I recently had a conversation with a pro photographer who shoots Canadian Olympians, and we had an interesting discussion about sports photography.
We were standing in my driveway discussing some of his adventures around the world. We were only supposed to meet up for a quick lens exchange but ended up chatting for some time about his experience in the industry of sports photography.
I was purchasing a tilt-shift lens from him, an old-school lens that takes a bit more thought to use, it’s a style of lens that doesn’t have an auto-focus but more importantly tilts and shifts to allow more creativity.
After getting the lens purchase out of the way, we started to talk shop.
Because of the lack of autofocus in the lens I was purchasing we were on the topic of thinking about, and setting up the image you want vs all the fancy camera wizardry that allows us just to hold up a camera, hold down the trigger and fire away.
He told me a story about shooting downhill skiing at the Olympics. He and another photographer from Slovakia were sandwiched between a photographer from Japan. As the skiers entered their field of view Dave had his shot ready, he was pre-focused, and he knew exactly where he wanted to shoot the skier before they even entered the frame.
He had practised his craft and was experienced in shooting the sport and knew precisely the photo he wanted.
Meanwhile, the photographer beside him was ‘spraying and praying’. That’s a catchphrase in photography which basically means pointing your camera in the right direction, holding down the shutter button and shooting the maximum number of shots, hoping to get one that’s good.
It reminds me of another conversation I had with a pro photographer that I look up to in the climbing industry.
It was several years ago now. I had brought up my concern with Paul that I thought I needed a newer, faster laptop. He proceeded to ask me about how many shots I was coming home with at the end of the day, and I said around 800–1200 per day depending on the shoot.
His feedback was that I needed to stop shooting so many shots, not that I needed a faster computer to cull and edit the shots I was taking. I needed to put more thought into what I was going and what I was trying to capture and shoot less.
This was exactly what Dave was recounting to me in my driveway the other day too. When the skier went past the gate Dave was ready, he held down the shutter and usually grabbed about 4 frames. Meanwhile, the photographer from Japan would hold down the shutter and shoot hundreds of shots…
I bet the photographer from Japan has the same issue I used to…thousands of photos to sort through at the end of the day. Meanwhile, Dave, a seasoned veteran had a couple hundred from the same event.
The new cameras make it easier to ‘spray and pray’ too. My current camera had an increase in frame rate from 3 shots per second to 7 when they made the newest version. I think some Sonys can shoot around 20 shots per second.
That means if I hold down the shutter on my camera and shoot pictures I can shoot more than double what I used to be able to in the same second…
After that conversation with Paul a few years back I have been focusing on capturing an image vs going machine gun style. It’s led me to try to be more creative with my camera too, which is the reason why I crossed paths with Dave.
A tilt-shift lens involves more thought and creative skill. It’s a manual focus, but the glass also tilts and shifts meaning that you can do some pretty creative stuff with it.
I feel I have the art of spray and pray figured out and now I am searching for unique perspectives and angles to improve my craft.
When spraying, you are likely to get a ‘good enough’ shot to use.
Realistically, if you filter down from 1000 images to 10, there are likely some keepers there but when you take the time to think about the shot you want and make it happen that’s when you get the portfolio-worthy capture.
Starting out in climbing and sports photography I find people are focused on the volume. They shoot a ton because they don’t know what they are trying to capture.
Just like Dave recounted the story of the Japanese photographer at the Olympics, the inexperienced tend to spray and pray.
But over time, as one gains experience the advice has been to slow down and capture an image vs just clicking away.
Both are important in different situations; one can focus on getting the shot they imagined and then hold down the shutter at that instant to increase the likely hood of an image that is sharp and in-focus but the emphasis on creating that image is what currently captures my interest.
I used to be a ‘spray and pray’ type of guy.
But I wasn’t happy with the results I was getting at the end of the day.
Today, most of the people I admire are those who have spent years and thousands of hours working on the smallest part of their craft.
Realising what you are looking for is essential for vision and direction
Fine tuning the vision takes time and creativity.