When people think of sports photography, usually the first thing that comes to mind are great “action” images. And don’t get me wrong, making great action images is a very important part of what any successful sports photographer strives to achieve. But personally, I enjoy making a powerful sports image that derives its strength from the pure emotion of the sport. I like to call it the moment.
Think of the old “Wide World of Sports” opening that ran on ABC-TV every Saturday afternoon and the famous “the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat” line that accompanied incredible video footage. That’s what I’m talking about. Sports moments that speak volumes without words. Wins or losses conveyed simply within the emotion of the image.
There isn’t a need to look at the scoreboard, consult a newspaper account or read a box score. As I like to say, just “look at the picture”.
I make an effort every time I get behind the viewfinder to look for these moments. I took a chance looking for such a moment during the 2001 World Series and it paid off. Byung-Hyun Kim of the Arizona Diamondbacks had earlier in the Series given up a two-out, two-run home run by Tino Martinez that tied Game 4 in the bottom of the ninth inning. Then in the bottom of the tenth, Derek Jeter connected for a game winning home run to give the Yankees the win and tie the Series up at 2-2. The next night, the game was again on the line with Kim pitching, this time to Scott Brosius with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and the Yankees down two runs. Could lighting strike twice? My gut said yes, and I decided to take a risk and focus on Kim. As I pressed the shutter, I could tell by the crowd reaction that indeed lighting did strike twice. Kim was devastated. The story needed only two photos.
Part of the success involved in capturing these split seconds of joy, sorrow, agony or dejection is to be prepared. As a photographer, become immersed in your sport. Get to know your subjects. Are they inherently reactive? Quick tempered? Perhaps they have a history of displaying their emotions? If so, then you best be ready.
Compassion, understanding, leadership. Visually, it can happen in the blink of an eye. Don’t let distractions disrupt your focus.
Other times, the moment occurs quickly, without warning. Sudden game ending or perhaps even World Series ending moments.
That’s when instincts take over. As a photographer, it’s a pure adrenaline rush. No time to think, everything is just pure reaction. It’s what keeps me coming back game after game. The hope of experiencing that feeling again. It never gets old.