Photographers are no different to sports people - except we don’t usually sweat as much.
We all have idols (no, not like the TV show), but real idols who we respect and whose work we admire. Professionals who have plied their trade for years, lived their trade and mastered it along the way. Regardless of your skill level as a photographer it’s worth comparing yourself to others. Not to copy, or mimic, but to relate, learn and develop your vision.
GETTING PUBLISHED ISN'T THE FINISH LINE
In recent years I’ve had the privilege of being published in FourFourTwo online magazine. My latest photos accompanied a story on Abdullah Karim who was announced as the Most Valuable Player at the FIPFA World Cup. I’ve watched "Abz" play PowerChair football over the past few years and it was humbling to be able to record and help document his accomplishment on this occasion. Getting “published” in a major sporting magazine is a Bucket List item that I’ve been able to tick off. Having said that, it doesn’t mean that I’m one of the "best in the business". I don't place myself within the elite photographer's class (yet!), but at least I know I’m heading in the right direction.
STALK (AHEM.. ) STUDY THE MASTERS
Throughout my relatively short career (so far) as a professional photographer I have followed, studied and maybe even stalked the masters. Well, maybe not stalked... that’s just creepy.
It’s by far one of the best ways to improve your craft exponentially. You can’t really just “follow your nose” to get better. You need a teacher, an instructor, or a mentor.
Some of the photographers I follow are the ones I sit along side at when shooting A-League matches. These are the photogs I compare myself to the most frequently as I’m able to compare the quality of photos under the exact same conditions. There’s little point in comparing one game at a local grassroots game to an international match at ANZ Stadium. The extreme differences in the quality and quantity of lighting is the first obvious variable that affects the end result dramatically! In order to learn and improve, you need to be comparing apples and apples, like for like.
THE PRO-SPECTIVE VIEWPOINT
My main focus of sports photography is football (yes I mean soccer), athletics and motorsports. I follow several professional photographers who shoot these particular sports.
One master I follow is the #PhotoNinja himself, Delly Carr, who has shot most sports, the Commonwealth and Olympic Games, World Cups, etc, and is an ambassador for many companies including my favourite #Nikon. With the variety of sports that Delly shoots, he opens my eyes to so may techniques and styles.
Kevin Airs covers major football events and is a great study for football-centric shooting techniques. Although I have heard he’s dabbling in aerial photography too…!
To get a completely different perspective on shooting I observe the sport of rodeo! For now, I don't actually get to shoot it, but I follow Matt Cohen from the USA, ranked as one of the best in the business. Despite not physically shooting rodeo, studying Matt’s work gives me a different viewpoint. Looking a raging bull in the eye through a lens is one angle I want to try, but for now I get to live it through Matt’s photographs!
There are many other professionals that I take regard of when it comes to sports shooting, but these are my Top 3, covering a wide range of skills, techniques and variety.
KEEP YOUR FRENEMIES CLOSER
On the down-low (shhhhh…) there are a few photogs that I quietly stalk (errrr... follow…) who’s style I don't like. Sound crazy? Maybe.
Why follow what I don't like? Perspective. You learn by other’s mistakes, not just your own, or at least you should in my opinion. Learn what you don't like. It's a reference from which to learn.
GOING AGAINST THE GRAIN
Being different is a good thing. A unique style or vision stands out amongst the crowded photography landscape (no pun - this is a sports blog!), but it also provides the idols, the mentors and mavericks - the best-of-the-best to learn from.
If you’re a budding photographer find yourself a few professionals in your niche to study. Even better is find a mentor or two, someone you can chat with directly and get a no BS, honest, down-the-line opinion from. It’s one of the tools in your arsenal of photographic mastery.