Believe it or not, there are more failures than success in sports photography. Majority of the photos you take during a match go straight to the bin, whilst missing the money shot will make you want a superman spinning the earth backwards. Perhaps this post will make you feel a bit better as controlling failure is a big part of sports photography.
On average, I shoot around 600-900 images per match. Which depending on who you ask is a lot or not that many. I remember a guy who sat next to me at the 2010 World Cup who had his finger on the shutter release the entire match. The mirror bouncing up and down was louder than the vuvuzelas and I did wonder if he was planning to make one of those world famous world cup flipbooks. Mind you, it’s not a book about Filipinos, but it could be.
On average, I keep around 10-20 photos out of 600-900 which gives me about a 2% to 6% success rate. Yes, it’s as low as a low fat milk. Does this mean that I suck at what I do? Maybe. Am I upset that my success or “hit” rate is that low? Not really. My motto is that if I have one image that I really like, I think I had an okay shoot. If I have more than one, I’m a genius for the day. Ideally, I’d like to have 5 truly excellent images for the day, but those days are few and far between.
I once visited a very famous photographer and he asked me how many of my shots on a roll of 36 (yes, I’m talking film) I keep. I said about 10 and he almost feel off his chair. He said either I am the most talented photographer he has ever met or I don’t critique my work enough. I forgot what my response was, but I’m assuming being the humble man that I am, it was probably very ego soothing. Anyway, from that moment on I only kept a shot or two per roll and I made sure I was making myself cry with my own critique of my photos. Tough days.
What does this all mean? Here I was talking about the success rate or hit rates, but not about the 99% of your time during the match.
Failures, mistakes, and boo boos.
At times these are so big that your mind goes blank and you hear echoes inside your head. If you have ever shot an important match, you know what I’m talking about. The game winning shot, the controversial decision, the greatest action shot, or perhaps your son’s first goal. You know the feeling. Since this is sport, you cannot recreate the moment. Yes, there are time machines, but we’re not allowed to use them just yet. You must understand in sports photography, you are 99% failure 1% success.
Since you are spending more time with mistakes than spending time with your loved ones, make sure that you learn from it. Didn’t focus correctly? Anticipate the next move better. Too dark? Change your exposure accordingly. Too far? Wait until they come closer or move somewhere else. Badly composed? Try a different focusing spot on your frame. Legs, arms, and head cut off? Try a wider lens.
And these can be adjusted on the fly during the match. I make some mistakes over and over and over, but I always make sure that I don’t make it more than once during the same match. Although there are mistakes that you can’t avoid (ie another player in front of the player who’s doing something of your interest), most of them can be avoided. It’s your fault and not the camera’s fault as they are a lot smarter than you and me combined.
The other thing is that don’t bog yourself down if you miss a shot. You should punish yourself severely after the match, but whilst the match is still on, regroup and shoot again. Everyone, including seasoned vets make mistakes all the time (albeit much less than you), but they still do.
This is one of the reason why I love shooting sports, because you live and die for that one moment. And if you miss it, the only thing you can do is to shrug your shoulder and go for the next one. There are no, “Okay, let’s do that again, this time with you heading the ball” or “Okay, show me that angry face again. That’s it, make angry love to the camera!” in sports photography. It’s instant gratification and instant failure.
Next time you’re shooting a match, look to the person next to you and realise that he is as much of a failure as you are. That always makes me feel good about my mistakes. :)
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