Nope. It ain’t the gear.
It also ain’t the training. When I went to college, most of us already knew how to take pictures. We needed to learn how to think about photography. How to think about photojournalism. How to tell visual stories. We had to learn about ethics. But, all of us understood the mechanics of taking a picture. Exposure. Light. Framing. We knew that stuff. We were expected to know it before we ever started making the kinds of pictures you’ve seen on Storyteller.
I’ve never considered myself to be a great sports photographer. That’s a whole genre in itself. Sure. I have pretty good hand – eye coordination. I’m pretty good at capturing peak action. But, the real trick is to be able to do those two things and tell the story of the game, or set or match.
Too bad for you. I’m going to publish two days of sports pictures. My versions.
That said, I’ve been pretty lucky. I was able to photograph some big events. And, a lot of little events. Little events are far more fun. You can pretty much work from wherever you want. You can pretty much not have to battle other photographers for position. And, as participants get to know you, you can cheat a little and work from places that you normally wouldn’t be allowed to work.
The pictures. First, the gear. Nikons. Either F2s. FMs. Or, F3s. The football picture was shot with a 300mm f 5.6. The baseball picture was shot with an 500 mm mirror reflex lens. It only had one f-stop. F8. Lee Trevino was taken with the magic 400mm F3.5 and the bodybuilder was made with a 135 mm F 2.8. The film was, as usual, Kodak Tri-X rated all over the place depending on the situation.
A few back stories.
Football. I must have been in the groove that game. When I look at the film, I see several series of peak action where I just leaned on the button and let the motor drive do its thing. I don’t normally do that. I pick my shots.
Baseball. I was testing a Nikon F8 reflex lens. They were manufactured from 1968 to 1983. They idea was for the light to bounce around in a system of mirrors which kept the lens small, compact and lightweight. In theory it was a brilliant idea. It also needed brilliant light to be even marginally useful. Or, you needed a tripod which defeated the original purpose of small and light weight. Because of the way the light bounced around inside the lens it also created those round circles which we nicknamed donut holes.
Lee Trevino. Sometimes, in Winston-Salem, we were able to shoot big time events. I forget what it has been renamed, but in 1981 the golf tournament was called The Greater Greensboro Open. There are a lot of things to know about photographing golf. With the pros. Or, at any level. One is that your camera makes a lot of noise unless it is baffled. You cannot take pictures when a golfer is actually concentrating, especially when he is on the putting green. But, not to worry. Big time pros like Lee Trevino knew how to work with us. We needed a picture. He wanted publicity. He would look up and make a face. First, to the right. Then, he’d do it again to the left.
Body building. This is where that learning to think about pictures thing came in. The traditional pictures of these contests are actually pretty boring. They all pretty much look the same. What to do? What to do? I looked up and saw a balcony. I went upstairs and shot down. Once I did that I found all sorts of interesting angles and pictures. This one picture opened my eyes.
There was some weirdness about this assignment. It started a huge argument in the newsroom. I shot this on a Sunday night. My boss, the chief photographer, called me on Monday to ask if I could stop by. My day off. Uh oh. Trouble. For me. He was very disappointed in what he thought was my coverage.
The sports night editor picked the weakest picture of the winner holding a trophy. You have to take that picture. But, for me it was an identifying picture. Not something to be published. I asked my boss to come with me to the sports desk. I handed him the stack of pictures that they didn’t use. He apologized to me, raised the roof with the sports editor and magically I was given a page to design using my pictures. The so-called sports out takes. The sports editor wrote what I call some “spin copy” that said something like “due to the lateness of the event we could only run one picture, but here’s what the contest really looked like.”
Sometimes, you get lucky. When you do your job.