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|| News Item: Posted 2007-02-27

Confessions of a Non - Sports Shooter
By Bryan Moss

Photo by Bryan Moss / Life in Corydon

Photo by Bryan Moss / Life in Corydon

I'm not really very good at it. I don't have an eye for the graceful ballet, perfectly framed, tack sharp action picture. I often miss the key moment; not long ago I was shooting a swimming meet and absolutely knew the winning coach was going to be thrown into the pool. I missed it anyway. I did get a picture out of it I liked. Still, I missed a moment I knew was coming.


I'm not even that big a sports fan. I follow college basketball. I grew up in Indiana, went to I.U., covered their games when I worked in Louisville. (For the record, in my opinion, Bobby Knight was always worth the trouble he caused, but he ultimately did himself in because he didn't live by his own principles of behavior.) Anyway, I don't watch much else until whatever sport is current gets down the to the playoffs. Then I enjoy them all, because of the level of performance.


I don't have proper equipment. Until this weekend I shot everything with one not-all-that-professional body-a Nikon D70 with the wide-angle lens it comes with and a 70-200 VR zoom. And a 1.4 telextender of ancient vintage. The D70 served me faithfully for two years, but this one-body approach eventually culminated in the inevitable result of not having a backup when the camera malfunctioned in the first quarter of a tournament final basketball game. (A high school soccer coach who shoots the games for fun lent me his D70 for the entire fourth quarter, so I recovered,) Now I have a new D80, and as soon as the D70 gets fixed, I'll keep it as a backup. I'll still shoot with only one body, though; that's my personal preference.


At one of the newspapers I worked, the old guys (the ones I thought were old, when I was 25) always got the worst assignments, and there was one particular photographer, who worked nights because he liked the hours, who shot night after night of high school basketball. One particular night, though, the American Basketball Association (remember them?) was in town for their All-Star game. Since he was already working nights and, he was assigned to the multi-photographer team covering the big event. The team assembled for a strategy meeting before the game; the meeting went on and on, the time got late. Finally, the veteran picked up his camera with his standard 85mm lens and got up to leave, announcing, "If you need me, I'll be under the north goal."

The very last thing I ever expected (or thought I wanted) was to be his age and find myself sitting in a high school gym (with orange lights) under the north goal.

Photo by Bryan Moss / Life in Corydon

Photo by Bryan Moss / Life in Corydon
But I retired from newspapers about a year ago, and founded, a website devoted to life in the little Indiana town in which I grew up. Much of life here is centered around kid's sports, from peewees to high school. Under the north basket is where I often am these days. So even though it's a little weird to be writing a piece giving advice to sports shooters, one of the reasons I'm doing this is because my experiences and how I deal with being not all that good at standard sports pictures, may be helpful to you all. ("You all," a southern phrase for the second person plural pronoun, which otherwise does not exist in the English language.)

The other reason I'm writing this, is because has run two wonderful reviews of my book PhotoSynthesis and I've had orders from all over the world as a result. (Cheap plug here - you can see more about the book at Those reviews got me connected with Sports Shooter and I wanted to thank everyone by offering some thoughts about shooting sports.

So here you go - two important things I think you should think about:


My work appears on a website. (Which means I shoot everything horizontal, including basketball. (Give up verticals. It's a horizontal medium.) I cover a sporting event and then run an 18-24 picture slideshow of the game.

I compete with two weekly newspapers and a daily that doesn't care much about Corydon, so it's fun to have a slideshow on the website the next day. Most newspapers' websites are put together by non-visual people, so their idea of a slideshow is a collection of action pictures in no particular order, with an occasional ranting coach or tired fan picture or happy winner. Not good enough.

I spent a lot of time in my career working on a desk, and I never liked being stuck in the office, so I always asked of the photographers who were lucky enough to be at the event that they "take me there." Shoot the event so that when I look at the pictures back in the office, I'll feel like I've experienced the game, even though I wasn't actually in attendance.

Photo by Bryan Moss / Life in Corydon

Photo by Bryan Moss / Life in Corydon
That's the goal -- "take me there." Every sports event is not just a contest; it's an event. There are players, coaches, moms, dads, girlfriends, nieces, nephews, cheerleaders, scorekeepers, old guys who are re-living the glory days of 20 years ago. They're all part of it, too.

Each event can be considered a documentary story. That's the way I shoot them, from the time I first step out of the car until the star of the game leaves hand-in-hand with his girlfriend. And most often, I simply edit the pictures I like and leave them in chronological order. Beginning to end, as they happened.

Web slide shows (and video, too, for that matter) must have continuity. Flow. A beginning, a middle and an end. The story must transition from one image to the next. That means that there must be some pacing to the images. Not everything can be tight, not everything can be action within the boundary lines.

If you want to make that work, you have to shoot everything that happens in front of you.

See for an example.


Intuition. A major part of the PhotoSynthesis book is devoted to maximizing intuitive performance. But we don't have time here to go into any detail, so you'll just have to take my word for how it works.

Your brain is a complicated organ, but it's well accepted that creativity comes mainly from the right side (intuition.) The left side (your conscious brain) handles the non-creative stuff; it's good at mathematics and language.

And saying, "No." Aside from operating the controls of the camera and finding a place to stand (when you have a choice), its main photography function seems to be telling you NOT to take pictures. "Wait." "Not that one." "Not yet." "No." Not surprisingly, given its negative attitude, the conscious brain is not a very good photographer.

Photo by Bryan Moss / Life in Corydon

Photo by Bryan Moss / Life in Corydon
It's your intuitive side that makes the pictures that touch us -- pictures that are achingly beautiful or emotionally wrenching, or capture the very essence of a sport. When photographers are running on their intuition, they're in The Zone, just like the athletes they photograph. And their pictures show it.

(Here's a test for many times have you thought you had a great picture, only to get back to the office and it wasn't as good as you thought it was? It's your conscious brain that thought it was a good picture. Conversely, how many times have you been looking through your pictures and found one you don't even remember taking, and it's a picture you really like? That was your intuitive side at work.)

The trick, then, is to enable your intuition, so it's deciding when to press the button, not the your uncreative conscious brain. Just like athletes, you have to find a way to get into The Zone.

It's not that hard. Just start. Like any creative effort, the hardest part is the first step. "Just Do It" is precious wisdom. The more pictures you take, the more you enable your intuition. The real secret to optimizing your creativity and making better pictures is to press the button. A lot. Keep the camera to your eye, keep your world concentrated to that small rectangle of the viewfinder and pictures almost take themselves.

DISCLAIMER -- Intuitive performance is magical; there's no formula that works every time to make it happen.

AND NOTE - This is the same shooting suggestion I made earlier, that you take a lot of pictures, but I'm advocating it now for an entirely different reason.

So the two important things I wanted to share are really the same important thing.

Shoot. Don't decide NOT to press the button because your dull left-brain is telling you to wait. Just do it.

It doesn't matter what the subject is. And it works just fine for sports. Even from under the north basket.


(I know, I said two, but since the first two were actually one, I get one more. I thought I was done, but I can't leave you without this final admonition.)

Shoot pictures for the pleasure of doing it. There's nothing like being in The Zone, whether you're a photographer or an NFL quarterback. Most great athletes don't want to quit. Some come out of retirement several times. It's not because they want to win more games, it's because they want to have that Zone performance high again.

If you photograph for the sheer joy of the experience, the pictures will take care of themselves.

(Bryan Moss has been on staff at some of the country's leading newspapers including the Courier Journal in Louisville and the San Jose Mercury News. He currently is the co-director of the White Cloud workshops with Mary Jo Moss: He is currently the editor and photographer on a hometown website he started, This is what's taking up his time these days. Adds Bryan: "For more alleged wisdom from me, buy a copy of my new book PhotoSynthesis, details at Among the topics it covers is how to get into the Zone when you're shooting.)

Related Links:
Book: PhotoSynthesis

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