Saturday, August 27, 2011

Photography and Sports, but Not Like You Think

We are all familiar with sports photography, the Sports Illustrateds of the world with great action shots of our favorite players doing what they do best. I admire the great shots I see that capture the players' emotions, their raw strength and skill.

But there is also another link between photography and sports. I find myself using certain analogies over and over when describing to a client or student what we're doing and why. I should warn the reader this post has a tongue in cheek sense to it. On the one hand, what I'm about to say is silly; on the other hand, the analogies are true, and illustrative.

Photography as Baseball

When I'm shooting a client or a model, I find it necessary to advise that there will be a few warm up shots I take over the course of the shoot to ensure the lighting and general environment looks good. No need to smile or pose for those, they are just technical "test shots". And after that, there will be lots of shots taken when we're on point. Why do I take so many? Won't one do? Snap and move on? Probably not.

If you have ever watched America's Next Top Model, you'll note that they shoot perhaps hundreds of photos of extremely beautiful women. Then when they're reviewing the shots, certainly there are lots of very nice photos, but at some point, everything aligns.

The hair waves just so, the fabric falls just right, the prop is in the most flattering, complementary position. The model's hand, her arm, her shoes... all ease into a natural and appealing position. And her expression... finally her expression captures the inner life of her personality, the intensity that penetrates and transcends a static image to captivate the viewer... forcing them to stop and look. She "pitches" her shots at me, look after look, while I tease and coax out her best throws. I'm swinging away as batter with a camera. Snap, snap, snap. Foul away, out to the bleachers...

The camera is a time capture machine. I dont have the luxury of the continuum of video, picking out the best moment from the reality presented. I have to snap it when it happens. And I miss. She pitches, I swing, and like most batters, there's a lot of missing. But at some point, she throws, I hit, and wow, home run. And when we hit that home run, then yes, time to move on to the next play.

Photography as Football

When I'm teaching a photography student, I'm often taken by the complexity of what I'm trying to explain. On the one hand, I have internalized an awful lot of subtlety and inter-related issues that affect each other. Sometimes its hard to pick a starting point; it sometimes feels like a big circular wheel of complexity. I can't explain this without first explaining that. And I can't explain that without discussing the other thing.

On the other hand, photography can at its most basic be reduced down to a fairly simple set of rules that can get someone grounded. Adding complexity from that point on is relatively easy once you understand the rules. Its not something that is easily understood by watching other people shoot, or by looking at great photographs. Someone essentially has to explain it to you, at some level.

I remember for years strongly disliking football as a sport of very large men beating each other senseless, then picking themselves up off the ground and doing it again. Until someone explained a few basic rules of the game -- the idea of first and 10, the idea of first down, the touchdown, the field goal, the defense, and the quarterback. SUDDENLY the game was enjoyable. No, I didnt understand all the nuances of the game, but now I could understand the progress of the game, why the players did what they did, and could even cheer along with everyone else when something identifiable good happened. But someone had to explain it to me. You can't really understand football by just watching the game.

And to get better at photography so that your shots progress beyond the odd lucky shot, someone at some point is going to have to explain to you the basic rules of the game.

And there is even a similarity between photography and boxing, if nothing else, in the phrase, "Stunning shot!" LOL.

Whether teaching students or shooting our INFINI boudoir clients, we always strive for "stunning shots" that leave a mark.

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