Matt: Remove the Ego…Add the Inspiration

It’s been a year since I accepted Ryu’s invitation to take over for Syd on Big Lens Fast Shutter. In that time I have had a chance to revisit what I know about sports photography, carefully backtracking my experiences and deconstructing how I developed my eye to more effectively pass those things on to our listeners/readers. It’s been great to watch the incredible progress of the people who have taken our advice to heart, but for me, the key payoff to all of the time I’ve spent blogging and podcasting has been all of the thinking involved. The downside? How hard it’s been to convince some people that thinking is key to great pictures.

Last night as news was breaking that Lance Armstrong would end his fight against the United States Anti-Doping Agency, I went to my archive to see which of my pictures of him I should put on the wire. I only shot him in the 2009 Amgen Tour of California, and only have pictures of him from two stages. As I was scanning the pictures from the prologue, I was horrified to see that I had over 400 pictures that looked exactly like this:

Yeah, it’s isolated action, properly exposed and in focus, but totally boring. And since I knelt in the same spot for the whole time trial, the best I could have hoped for would have been a wreck, something almost unheard of in time trials. So what I got was a couple of tongues hanging out and some strained facial expressions:

Yes, it was all part of a plan to get pictures of all the riders as they made a loop in downtown Sacramento before they were bunched up in packs and going point-to-point in the subsequent stages. But it was a bad plan that led to boring pictures that wasted an opportunity, shooting from a few feet away from the best cyclists in the world. What would I do now? I’d know when the riders with a chance of winning the whole tour were going (probably the last 15-20 guys) and I’d make sure to have clean pictures of each of them, not unlike the pictures above. But for the 100+ guys that went before, I’d make totally different pictures: panning, the state capital building as backdrop, fans cheering, maybe some fisheye-on-monopod, a tilt-shift picture or two, etc. Rather than 400 pictures that look exactly them same and are suitable only for stock, I’d try my hardest to make 400 pictures that presented my style and point of view and didn’t look like the pictures of everyone else who was at the same barrier as I was.

So when I see pictures rolling into our Flickr group that show an absence of thought, I want to help. But it’s tough when ego gets in the way. Recently I had an exchange with someone who refused several invitations to put his pictures into Training Ground, yet continued to dump boring picture after boring picture into the group pool. His ego prevented him from doing the things he needed to do to make better pictures. I don’t care about your ego or your feelings either way, just like the people who helped me get better didn’t care about my feelings. People are going to feel one way or another about your pictures, at least with Big Lens Fast Shutter, you’ll hear it from professionals who want to see you get better.

So I don’t want to hear about your precious ego. I want you to pay attention to the podcast and what we write here, and use it to make unique pictures. I’ve updated the blogroll in the right-hand column to some places where you can see examples of this. I’m open to suggestions if you have links that you think should be added, just like we’re open to hearing any and all feedback about Big Lens Fast Shutter.


*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: Remove the Ego…Add the Inspiration

  1. Learning photography has been a big trip for me because matt ws the only one of the pro photographers that take in his busy time to anwer basic questions of somebody that have not a glue of photography,and in the ballpark you will findd the super photographer that due their super powers make you fill lake a bug,thanks matt for give me your knowledge and support with my photo goals

  2. Completely agree, excellent article – Problem though, is that quite a few newspapers or agencies (eg. photo editors) seem to want just these kind of boring pictures and will not dare carrying more creative material. Exceptions may be found in major agencies (Getty for example, and others too), but in fact this seems to me to be an indicator of image stereotypes and ultimately manipulation – vicious circle?

    1. Well, I’ve never had anyone demand the boring pictures. I’ll make them as a small portion on my coverage, but I still try to push it as far as I can. As long as you have pictures that tell the story, you’ll be fine.

  3. I used to think that my sports photos were awesome. The action was frozen and in focus. BLFS has taught me to aim for so much more. Thank you for raising my sights and for demonstrating how difficult it is to make really good sports photos.

  4. It’s another year and I’m channeling Matt Cohen tonight as High School football kicks off the 2012 season. Action -> Re-Action. Less is more. Think outside the box. Try something different. Unique pictures.

    1. Man, when I first read this (before the rodeo I shot today with an insane migraine) I thought you said challenging not channeling. That was funny for a minute.

      Good luck with the HS football, make sure to show us what you get.

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