Matt: Make the Pictures You Can Make

The question comes up pretty often: I don’t have long lenses, and I can’t get close enough to the action, so how can I make better pictures? Long lenses are prohibitively expensive if you’re not shooting professionally, and field sports often have a lot of action that takes place out of range. So your choices come down to waiting for the action to come right to you and making far fewer pictures, shoot everything and crop like mad, or concentrate on finding the pictures that you can make with the gear and access that you have.

When I was first getting into photography, the longest lens I had was a 70-200. I shot for a soccer team, and did a lot of wishing that the action would come to me, and a lot of time not shooting when the action was too far away. One thing a lot of people in the BLFS group on Flickr (and people in general) don’t get is that shooting with a relatively short lens and cropping 90% of the picture out is always going to look like crap. Always. You won’t have the detail, and you won’t be able to isolate the action from the background. Because of this, until I got a 300 and then a 400, my choice was always patience.

But let’s say that you shoot your kids, and they play once a week, and not even for the whole game. If you wait for a close action picture, you might not get many/any pictures at all. Well, think about what your goal is. Is it to flex your photographic muscles by getting peak action moments no matter the subject? Or is it to document memories? One thing I did to make money to buy my long lenses was to shoot pictures of kids for holidays etc. But not at Sears, my business was for in-home pictures, kind of a photojournalistic take on kid photography. My pitch was basically “kids never pose in real life, so why do you want to have a wall of posed pictures. When they’re at home, kids play. When they’re at soccer/little league games, they mess around with their friends, put on and take off gear, cry, laugh, cheer, and more. When they are grown up, I promise you that they will value a picture of them laughing with their friends at halftime over a 10% crop of a picture of them kicking a ball on the other side of the field.

We see generic action pictures coming into the Flickr group every day. And I think of all the access wasted in favor of generic action. Sometimes there are rules even for youth games, but I don’t imagine anyone is having too much of a problem getting into practices.

Here’s a recent Reuters Photographers’ blog post on British Olympic diving hopefuls by Stefan Wermuth. Note how many of these are from practice. Wermuth couldn’t have gone back to his editors with 100 competition dive pictures and hoped to keep his job. So he watched and made decisions about what training to be a diver is really about. And if you were one of the girls in the last frame, honestly wouldn’t you rather have that picture to remember your time as a diver? Unless you go on to hoist a gold medal, I’m going to say yes.

There are great pictures out there that don’t require $30,000 worth of gear, credentials, a fancy job title or anything else. Just your imagination, and the guts to do something other than standing on the sideline with a 70-200 letting other parents gawk at “how big your lens is”.

Matt

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4 thoughts on “Matt: Make the Pictures You Can Make

  1. Very nice and very true article if you ask me, I tend to shoot baseball alot in the summer. And to be honest, the shots I like the most are those taken at our local Baseball summer camp. Because I can get up real close and capture just about every happy face I see.

    Which i find very pleasing concidering parents love these pictures way more then the usual ‘at bat’ shots from the kids.

    Thanks for this article!

    Rik

  2. Thank you for this. I recently discovered your website and podcasts and am making my way through your archives. As a result, I am much more critical of my photos and frequently lament the fact that my lens is insufficient for getting close enough to get even competent stock/”freeze the action” photos of my son’s soccer team. Your article inspires me to think a lot more about how I can make do and be creative with what I have.

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