On being a Pro, pt. 1

I am a Professional Photographer and as such, I have my own mantra– one’s real works should be seriously good, but if you want to see how much the photographer really cares about their craft, just take a look at their personal work.  I put my money where my mouth is all day, everyday and in all-weather!!  You can tell so much from looking at the personal images that should give real insight into the Professional.   What’s really cool is when the evolution of the photographer happens right before the eyes of the viewer and I will use myself as the example. I studied the Craft and the Art of photography in college cutting my teeth on the very core and essence of it as I shot.  I learned that there are decisions to be made before one picks up a camera, problems to resolve when the camera is in your hands, moments to select and anticipate, backgrounds (clean or busy, helpful or hurtful to the image), then when to click the shutter.

Those are the items that race through my head or are always whirling about when I am shooting, and when I’m shooting sports it happens so much faster and depending on the sport — much, much faster!! My idea of a snapshot will likely end up as a 20×30 inch print or canvas instead of a phone only/ 4×6 on a fridge thing of old!!

No Ordinary View

I have always looked at things with a different esthetic. I mean, I see what others have done and if I have to make an image in  the same space, I ask myself,  “What will make your images different from those others and do you have the heart to go bolder?” I rarely walk away from a challenge. Early on in my college photography classes, I know I drove a couple of my professors nuts with questions often 3-4 weeks ahead of where we were in the course. It wasn’t that I was antsy or in a hurry, rather I have a thirst for knowledge and information fed by a creative streak that is just natural to me and I’ve accepted the cravings!!

One of my favorite images for a few reasons and the first of which is that the colors just seem to work together on all levels. There is a mood that resonates confidence, coming of age, strength, beauty, protected innocence and accomplishment… all of which is displayed with lighting and the use of a 300mm portrait lens!! Ok so the lens I shoot typically shoot sports action with was an obvious choice for me in this instance because it just felt right and truthfully, we were doing a shot on the track and I wanted to show distance in the frame and the easiest way to make that happen is with a long lens. Plus, I happened to have borrowed it from my mentor and friend, so off I went!! As it turns out, this kind of a thing with me… I dig making portraits with long lenses…!!

This is one of my earliest images and by far an all-time favorite for one reason– ok, well a couple of reasons, but the first is that this my “little” cousin during the pre-game routine and this was the second time I got him on field level for a college football game. Everything about this shot is as magical now as it was when I made this image, let me explain. I shot this with a 400mm lens at 25-30 yards away on the sideline and he is at about the 15 or the 20-yard line which is why the goalpost pad is there as a bit of a reference marker, at this point in the stadium there is a shaft of light striking him from behind creating the most beautiful gold rim or edge light that took my breath away. Then there is the gaze… it looks as though I called out to him and he just turned into me but truth be told, he never new I was down the field much less wth the game shooting until I showed up with this 12×18 inch metallic print that got me the WOW moment of my life. Did you notice the light on the front side and the nonexistent glare on the clear visor ? That’s from the stadium lighting and warm sunlight from behind him. Sometimes the Photo Gods just hand down gifts and you gotta be present to win.

Stopping traffic with WOW factor

I like images that make the viewer stop and just say “WOW!!” Who doesn’t like those?  The question is –” What makes for a WOW experience in viewing images?”  It’s about doing something different.  Thinking outside the box comes naturally and double so when it comes to the imagery I want to produce. I have been taught that the point of making images is not to look like everyone else, but to stand apart from the pack.  As far as the way I see things, its about not only the shot I take but sometimes, its about the way I approach the shot. I look at the colors of the subject and how much of the subject can I fill my frame with and this is my building block. The use of color as a compositional element in this frame take the shot to another level all by itself in that it IS critical to the success of the image as a whole— literally from edge to edge in the frame.  

This is at Turn 9, during the MOTO GP race weekend and its all about color. The composition was determined by filling the frame and the rest is all about rider head position and frame filling color– the speed is truly and quite literally implied and understood on all accounts.  

Sometimes, the racing Gods just offer up a gift and when you are dialed in, all you have to do may just be to focus on the subject, follow them and shoot!! Ok so it’s a bit more to it than that in some ways, but at the base, it is just that simple. I won’t bore anyone with the details like the shooting position I had was on the downward slope of a hill to where I was looking over the top of a black fence and shooting through a grey fence while panning ( a photographic technique for following or tracking a moving vehicle on the track waiting for the optimal range to shoot it), and controlling footing to ensure a stable shooting platform. I really think my reward was worth it !!  

At this point on this track, the guys are tantalizingly close and for the way I like to shoot (with very long lenses, this is almost 1000mm effectively) which brings them right up into my reach and minimizes background interference to allow me to focus my viewers’ attention where I want it— on the action!! Did it work?

How I approach sports action images

What makes a good sports action image ? Let’s ask it another way–“How do you make a good sports action image?” I’ll say that I am a bit biased in that my approach is to create a show stopping image that shows facial expression, solid action, and a clean background as much as possible. Shooting professionally lends to a bit of experience that I often translate to my kids’ sports and totally in my sports shooter for hire life.  How do I get this shot? First thing is to think about is getting into the best possible light, generally this is putting the sun to your back and really illuminating the subjects as best you can. I take a bit of a low angle (often by sitting down– Important tip especially for a soccer/football match) which does a couple of important things for the athletes; 1. Athletes look like super heros, 2. The athlete will fill the frame and totally make a poster ready shot, 3.  When and if you can, get closer to let the athlete and their action fill your frame, 4. Your shots will NOT look like anyone elses’ !!

If you are only paying attention to one player, things get a bit easier, but that doesn’t mean there is much time to rest.  Focus on one play at a time and anticipate when there is an opportunity to get a really solid shot. Patience is what is totally required because it will take time to get the shots because of players body positions changing and its only when they get older and are a bit more in control of their bodies. What do you need to do this? There is a difference in gear but there are lots of options and without taking too much of a technical detailed talking point detour–longer focal length lenses are much more suited for reaching out into the field of play. The downside is that when they play runs at you, at some point they are too close to shoot and typically that is when things get really heated.

Every time I shoot a sporting event, I aim to come away with a handful of large poster caliber images of individual athletes, some really tight intense action, and sometimes if just for me,  an image that I may want just as my own poster.  The reason why this shot works for my style of shooting is that it can be a huge poster all by itself. This is really and truly a stand alone shot that could easily be in a sports magazine or newspaper as well as a life sized poster on a wall in the game-room or even a banner. My style of isolation and individual action lends itself to poster type images and in my opinion cleaner shots to highlight the player.