Matt: Who Did The Work?

A little while ago I had to meet someone in a part of town I don’t usually visit. The exterior of the building featured a really beautiful, detailed mural. I was early, so I looked around to see if I could get a decent phone picture of it for Instagram. The problem was that, being the city, there were utility poles, newspaper boxes, parked cars and trash cans blocking almost every angle. Worse, there weren’t any people walking by. In the couple of minutes I had, the best I could have done was a snapshot that said little more than “Hey, new part of town, check out this mural.”

I ended up not even making one picture of the mural. On the way home I considered why I didn’t, and of course thought about it through the prism of sports photography. Taking a snapshot of the mural in my view is akin to shooting a frozen action picture of a high-profile race car on a famous track. Yes, you did the work that earned you the credential, you bought your gear and learned how to use it, and you woke up early to beat the traffic to the track. But that frozen action picture of the car could have been made by anyone, and the reason the picture is even of marginal interest to anyone has nothing at all to do with you.

Here’s a picture I made years ago of Jeff Gordon at Infineon Raceway. No thought or skill went into making this picture, and just knowing that it is in my archive makes me cringe:


Consider why anyone would respond to a picture like this:

  • The car company whose history in racing has earned them loyal fans.
  • The design team who figured out how to squeeze every aerodynamic drop out of the body.
  • The graphics team who figured out how to make the car look cool despite the need for several unrelated logos.
  • The (possibly unseen) driver who figured out how to work the media into making himself a celebrity.
  • The track designer who figured out how to make the course twist and turn yet still support insane speeds.

A thought experiment: Take away the work of other people and make a version of the picture at a local track; stock paint job on a street-legal car, weekend warrior driver, non-descript pavement. Then put the high-profile picture and the low-profile picture on your social media of choice and see what happens. Since the pictures are more-or-less the same, the difference in reaction can be attributed solely to the work of other people. And if you’re not adding anything more to the picture than being there and knowing how to use your gear, you can be replaced buy the guy standing next to you. And lots of guys who aren’t standing next to you but are trying to get there as quickly as possible.

Big Lens Fast Shutter is here to help you rise above the common denominator. Had I been hired to make a picture of the mural, I could have rented a lift to get a more interesting angle, convinced the building to let me onto the roof, or waited there all day until something interesting happened in front of the mural. Likewise, trying to get interesting pictures of a motorsport race necessitates shooting in the garage/pit, setting up somewhere that lends itself to an interesting panning shot, using the background, figuring put how to get elevated, or using the light in an early morning/late evening qualifying session. It’s the difference between capturing something that someone else did and creating a picture that outlives any single race.

My rule of thumb is this: If getting a specific shot was easy, it’s not a great shot, especially when the thing you are shooting will be in the exact same place every few minutes for two hours at a time. That’s not to say that laying in mud or on hot pavement, freezing on a mountain, or trying to stay upright in hurricane winds will necessarily result in a Pulitzer. But you’ll have less competition, the picture will probably be rarer, and you will have at least added something to the product.


*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.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 2011 - June 26 - Toyota Save Mart 350

Motorsports 2011 - May 14 - AMA West Coast Moto Jam

Motorsports 2011 - May 13 - AMA West Coast Moto Jam


Formula Drift - Locked and Loaded 83 - Michael Essa

2009 NASCAR Toyota SaveMart 350 104 - Joey Logano pit crew

2009 NASCAR Toyota SaveMart 350 100 - Kyle Busch pit crew

robert doornbos at the san jose grand prix

robert doornbos at the san jose grand prix

simona de silvestro at the san jose grand prix

2 thoughts on “Matt: Who Did The Work?

  1. As I look at your work more and more, I find myself asking these same questions as I’m shooting. I WANT the shot that not everyone else will take. I don’t want the same shot that everyone else has taken over and over. I love it when I’m standing there with other photogs and I’m the only one that got what I consider to be the coolest shot. It’s a whole different mindset…..and I’m hoping it leads to more and better images on my part.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s