Chasing A Dream

We all have dreams, right? Well I’m no different. I have lots.

Two in particular, in relation to photography, are firmly in my mind this morning, so I thought I post about them. They are, in a way similar, yet in practice (especially technically) are quite different.

My first dream would be to shoot for National Geographic Magazine. I had an initial thought that I would love to simply get a photo posted in the mag, which in itself is tough enough, but I want to take it further and actually shoot regularly for the magazine. Now let me quantify what that means in practice.

Technical Ability – right now I’m nowhere near the standard required for NGM. A lot of people I’ve listened to who have managed to get something published have, in my opinion, some amazing photos, and yet they always start of by saying it took them years of trying to even get the magazine to acknowledge them. Quite often, despite considering the image selection they sent across were some of their best, the magazine editors would come often come back and while offering useful constructive criticism, ultimately the answer would be no.  Still, raising photography standards to anywhere near this level excites me. My use of both natural light and especially strobes is something I need to improve dramatically.

Field Work – Ever read the stories that are behind the photo? Years in the making, 3 weeks in the field with nothing to show but rain, long nights with nothing to show ….  I’m sure there are some photos published which were captured in a relatively short time frame, however the percentage would be quite low. Instead for every photograph that, despite the reader spending a few seconds looking at, may have taken weeks or even months to capture. I’ve just been looking at an absolutely fantastic photo by Charlie Hamilton-James of a River Otter. He gave a little bit of background “years in the making, 17 strobes !!” Charlie is someone who continually inspires me, not only by his obvious technical ability and knowledge of the animals he photographs, but also his ability to continually push the boundaries (mostly through electrical tinkering) in regards to his capturing techniques. Perhaps I should ask Charlie to write a guest blog post on his experiences in getting into NGM 🙂 For me, field work means spending time in the field. Capturing an iconic image requires knowing their behaviour intimately. This requires spending time with them, even without shooting. That in itself, with my day job being so time consuming, is a challenge. Still life would be boring without challenges, right?

My second dream is perhaps a little more achievable, mainly based upon my current situation. This is to regularly get my football photography published in the mainline media (newspapers, magazines). This past season I’ve been learning the ropes of what it takes working for Action Plus Sports Agency. I’ve been covering some Championship games, mostly either Peterborough or Ipswich Town. I’m starting to realise that getting the shot takes more than just technical ability (actually on that point some photos that I see on the back pages sadly don’t even seem to have that!), but also requiring a very efficient workflow as well. When I’m shooting football there is always quite a tight deadline to get your shots back to the agency. This involves more than just capturing the shot. Here are a small selection of shots from my local club, Cambridge United.

Firstly even before going to the game I’m reading about the two teams. I want to familiarise myself with the players, the coaching staff and anyone else associated with the clubs. Secondly are there any stories that the media are likely to pick-up on? Former players returning to the club, rivalries, specific players in the news. Anything that is likely to stand out from the many hundred of images a paper will get in a short period of time.

Once at the ground and after you have captured some shots then the real work begins.  A typical workflow involves getting the shot of the camera, importing into the editing suite of choice, choosing the best shots (remember on burst mode you typically have 10 times the number of shots that you actually need), performing some basic edits, adding the meta data (this can be the most time-consuming), and then uploading (more often than not hoping that the 3G coverage is good enough – the photos I’m uploading are typically 15MB in size). While I’m doing this photo processing workflow I also need to keep an eye on the action, continuing to shoot.  And all of this is normally crouched at the side of the pitch, jostling for position with other togs, while also trying to protect one’s kit from the elements. People quite often comment that I’m so lucky to get to see games for free. Well let me tell you I get to watch very little of the game itself.

By the time the game has finished, I’ve done some final edits (quite often sitting alone on the touch-line in the cold) uploaded these to the agency, packed up, driven home, it can be many hours after the game has finished. For a mid-week game, even only being an hours drive away, I may not get home until close to midnight. And this is after a full days work at my main job. And of course, especially for some of the smaller games I cover, there is no guarantee that any of the shots will be used. Still I absolutely love doing it, and am already looking towards the new season.

Sports photography, especially football, is full of both extremely proficient togs, as well as the challenge of going up against the “Big Boys” such as Empics and PA, not to mention the many (many) other agencies who would be attending some of the bigger games. Quite often news outlets already have an agreement in place to use photos only from certain agencies.

So there you go. Two dreams. Both with a common goal. That goal is not to become famous from taking photos. It’s actually with photos being chosen, a realisation that I’m actually improving my own photography. And that to me is the most important point.

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