In January 2018, I went over some of the practical elements of covering sporting events in a blog post. A handful of folks and my mom seemed to really like it.
In the year-and-a-half since then, I’ve increasingly realized that there are other, very important tools to have in your ThinkTank belt as you embark on a career in sports photography—namely, mental ones. This industry requires a certain type of emotional fortitude, and though it isn’t discussed nearly as much as gear, it’s equally as important.
As I disclaimed in my last letter to you, my dear students, this list is not comprehensive or in any order of importance. It’s basically well-formatted stream-of-consciousness.
And for anyone who longs to post derisive commentary, please stow all pitchforks in the overhead bins before taking off on the content below. If you feel strongly about any particular part, I accept derisions in the form of respectful counter-arguments of no fewer than 30,000 words in Times New Roman 12-point font, single-spaced. Remember to cite your sources in MLA style.
Dear Student Sports Photographers,
1. Starting out, most of your photos are probably going to be bad or just meh. I can’t think of anyone who skipped this step and went straight to landing the cover of Sports Illustrated. Embrace the bad photos that pave the way to your good photos.
2. You should like your work, but also push yourself to learn and develop. Those bad photos you take early on? You’ll think they’re actually pretty good, and that’s what you should think! Keep that confidence, because as you progress, for any number of reasons, there can be moments where you doubt yourself. Like, really really really doubt yourself.
NOTE: Even if you’re slaying it and getting 10k likes on your IG every minute, keep pushing yourself. Elevate to a new level of proficiency or try out a whole different style. Photography is endless in its possibilities for fresh challenges, so while you may find your style and get really good at it, never stop doing things that challenge you, too.
ANOTHER NOTE: We can all be humbled by the fact that no one in the industry knows everything about photography, but also motivated by the sheer magnitude of all there is to learn and do. <cue “we’re all in this together” from high school musical>
3. Confidence in your work does not equate to telling everyone how good you are. The people I most enjoy working with are those who don’t even really talk about their work. They know they’re good photographers, and because of that fact, there’s no need to fill a workroom with chatter about their accomplishments or gear stats: the photos do the talking. Unless someone straight-up asks you—show, don’t tell.
4. Watch your words. When you are talking about your work, others’ work, or the industry, be mindful of how you present yourself. There are two worn-out tropes that I see with unsettling frequency:
a. Newbie Photographers vs “Seasoned” Photographers. Ah yes, the “ol’ pros” mocking/questioning/making any mention whatsoever some newbie’s use of a monopod with a 70-200/any other newbie gear setup. They are not you, but you were once them, and we’re all somewhere along the spectrum of photography knowledge. Pro Tip: You’re not as close to the end of it as you think. None of us are.
b. Complaining. Be someone others want to work with. If you’re not sure what that looks like, refer to #3. If you don’t like the industry, pursue work in another one, and sell your photo gear to the rest of us for a heavy discount on your way out. #thankunext
5. Discerning between passion and purpose. Just because you love sports photography doesn’t mean you have to make a living out of it. That’s the beauty of photography—you can do a lot of photo work while also being an occupational therapist. Or dentist. Or construction worker. The glamour around the photographer’s life is only as glamorous as it feels to you.
6. Other photographers back-focus, too. One more time for folks in the back: OTHER PHOTOGRAPHERS BACK-FOCUS, TOO. It happens. Over time, you’ll back-focus less (unless of course, your lens needs repairing; but that’s a whole different post.) We’re talking about the misfires that are on you, and I’m just saying to take comfort in the unfortunate fact that we all have them. Just work on making them less frequent, and if you need to, take deep breaths as you imagine your favorite photographer back-focusing.
7. Prospective vs Perspective. Ok, so this isn’t about emotions, but it’s mental. Spelling counts. For submitting an inquiry to an organization, and in general interactions of life, here’s how these break down:
Prospective: “I am a prospective photographer, which means I’m hoping this email will persuade you to pay me money for my photo work.”
Perspective: “My perspective on the photography industry is that it needs more people from diverse backgrounds.”
8. Stay grounded. Every industry has its pluses and minuses, and the photo industry is no different. Don’t get caught up in the negativity, and don’t focus too much on chasing glory. Be mindful about why you’re doing what you’re doing, and of what you hope to achieve. Don’t let the transient things like Instagram likes be the driving force behind what you do, or else you’ll start doing photography for reasons you can come to resent if you don’t get the results you wanted. Remember how you felt when you were at step #1 and don’t let fear or setbacks carry too much weight in how you plan your career.
Alright, that’s all we have time for in today’s class; the rest of life is pretty much like preparing for finals year-round, so learn to enjoy it no matter what.