee is the sole photographer on the field when it comes to game day. “My job is to focus on the gameplay that is happening,” she says. “There is so much that happens even off the ball.” She has a few helping hands from interns who survey fan reactions, but it is up to Lee to capture the intensity of the whole game and move beyond action shots. “I have this really cool photo of [a player] missing a shot, and he grabs his jersey and is just screaming,” she says of her photo titled “Rage.” When emotions are high and any block or pass could make or break the team’s chances of taking home a win, Lee is there capturing every moment.
“My job is to focus on the gameplay that is happening. There is so much that happens even off the ball.”
After a round of nit-pick editing (What’s in focus? Is the lighting right? Are there limbs awkwardly out of frame?), Lee directs her attention to a photo’s emotional intensity. Although showcasing the winning conquests may be everyone’s favorite shot, Lee brings attention to what’s beyond the ball: a player’s personality and their love for their team. “Fans [love] seeing the bonds that players have with each other,” she says. “You can take a photo of somebody running down a field with the ball, but there’s a clash of other players, something interesting happening that’s more than just a guy with a ball.”
Lee strongly believes in creativity as a muscle rather than an inherent talent. “I think that if anyone wants to be creative,” she says, “you just have to practice. Thinking and doing and experimenting … I think that people get caught up, and they’re like, ‘Oh, I’m not creative like that.’ … Sometimes I literally don’t feel creative, but I have to keep working at it.”
Throughout Lee’s professional work on Instagram, she goes beyond the cliché, picturesque landscapes. She reflects on those ephemeral moments, the unity of dancers and the warmth of a mother welcoming a traveler. Moments like these are fleeting—to Lee, this is everything that makes the perfect photo. Keep up with Lee’s work on Instagram @lauraleeimages.
Read more on local action and sports photographers:
Shots Fired: Davey Wilson’s Fully Immersed Photography
Capturing the Moment with Micheal Kunde
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