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|| News Item: Posted 2009-08-13

The Portfolio Critique: Rod Mar
Hannah Foslien reflects back on a portfolio critique that defined her passion.

By Hannah Foslien

Photo by Hannah Foslien

Photo by Hannah Foslien

The Adolfo Camarillo High School Junior Varsity football team celebrates on the sidelines after a long completed pass during the fourth quarter of a game against Thousand Oaks High School.
I hugged my laptop close to me as sort of a safety blanket and would not have been surprised if it shattered - the way I gripped it. It was late on a Friday night in November 2005 at the Holiday Inn in Ventura, California; the Sports Shooter Commuter Short Course had just kicked off. I stood in a corner with a few friends as we watched portfolio critiques. I waited for my turn to be critiqued by then Seattle Times photographer Rod Mar. My first critique of the night had informed me that I needed to "shoot more" and "edit tighter." It had only made me more terrified as to what a sports photographic genius such as Mar would say about my portfolio of fifteen sports images and a twelve-image photo story.

Finally my time slot arrived. I sat down and introduced myself. We quickly discussed that I was in my final year at the Brooks Institute of Photography. I really enjoyed shooting sports and my recent travel photography course had also peaked my interest. Mar went swiftly through my images and then proceeded back through slowly to discuss them one-by-one. The comments ranged from "good composition but not quite the right moment" to "good moment but it needs to be cropped tighter" to "why am I looking at this?" My photo story was a good idea but could use some more work to further improve it. By the end of the critique session, my portfolio had been whittled down to a miniscule seven images and an eight-image photo story.

As I began to pack up to leave, Mar had one final piece of advice, "You have a good eye and see color. You might want to look at becoming a travel photographer; there's a million people who want to be sports photographers."

In the weeks following the Short Course, I spent hours looking and applying to internships with travel magazines. If Rod Mar thinks I should be a travel photographer then I was going to be the best travel photographer there was. Something felt wrong with that but I just could not put it my finger on it. It wasn't until I returned home one night, turned on Sports Center and opened my computer to watch the pitch-by-pitch of the Minnesota Twins game that it clicked - travel photography was not my passion; it was sports.

Photo by Hannah Foslien

Photo by Hannah Foslien

Teammates congratulate each other after Amy Rodriguez of the University of Southern California women's soccer team scored the first goal of the game against Long Beach State University at USC's McAlister Field.
In a fifteen-minute critique session, the advice you are given is based on a brief introduction and the few images you provide. At the time of the critique I was unsure of my future and scared of graduating within the year. At this uncertain time for me I credit Rod Mar for helping me to realize my passion in just the simple act of suggesting a different career path. Those last words from Mar provided me with the additional drive I needed to become a sports photographer.

As luck would have it, the following month the Minnesota Twins, my hometown baseball team, were looking for a photography intern and I had a tightly edited, Rod Mar approved portfolio to submit in my application. Now, every time I update my website or portfolio, even after two years with the Twins organization and over a year of freelancing, I still find myself stepping into Mar's shoes to ask myself "why am I looking at this image?" and "is it the right moment and the correct crop?" In addition, I take a little extra time to have my work viewed by colleagues in Minneapolis and ask them to give me their honest, professional opinion.

I stop occasionally to wonder what my assignment would be today if I had followed the path of a travel photographer. Something tells me I am much happier on the baseline of a WNBA game than I ever would have been photographing food, landmarks or hotels. I am passionate about what I do and have yet to work a day in my life.

(Hannah Foslien is a freelance photographer based in Minneapolis, MN. You can view here work on her member page: and at her personal website:

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