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|| News Item: Posted 2009-07-27

I Am So Over Shooting Sports
Michael McNamara has become more of a food photographer, and he couldn't be happier.

By Michael McNamara, Arizona Republic

Photo by Michael McNamara / The Arizona Republic

Photo by Michael McNamara / The Arizona Republic

The Pinku No Hana, a saketini at Sens in Phoenix. You have to like when you shoot an assignment, and the restaurant owner asks for your business card when you show him the photos on your laptop.
It wasn't supposed to happen like this. I was always going to be a sports photographer. In college, I was "that kid," the one who bought a 400 f/2.8. I was going to work at a small paper, then a bigger paper, and then a bigger paper or Allsport, and then at Sports Illustrated.

When I was in college, I worked for the sports information department and shot more sports than I had dreamed of. I loved it, and when I was graduating, my portfolio was about 50% sports. People would tell me I needed to diversify, and I blew them off, saying that I didn't need to shoot things that I had no interest in. Only show your strengths, right?

That portfolio quite miraculously got me my first job at the Columbia Daily Tribune where I worked a night and weekend shift for two years, almost guaranteeing that I was at a football/baseball/basketball/softball/volleyball game five nights a week, and I was loving life. I then moved to the desk and became a photo editor at The Sporting News. After a couple years I wanted to be shooting again, and moved to Lincoln, Nebraska. I've now been at The Arizona Republic for about two years, and looking back at my first paragraph, it would be easy to think I was living the dream.

At one job a colleague said to me, "one day you'll be at a basketball game and you'll say, 'I don't give a shit if the strobes work or not.'"

I thought he was nuts, but he was right. Along the way, I fell out of love with the idea of being a sports photographer.

I should preface the rest of this by saying that I don't hate sports photography, but I like that my career has taken a different direction. If I had an assignment to shoot a game tomorrow night, I'd enjoy the challenge of making nice images, but I wouldn't treat it as seriously as I once would have.

In Lincoln, I spent a lot of time working on lighting and portraits, and loved what I was doing. At the Republic, I've become more of a food photographer, and I couldn't be happier.

Looking back, I think a lot of it has to do with feeling appreciated. When was the last time any of you shot a game and as you left the venue somebody said to you, "Thanks for coming out. We really appreciate the coverage." Quite honestly, that's never happened to me. When I leave a feature or portrait assignment, I hear it about 98 percent of the time.

When I was at The Sporting News, we sent somebody to photograph a big name pitcher at spring training. After the photographer had set up, the player decided he didn't want to do the portrait, so he stayed in the clubhouse.

Photo by Michael McNamara / The Columbia Daily Tribune

Photo by Michael McNamara / The Columbia Daily Tribune

This is a good example of what most of Michael McNamara's work was, and was what he thought he wanted to do for the rest of his life.
I did a portrait once of two linemen and I had a nice setup that would have yielded a nice sunset photo in the stadium. But they were about an hour late, and I asked the PR person to turn the stadium lights. "Do you know how much that would cost in electricity?" he said. "Do you want to pay our power bill?" It wasn't on purpose, but I ended up making the worst portrait in my life.

We all know that the media landscape sucks, and it's not getting better anytime soon. A lot of people have taken furloughs, pay cuts or been reduced to part time. Way too many people have been laid off. We all have friends who are collecting severance pay or unemployment right now. And the photographers who are still on staffs are doing more and more than ever, just trying to hold onto their steady paychecks.

Nobody got into photojournalism for the money…it's something we do because we love storytelling and photography. But like any relationship, that love is not unconditional, and when you don't feel it coming back, it gets harder and harder to put forth the same effort you once did.

In recent memory, PR agents have started saying no to more and more things, and when they say yes, some act like they are moving heaven and earth to accommodate your request. When you get treated as something between a hassle and an afterthought over and over while you're dealing with the stress of the economy, bigger assignment loads or impending layoffs (or all three), don't be surprised when you don't give a shit whether the strobes work or not, either.

Related Links:
Michael's member page

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