Matt: +1s, Likes, and Faves…

I’m nodding my head along to this post from Kenneth Jarecke:

There’s nothing wrong with not being any good at photography. Everybody started out bad and none of us does all aspects of it well. But it’s a crying shame to want to be good at it, to spend time and money trying to be good at it, and not getting any better.

This isn’t like teaching a child to read. Positive reinforcement is your enemy. Your Facebook friends, your Twitter followers… hate you. Instead of taking ten seconds to say. “This doesn’t work. You need to do better”. They readily push that “like” button, because it’s easy and they hope to get the same from you, but also because they’re cowards.

This is something I see every day, and it never ceases to drive me insane. I have a lot of photographer friends on Facebook, and I see their pictures and sometimes the pictures that they like. I see comments/favorites on the pictures that land in the Big Lens Fast Shutter group on Flickr. And every time, I wonder “Does the person that made the picture know it sucks despite all the positive feedback?” Most people don’t know any sports photographers, and unless you are one, there’s almost no chance you know more than one. So all of your friends who just love your pictures probably have no idea what they are talking about. They’re impressed because you froze the action. They’re impressed that you managed to get the faces in focus and a ball in the frame. But as we say time and again, this is just a very small part of sports photography.

I continue to feel that Training Ground is far and away the most important part of the Big Lens Fast Shutter podcast. Sure, no one would listen to an hour of critiques while scrolling through a page of pictures every month, but our mission is to make you better at sports photography, and I honestly don’t know how anyone gets better without a bit of harsh critique from time to time.

Ken Reabe Jr is one of our listeners who participates in Training Ground religiously. With Ken’s permission, I’m going to show you the progress he has made since he decided to shoot with our criticism/advice. These are selected from Ken’s Training Ground pictures from August, September, December and January:


Franklin Regional vs Kiski Area - HS football - 090911

Victory Speech

Franklin Regional vs Penn Trafford  - Boys Varsity Basketball - 012512

As you can see, Ken has gone from missing the action completely to boring action pictures to well-thought-out-but-not-quite-there non-action pictures before pulling it all together with a perfectly planned and well executed basketball picture that has the feel of a landscape or architecture picture. You can ask Ken, none of this was an accident, nor was it the result of doing the same thing over and over. He wasn’t happy with his pictures, and he traded very short term pain (maybe four minutes of criticism each month for a few months) for the chance to get better very quickly. Was it worth it?

Over the weekend I was looking through the group pool and invited a picture to Training Ground, and the photographer got my comment and submitted a different (better) picture instead. We also received this very nice “thank you” note from a reader/listener who nonetheless considers himself not “brave enough” to submit pictures to Training Ground. Is chasing comments/faves/+1s that intoxicating? Has it made hearing what’s wrong with a few of your pictures and some ideas on how to do better the next time that much harder to hear? I’m genuinely curious about this. The Big Lens Fast Shutter group on Flickr currently has 451 members. I’d like to see more people participating in Training Ground and fewer people dumping images in the group pool chasing comments/faves/+1s. We’re here to make you better, not facilitate a popularity contest.


*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.

8 thoughts on “Matt: +1s, Likes, and Faves…

  1. I have a question about the Training Ground.
    If I take the example of a football game – should we post the picture which we think is our best – or should we rather post like 3-5 pictures from the game to give a broader view of our “level”?
    I’m asking this because im wondering if it is possible to judge on a single picture – maybe i get one good “luck” shot while the other pictures from the game are rather mediocre.

  2. I think the pictures you should put in Training Ground depends on your level. It’s not the place for your best work, but as you get better, the pictures you submit should get better.

    In general, I think the process (regardless of the exact pictures) helps everyone.

  3. Ben,

    Even if you put up your best work, we might come down on you like nobody’s business if the picture sucks. Period. :)

    The point here is that we want you to not be afraid making mistakes and that you keep on challenging yourself. What we don’t like is when people keep on making the same mistakes (ie really dull stop-the-action photo) over and over and over, despite us begging not to. Sports photography is much to do with reflex, but there is a whole lot of thinking that goes into getting that awesome shot.

    Luck also plays a big part of getting a great shot. But like I said on my previous post (at least I think I said), you better be damn ready when the moment arises as if you are solely relying on luck to get that shot, you are very much mistaken.

    As for me, I hate criticism, but I criticise myself enough that it’s nice to have people say nice things about me. :)


  4. Matt,

    I like the spirit of BLFS and post photos to TG but haven’t posted to the group (I didn’t see this group page as one of those groups – tons more out there to do that with).

    Why don’t you guys make a rule that only monthly comp and training ground pics can then be posted to the group. All others get deleted?

    Keep up the great work.

    Elroy (Lee)

  5. Elroy (Lee) –

    I’m not sure we want to get quite that extreme on the group pool, but some of the pictures that are in there make me want to get medieval. I want to see if we can get it where it needs to be organically. But thanks for participating, and for the suggestion.

  6. I can’t thank Matt and Ryu enough for their honest critique and advice for improving my photos. To think that when I posted those first photos I actually thought I had captured something good. It was hard to hear that my pictures sucked, but honestly they did suck. It took me a little while to understand where they were coming from with their advice, but it finally started to sink in for me and I began to change my shooting style. I spent a lot of time looking at the photos that are published in Sports Illustrated, ESPN mag, SI photo books, and in the portfolios of real sports photographers before I realized that none of their pictures look like mine did. So I took the advice of Matt and Ryu and started to shoot from positions other than standing upright at eye level, and my pictures started to look different to me. Then I began to experiment with how to use wide angle views and different compositions within the frame. Now I’m constantly looking for something new to try to make a unique shot, like laying on the ground shooting up, or shooting wide from the top of the bleachers, or by holding the camera overhead at an angle, or anything else that comes to mind at the time. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t, but at least I have learned to try something different. I would encourage everyone else to do the same.

    There are no rules you must follow, just good pictures to be made if you put some thought into it. We are very fortunate to have an opportunity to learn from each other in a group like BLFS. I welcome anyone to give me the same honest critique in the comments of my photos that we get from Training Ground.


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