As my experience of photographing sport and particularly football matches has developed over the last 12 months, a few things have occurred to me
1. While you know you’re likely to encounter a run of bad luck, it still bites.
My last two games I have sat behind one goal, with all the action happening at the other. In freakishly similar matches at Aston Villa (Vs Arsenal) and Cardiff (Vs Bournemouth), the away team raced into a three goal lead in the first half. Then nothing else of note has happened in the match. Two games a few days’ apart. What are the chances?
2. You’ll have matches where you just don’t feel sharp, and it’s hard to describe why.
It could be down to the light changing, slight seating discomfort, a dodgy belly, a ballboy or steward or substitutes obstructing your view. It could be because you’re not sure your camera is behaving as it should, focusing quickly enough, missing more than it captures.
That bloke over there with a Nikon (is the quality better than Canon?), as rigidly fixed as a tank turret. A glance at his laptop as he scrolls through reveals not a single frame missed or blurred; each one perfect. With your rapidly ageing kit, you have nowhere near his confidence.
Stop whining, don’t ‘blame your tools’ like a bad workman. Just get on with it, concentrate.
3. Knowing when is the right time to get images onto the laptop is hard, and might always feel clunky.
I still feel like an awkward adolescent doing this: extracting memory cards from cameras, slotting them into readers, inserting the reader into a laptop, rapidly trying to selecting what’s half decent while drizzle starts flecking the screen and the crowd suddenly roars in expectation and you lunge for the long lens…
Looking at your laptop screen you’re always on edge in case anything significant happens on the pitch. You have to almost subliminally read patterns, crowd noises, the ebb and flow, whether one team is happy and comfortable just defending a lead (any team currently playing Cardiff), so there’s less chance of a goal.
4. Try not to compare yourself with all the other photographers around you.
Comparing yourself with others is always tough to stop. Particularly when you’re drawn to the seemingly effortless, smoother motions of weathered burly blokes to the left and right (98% are blokes and many of those thick-set and rugged, like they could just as comfortably handle livestock, milk cows). It feels like the desirable photographer equivalent of ‘good touch for such a big man’: something which develops slower, possibly depending on your age. Maybe I’m an early career Peter Crouch.
5. You can’t predict what images will get publications and what won’t.
Not at my stage anyway. If you’re shooting for a big boy agency and you’ve been doing it decades, have a reputation, then maybe. Still, I originally thought there was probably some reason in it, and sometimes I guess there is. But often there isn’t.
A couple of games this season at Bristol City and Cardiff I’ve been quietly (stupidly) confident after capturing a lovely frame of a goal or nailing what I felt must be the best celebration shots. Yet come the next day I leafed blankly through the newspapers, full of dejection, disgruntled by the appearance of a heavily cropped, low quality image taken from the other end of the pitch.
6. Unpredictability can work for you too
On the flipside though, you sometimes benefit from that exact same thing. This season I have had shots published which are really not all that good, taken from the other end of the pitch, when guys behind that goal would have better, and it all seems curiously random.
7. Everyone is on a deadline
This is likely because you forget about time and deadlines and the necessity to just bang pics in between words late at night without thinking too hard. I don’t know what kind of software is used to receive, view and select, but my hunch is that there’s probably not that much evaluative comparison going on.
8. Competition is never less than intense.
There are always other photographers and most of them better, more assured, with superior kit and considerably greater experience. But you have to keep going regardless, hoping that you’ll incrementally improve and perseverance will pay.
9. It helps to love it and try to keep loving it.
Even when it rains and it gradually starts getting colder. Like now.
There’s probably tons more and 10 would be a nice round number but I’m slightly bored now and you must be too, if you’ve made it this far.
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