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|| News Item: Posted 2006-04-28

Sports Shooter Academy II: 'And every night, the creative bar was raised higher… and higher… and higher.'
By Crystal Chatham

Photo by Crystal Chatham

Photo by Crystal Chatham
(Editor's Note: Sports Shooter Academy II was held earlier this month. The hands-on, shooting workshop gave participants an opportunity to cover a wide range of NCAA Division I sports through the Big West Conference in addition to several professional sports. The Sports Shooter Newsletter asked several participants to write about their experiences and what the took away from this educational program.)

Last night while trolling through the aisles of magazines at the local Barnes & Noble, I made the requisite flip-through of the most recent ESPN The Magazine. A couple Zoom double trucks later I found myself in a momentary fit of nostalgic chuckle as I stood smiling at a birds-eye-view image of a collegiate pole vaulter.

While to many of you this capture may be nothing new, to myself and the thirty other students at last month's Sports Shooter Academy II the image evokes a fond memory of Cal State Fullerton's Carlos Delgado and SSA über-instructor Matt Brown crafting what will go down in Big West Conference history as perhaps the tallest pole mounted remote camera… ever. Carlos' pole cam (and his subsequently unique birds-eye-view image of a collegiate pole vaulter) is just one of many thoughts, recollections, and memory-inducing morsels that I took away from five marathon days in Irvine...

The Buildup
During the months and weeks leading up to SSA, the message board, a private Yahoo! Group, and even a MySpace thread buzzed with talk of Bert's latest schedule announcements, roommate searches and rental car shares, and chats with SSA I alumni - who all assured us that we were in for a most unique experience. So by the time April 5th rolled around and I walked into the SSA II Wednesday night welcome reception, I found a room full of "students" whom I largely already pseudo-knew, though had never met. The room slowly started to simmer with excitement and new relationships were born as we each began matching threads to names and avatars to faces.

A Most Appropriate Kickoff
After a successful bout of schedule sign-ups and a boisterous welcome by Nikon's Ron Taniwaki and the Kahuna himself, we were lucky enough to spend the evening with NBA Senior Photographer, Andy Bernstein. While there is no doubt that Andy is a master photographer, and his slideshow quickly reaffirmed that notion, the greater good of his presentation came towards the end of the evening when Andy presented us with an open and honest personal reflection of his life in and around "the business." Willing to share both the highs and lows, Andy gave a room full of students veteran knowledge and drew a picture of what it takes to build and maintain respect, relationships, and career longevity.

Photo by Crystal Chatham

Photo by Crystal Chatham
Watching Myung Chun's on-line video series from Andy's presentation now, I realize how appropriately themed his kickoff message was. While I didn't know it at the time (and video hindsight is always 20-20), the scope of the presentation covered every skill I'd have to employ from that night on.

The Workshop
The four days that followed were a whirlwind of classroom sessions, demonstrations, shoots, editing sessions, critique sessions and on rare occasions, even a little sleep (emphasis on little, as my roommates will attest).

Academically, the sessions proved invaluable. Pre-workshop, I'd hoped to finally demystify remotes and finally get a handle on lighting setups. Thanks to the faculty's willingness to answer the most mundane questions (and Ron's generous track meet loan of some PocketWizards and a floor plate) I'm now adept at both.

Armed with the wisdom and know-how imparted by Andy and the rest of the SSA II faculty, including Matt Brown, Mike Goulding, Wally Skalij, Myung Chun, Lucas Gilman, Ron Taniwaki, and Bert Hanashiro, my classmates and I attacked each shoot with fresh eyes and a fervor to do something different.

It goes without saying that there is a unique creative challenge presented by spending three days shooting side-by-side with thirty incredible photographers … after all, how do you break away from such a talented pool of shooters - photographers were everywhere! I thoroughly enjoyed the pressure applied by my classmates' presence and can honestly say it caused me to shoot from places I'd never thought of, such as the roof at Santa Anita Park for a horse race or just inches above ocean water while straddling a pontoon during Sunday morning crew practice.

It should be noted that while the days started very early and nightly critiques ended extremely late. The entire Sports Shooter delegation of students, faculty, and staff, stayed until the final image was critiqued every single night. And every night, the creative bar was raised higher… and higher… and higher.

Everything Else
Beyond the classrooms, the shoots, and the critiques, SSA II stretched further than what was printed in pre-workshop handouts. It was an environment that nurtured creativity, encouraged a spirit of community and begged the question, "What if?" …Just ask Carlos Delgado - his "what if" resulted in a very tall and very cool remote.

Personally, Sports Shooter Academy II commenced what I can only hope are long lasting professional friendships between shooters from across the country (and even Canada, eh). As it really is a small world after all, our paths will cross again and I look forward to a time many moons from now when the SSA faculty includes a handful of shooters who spent five incredible days together back in '06.

(Crystal Chatham starts her new job as a staff photographer at the Palm Spring Desert Sun May 1.)

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