A few weeks ago, I wrote about how you should always be editing, and I probably should have started at the beginning. As someone who is serious about photography, you should always be shooting. I don’t know if Malcolm Gladwell is correct when he writes about the 10,000 hour rule, but I do know that I didn’t get to where I am by not shooting. Luckily for all of us, Gladwell allows practice, performance, and even time spent thinking about your skill to count towards the 10,000 hours.
To be very clear, if you are serious about photography, you should be shooting as much as you can, no matter what the subject. There will always be times that you can’t be shooting, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t still add to your craft. A couple of weeks ago I was thinking about how to express this, when fate led me to follow a link to this excellent blog post called “Taking photographs with your mind”:
You can’t always have the camera at your side, or up to your face – part of photography is missing things. That’s a very difficult lesson to learn as a photographer, our pursuit is dedicated to controlling and stopping time. I remember hearing a well known photographer that I respected say that “you miss photos all the time, and that’s part of photography” – it came as a real relief. We’re human, the pursuit should be rooted in pleasure and sometimes it’s good to just acknowledge that you saw the moment, framed it and captured it and stored it on your personal harddrive of neural networking.
The writer is talking about the pleasure and posterity of photographs, and I agree, but I want to take it a step further and apply it to getting better at sports photography. In my post about editing, I talked about using failed pictures to learn what you are doing wrong in order to make better pictures. But what if you don’t have a camera with you? What if you have a long lens on, and a play comes directly at you or happens too quickly for you to focus on? It’s natural to curse yourself or your gear, and you should be hard on yourself if you miss because chances are no one else will. But you can still benefit from the experience if you burn it into your “personal harddrive” and use it on the next play or at the next game. What could you have done differently, how could you have used the players eyes or body language to predict the play, and how could you give yourself a better chance of success the next time?
I have missed pictures three times in the last couple of weeks, and since I know some of you like to hear stories about professionals who screw up, I’m going to share. The first came at the end of the first week of Occupy Oakland, the Wall Street protest that is ongoing just a couple of blocks from my house. I had been shooting it all day for a week, as an exercise, and on Friday evening I was totally burned out and went to meet a friend for coffee not far from the protest site. I thought about taking a camera, but just wanted to relax and catch up, so I didn’t. Not 10 minutes later, we walked by a Muslim man leading a prayer, various Muslims and non-Muslims wrapped in a semi-circle around him, heads bowed. The early evening sun was bouncing off of a nearby mirrored building. I was cursing myself out loud for not bringing a camera, but rather than waste the opportunity by walking away, I stood there for a few minutes, imagining exactly what I would do if I did have a camera with me. Everything from the angles to the exposure, depth of field to framing. I don’t have anything to show for that – right now – but I do know that the next time I see something even remotely like that, I will be ready to make pictures from the moment I see what’s going on.
Since Ryu is gritting his teeth that my first example was unrelated to sports, here’s a sports example: A couple of weeks ago I shot the Raiders-Patriots game in Oakland. It’s easy to get caught out of position on a punt, especially if you are shooing the offense head on from the end zone. I stupidly gave up on a Patriots punt and was walking around the corner of the end zone when the ball bounced on the 10 yard line and two Patriots dove through the air to keep the ball from going into the end zone for a touchback. Perfect backlight, two incredible athletes four feet off the ground, reaching for the ball to save 15-20 yards of critical field position. And I was caught walking, both cameras at my side. I was left with a perfect mental image on my “personal harddrive” and the sting that I could have had that picture if I had been prepared. And because of this perfect picture no one else can see, I am making an effort to shoot more special teams plays, like this one from yesterday’s Raiders-Chiefs game:
My last example is the simplest example, because it involves a failed picture that I had the opportunity to correct in the same half of football.
Here’s me trying to nail a leaping touchdown catch at the Stanford-Washington game on Saturday.
I had my focus limiter set to full meaning that the 70-200 would focus from about 3 feet to infinity. This is necessary for when you think that a play is coming right at you, like on a run at the goal line with the anticipation of a celebration very close to your position. I guessed wrong, and the focus hunted even though I was right on the play. This is a very very bad miss, and I got very pissed at myself and wanted redemption.
It doesn’t always happen like this, but in the very next quarter I was able to make amends, carefully tracking this play all the way into my lap.
Literally, as the photographer sitting next to me bore the brunt of the impact and crashed into me. As I checked the screen, I saw that I had 7 pictures of this play, all in perfect focus, and I’m chalking it up to being extra careful because of the previous play and the jumping catch picture that only I could see.
As a photographer, your mind and your eyes are the most important things that you have. You can become a better photographer by using them even if you don’t have a camera, or can’t get exactly what you want in your camera.
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