Ryu: I’ll let “You win”

Good evening. I’m writing this from the comfort of my own house, which is rare at this time of the week. I have international week to thank for that. Thank you, international week. FYI, that’s when the entire world plays an international football match, let it be friendlies (France v USA), Euro playoffs (Bosnia v Portugal), or 1st round of world cup 2014 qualifier (Tajikistan v Japan). These matches usually go in pairs, one match happens sometimes during the week but never on a weekend followed by…

Let’s stop this because I can smell the “Football? You mean soccer?” in the air.

According to one of our listeners, Matt and I recently lost our credibility to judge “You win” and Matt asked whether we have really lost it this time and that we should be asking Sir Scott Kelby to judge “You win” instead. Another listener suggested that it might be helpful for us to give the participants a set of defined criteria so to not get lost in the murky waters of “You win”. Kind of like gymnastics or figure skating. Style, technical, artistic, etc… all added up and the winner with the highest total win. Makes logical sense, so much so that we can’t do it this way.

Other than the fact that we are both lazy, we feel that it goes against everything we believe about a beautiful sports photograph. We have always been about anti-establishment and anti-“that’s what a responsible person in the 30’s are supposed to do”. Instead of making “You win” a fair contest, we made it into what Ryu and Matt likes in a sports photograph. But you already know that. But then don’t you want to know how to win the contest?

1. Creativity
Be creative, be very creative. If you send us a photo that anyone could have taken then the likelihood of you placing in the top 3 is almost 0%. Not really 0%, but almost. We don’t like run of the mill sports photos and we have been telling you exactly that, especially during “Training Ground”. Come up with a different angle, use of lights, composition, and idea. Something that will make us say, “Wow, that’s cool”. As you might have guessed already, we like cool photos here at BLFS.

2. Composition
I’m going to break it down a bit as creativity is a bit too general. You look at your own photo and what do you see? Is it composed beautifully? Are the feet, hands, heads, and the sporting equipment well balanced within the frame? If not, give yourself another almost 0% possibility card. With two cards, you shouldn’t be allowed to play in the next contests. For example, beautiful painting are well balanced and your photographs should be following the same lead. Legs and arms cut off in a weird way? Then you better crop it better or you have to bin that photo. Just so you know, I’m not quantifying anything here and I don’t follow any rules and laws of this and that. Look at your photos and what do YOU see?

3. Angles
Straight up is never going to impress us. Shoot from above, below, behind, under, next to, on top, and close up. Don’t use the zoom, use your legs. You’ve got two of them so get there and find that crazy angle that you’ve been thinking about. Get dirty and go on your knees or on your gut. Bribe the officials to get to the places where other photographers aren’t. Give us an angle we can’t refuse.

4. Light
High and low key, silhouette, bright sun, dark shadows, over and under exposed, and rainbows. We like well exposed photos as much as my wife likes her cheese and baguette. But sometimes a vegetarian needs to eat some steak. It’s not true, but you know what I mean. Look at where the light is coming from and make that work to your advantage even if you think it’s a disadvantage. Too dark? Silhouette. Too sunny? Overexpose it. Try different times during the day and even at night with the floodlights. Keep on looking at where that light is coming from and make it work for you and not against you.

5. Like I give a damn
I don’t, Matt doesn’t and I’m sure my cat Maggie doesn’t either.

“Why didn’t you pick my photo…
… of our son Johnny running so bravely? He’s so cute.
… of my first ever shoot at a football game and I froze the action perfectly? I’m so cool.
… of Ronaldo (it’s always Ronaldo)? He’s so cute.

We couldn’t even give you one crap about what personal feelings you have about the picture you submit. I don’t know you, you don’t know me, and we are judging your photo and not the background baggage that comes with it. So discard all your personal feelings about your photo. If you’re still having attachment issues with it, ask people who don’t know you what they think about the picture of little Jonny with the football. Then ask another person and then another until you find someone who can tell you that your photo sucks the big one. Then you make sure that person doesn’t hate your guts and just hate your photo. You keep this person around and you ask for his/her opinion every time you think you shot a good one. If a lot of people tell you that the picture of Ronaldo you shot is cool only because it’s Ronaldo, then that photo probably sucks. But Ronaldo is cool.

6. Tell us a story
When I see a photo, I want to feel the story from the photo. I don’t want you to tell me in words that your little Jonny is sliding into 2nd. I want the photo to tell me that he is sliding into 2nd. It should be blatantly obvious that he’s sliding into 2nd without using anything else other than the photo itself. It’s like a good joke. If you have to tell it the 2nd time or if you have to explain to me why it’s funny, it probably isn’t that funny.

7. Wow
The best example of this is when you look at a photo, you get jealous. Like Matt does sometimes when he tells me that a photo makes him angry. In Pittsburghian, it means that the photo is so good that he’s pissed off that he can’t take one like that. Well, that’s his problem, but that’s what you want to shoot for. You want Matt boiling with hate when he sees your photo. I try to make sure that in my image there are at least 2 distinctly interesting thing going on. Composition and light, light and angle, subject and light and so forth. Otherwise, it goes straight to the waste basket and it won’t even get recycled.

I hope that I made my feelings clear regarding this matter. It might be upsetting to some, but we will continue to rule our BLFS kingdom with an iron subjectivity. Your photo might not win because it sucked or it could be that it wasn’t our taste. Herein lies the beauty of “You win”. It’s completely up to us and whether Matt had coffee that morning. But we hope through 9 episodes and 8 “You win”s, we have given you enough reason for you to believe that if nothing else, we have been fair in judging your photos.

Just don’t give us anymore crap. We don’t like crap here at BLFS. :)


*Please Read Below*

Big Lens Fast Shutter is funded solely from the pockets of Ryu Voelkel and Matt Cohen. If you think the information we give you about sports photography is making you a better sports photographer and as a result a well balanced human being, please show us your appreciation by supporting us on Patreon and send some of your hard earned dollars/euros/Brixton pounds our way. People who donate will be mentioned on our next show unless you want to remain anonymous. Thank you for supporting us and may the force of sports photography be with you, always.

3 thoughts on “Ryu: I’ll let “You win”

  1. Ryu…. always love reading your posts. Thanks for the time you put into this and making me question every click of the shutter. I continually strive for something worthy of submission…. would hate to send you and Matt any CRAP.



  2. Denton,

    Ah Hawaii.
    You can always question your photos after you take them. That’s what I do and it’s easier that way. :) Thanks for the continued support and make sure you send us some of your good stuff.


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