Demystifying the world of sports photography

Matt: 2014 Plan and Goals

Last January I wrote about my plans and goals for 2013. How’d I do? Well let’s take a look:

1: Think of the season as a whole rather than “I need to get pictures of XYZ cowboy because I may not see him again for a year.”

This one was pretty easy. With all of the rodeos I would shoot already confirmed before the season, it was easy to think about what I wanted to do rather than what I NEEDED TO DO RIGHT NOW at each rodeo. I had some specific assignments where I needed specific pictures, but in general I was able to take advantage of each situation to get the pictures I wanted.

2: Shoot looser at some of the smaller arenas.

It’s nice having super-tight action pictures, but looser pictures give editors and designers more options, and artistically provide more context. I shot a lot more action with a 70-200 than in previous years.

3: Devote time during slack (rodeo’s version of qualifying) to getting tight singles of all the team ropers.

This was my main goal of 2013, and came from having to say no when clients called asking for team roping pictures. There’s not a whole lot more irritating than getting to the point where clients know to call you but not being able to give them what they want. Say no a few times, and they’ll know who not to call. So from my first rodeo of the season through the last, I shot all the team roping there was. The work was rewarded with several covers and double-trucks, but more importantly it’s actually changing the way other people shoot team roping, and changing what clients expect. In the long run that means two things: we’ll all have to look at fewer awful team roping pictures and I’ll have to come up with a whole new way to shoot it. Which I’ve already done.

4: I’m going to continue a long-term project I thought of towards the end of last season.

So much for plans. The intended project was called Faces & Buckles, and I didn’t make one picture towards this project in 2013. After I came up with Under the Brim, Faces & Buckles was suspended. I’m going to continue both projects in 2014 because they serve totally different purposes creatively, possibly adding another one knocking around in my head.

5: I’m going to just flat out work harder than I did last year.

I busted my ass in 2013, but there’s always room to work harder.

2014

Everything for me starts with an honest assessment of my work over the last year. This year was strange in that I arrived at two different conclusions. As I was editing my Best of 2013 slideshow, I felt like I had 600 pictures legitimately vying for the 100 or so final spots. But when I was working on my 10 best for BLFS, I felt like I had trouble coming up with 10 great yet totally different pictures. So I went back to my archive and flipped through every rodeo picture I made in 2013, about 10,000 in total. Patterns emerge when looking at a large group of pictures like that, and it wasn’t what I found, but what I didn’t find that will shape my 2014. Simply put, I had a lot of ideas in 2013, some led to outstanding pictures, but I ended up spending too much time making much more interesting versions of the same boring pictures that “rodeo photographers” get. Yes, rodeo is about cowboys and cowgirls, horses and bulls, ropes and hats. But like everything else, there are details that hide in plain sight, invisible only because they happen so often that our brains just filter them out as noise. There is both beauty and meaning in these pictures, witness my favorite picture Ryu made in 2013. I honestly don’t know what the rodeo versions of this picture consist of, but I’ll find them over the course of this season. I imagine I’ll get quite dirty in the act, but good pictures don’t come from standing still or sitting on Pelican cases or camping stools. I may not sell a single one of these pictures, but the process will make my other pictures better, and the increase in variety will give me flexibility at the end of the year.

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So even if you don’t have the same responsibilities or opportunities, you can still make an honest assessment of where you are, what holes you have in your library in general and your portfolio in particular, and make a plan to move forward this year. Think of your schedule as a whole rather than thinking game-by-game. If you know you’ll be shooting your local HS football team’s home games or 20 baseball games, think about what kinds of pictures other than conventional action you want to try. Start with one game, shoot from anywhere but the places where you normally would. Get off your ass at one rodeo and make one picture someone wouldn’t expect. Shoot wider or longer than the situation would ordinarily call for. Risking missing a handful of ordinary pictures to maybe get something different and great doesn’t sound like much of a risk to me. Work toward the goal of having greater variety in your archive at the end of the year. From all the questions about “keeper rate” I know the urge is there to play it safe and get as many pictures as possible. Concentrate on making great pictures, because I guarantee one great picture makes a shoot, while 1000 average frozen action pictures makes you an average photographer.

I’ll also of course plug our new portfolio review service Critical Beatdown, and the old standby Training Ground. You’ll be much better off getting honest feedback from Ryu and I than from your friends and family. Training Ground remains free, Critical Beatdown gets you our undivided attention for $100.

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One response

  1. Thorpe

    Good post. It’s always interesting to hear yours and Ryu’s insight on your own work, as well as future goals. And I agree, Ryu’s image of the feet leaving the diving platforms is amazing.

    January 20, 2014 at 8:13 pm

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