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|| News Item: Posted 2001-12-19

Your Most Important Piece of Equipment: your brain
By Rod Mar, The Seattle Times

Here's a question I ask every time I speak to a group of photographers - students and pros alike:

What is your most important piece of equipment?

Digital body? Long lens?

At the recent Sports Shooter Luau and Workshop, I randomly asked some students during the breaks between sessions. I got lots of answers: "My D1." "My D30." "My 400/2.8." My "300/2.8." "The 1D I'm gonna buy next year."


It doesn't matter if you have the brandest, newest, whiz-bang, 10-megapixel, 100-point autofocus, 15 fps motordrive, digital body with no noticeable shutter lag, flash sync to 1/10,000, 999 waterproof seals and silent shutter release.

And, it doesn't matter if you have the brandest, newest, 400/2.8, IS, DO, lens that weighs only 6 pounds and is hand-holdable.

The most important piece of equipment is still the one between your ears - yes, your brain.

I should know. It's the piece of equipment I often have to remind myself to bring to whatever assignment I happen to be shooting.

Photo by Jay Drowns

Photo by Jay Drowns
And I've forgotten it more times than I'd like to remember (ask me sometime about the famous picture of Ken Griffey, Jr. underneath a pile of Mariners after they beat New York in the 1995 playoffs - the picture that I DON'T have).

And what's gotten me thinking about this again is that I'm one of the fortunate ones that is shooting the new Canon 1D. And everywhere I go, everyone wants to touch it, feel it, smell it, shoot it. And that's cool with me - I'm as big a gearhead as they get.

But while all these shooters are marveling or criticizing the camera, debating the banding issues, the file sizes, the motordrive speed and the buffer size, I'm looking at their pictures, and on the next day, their newspapers.

And I'm still seeing a lot of the same old boring stuff. The quarterback throwing or being sacked, the running back running. Armpit action at basketball.

And if this was baseball season we'd still see a steady diet of high-fives at home plate and dreaded double play pictures.

As they used to say on "Seinfeld," - "not that there's anything wrong with that", But the best sports images have always told the story of the event.

As Dennis Miller says, "I don't want to go off on a rant here", but we need to remember that we're journalists with cameras - whether shooting news or sports. Many people in the industry were understandably upset when Ted Koppel intimated recently that photographers "weren't really journalists", that all we do is point our cameras and shoot.

If we take exception to that idea for news photography, why do we settle for it in sports?

We need to remember that when we're covering a sporting event, we're there to tell stories with our cameras, just like we do with news.

It's so easy to get caught up at going to games, being at big events, and carrying cool cameras that we forget why we're REALLY there in the first place. To make good pictures, yes, but also to make the storytelling images, and to serve our readers.

So, listen to the radio broadcast when you shoot. Check out the stat and hustle boards. Know the down-and-distance. Know who's got a chance at a triple-double. Know how many hits or walks the pitcher's given up. Know what coach is on the hot seat. All could be a factor in tomorrow's game coverage.

Remember - one frame-per-second of the storytelling moment of the game beats the heck out of 8 frames-per-second of a meaningless play.

(Rod Mar is a sports photographer at The Seattle Times. When he does remember to bring his brain to an assignment, he often has to use a blower to remove the dust and cobwebs.)

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