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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2009-12-28

Decade Collection: Vincent Laforet
'This was the first image of my career that I remember pre-visualizing.'

By Vincent Laforet

Photo by Vincent Laforet / Allsport-Getty Images

Photo by Vincent Laforet / Allsport-Getty Images

Right fielder Sammy Sosa #21 of the Chicago Cubs hits his 66th home run during a game against the Houston Astros at the Astrodome in Houston, Texas on September 27, 1998.
I’ve always found it interesting to study how a career takes shape. It’s a very interesting mix of things you try to make happen, things that fail to happen, and a convergence of events often completely out of your control that many call luck.

When I was 15, I was naïve enough to send my work over to Cornel Capa at ICP to ask him for his advice on what to do with my career. He sent me a very kind handwritten letter basically telling me to keep at it – and that things would inevitably happen. I cherish the letter to this day.

At the age of 19 I was rejected thirteen consecutive times during my first round of internship applications. I then sent out a half-hearted application to the Reuters News Pictures Photo Desk in Washington DC – to work as an editor – at the behest of my placement counselor late in spring – only to have it turn out to be one of the most important internships of my career.

Many of the other breaks that have happened in my career were more picture-driven. I’ve made maybe a dozen images throughout my 20-year career that I am proud of, of which maybe 3-4 are sports images.

Most of them were a result of a very special secret formula that I have learned by watching many of the very best sports photographers out there: it’s called Hard Work.

Simply put: Back breaking 16-20 hour days…

First in. Last out. There really aren’t any shortcuts.

If you look at any of the “best” photogs out there – whether they work for USA Today, Sports Illustrated, Reuters, or The New York Times, you’ll find that no matter how “famous” they are: what makes them the best is that they work harder than you do to this day. Period. There is really no special ingredient out there that I know of. They’re at work (either mentally or physically – or both) when you’re asleep.

Then there’s the other important ingredient: looking for something different – or more to the point: refusing to do the same old thing over and over again. I’ve always found that if you’re bored: so will your audience be. Even if what you’re doing is very difficult to do – if you’ve found that is has become so automatic and your performance of it has become so dependable - then perhaps that means it’s time to move on and try something different.

In the case of this image of Sammy Sosa – I and other photographers had photographed him 65 times from a hundred different angles all over the country already that year.

What made the Houston Astrodome so unique back in 1998 – was that is was one of the few DOME stadiums in the US at the time. The other thing that made it unique – was that the lighting was horrid, as were the backgrounds. Point is: getting a picture of someone with bat on ball from 1st or 3rd base isn’t that hard after a bit of practice. Even if it’s a historic home run at the time (#66.) But doing it from 1st or 3rd base back in that stadium would undoubtedly lead to a pretty unspectacular image.

Finding a different angle or picture is the key. In this case it wasn’t rocket science. It was mostly a political play to convince the PR guy to allow me to be up there for the entire 9 innings (you could not move during the game.) I offered to change the film in the remote cameras for the Chicago Tribune (Nuccio Dinuzzo) and the Houston Chronicle (Smiley Pool) and that won the PR guy over. I also made two great friends that I’ve kept in touch with and worked alongside many many good times since then. I was up there with my 400mm and a few rolls of film praying that my timing was on. (No chimping back then to see if you were “on” - you had to wait until the end of the game to process your film… and this game turned out to be 11-innings long.

In the end – this was the first image of my career that I remember pre-visualizing. In other words I didn’t go to the stadium “hoping that something would happen in front of me.” I tried to pre-conceive a photograph before I ever set foot in the stadium. That was a big change for me and for my career. I realized that after the fact, because this was one of the first images that I knew of that was noticed by other photographers (they would tell me over the coming years) and it was also published in SI, the front page of The New York Times, and many other publications.

This was a big moment for me because it was the first time I went from being a passive photographer (waiting for the image) to a proactive one (trying to think of how I could position myself to make a unique one.)

Oh – and it also happens to be my very first “aerial” photograph – technically speaking. I guess that is relevant as well to my career path.


(Vincent Laforet is a freelance commercial photographer and filmmaker based in Southern California. You can visit his website here:
http://www.vincentlaforet.com, his popular blog here: http://blog.vincentlaforet.com and his member page here: http://www.sportsshooter.com/laforet)

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