I'm slow to think things through. But I think I've figured out why dedicated sports shooters get the best shots and make shooting sports look easy, but feel damn hard for the rest of us. It's the same reason the best architectural photographs seem to have a magic touch in doing their work. We may buy the same tilt/shift lenses and the same cameras but there's something a bit better, a bit more pleasing about the way their work always seems to turn out. Same thing with landscape photographers. There are legions of retired businessmen and engineers, accountings and certainly doctors and dentists, who can afford gear that's even better than the stuff a full time landscape artist might be able to afford but for some reason the committed artists always seem to get the shot everyone else wishes they'd gotten.
After 25 years of shooting theater I think I understand the missing link! It's not the gear, it's knowing where to stand with the gear, that makes all the difference in the world. Work in sports photography long enough and you learn the stuff you cover forward and backward. The intimate knowledge, coupled with years and years of trial and error, eventually lead you to anticipate where the action will end up. This means you can get ready with the right focal length and settings. You can line up the right background and the wait for all the moving pieces to pull themselves into position. You get it because you've tried it all before and you were smart enough to
learn from each encounter; mostly learning when to be where.
I love the shot above. We shot it at the Topfer Stage for a "Love Janis" revue. I was shooting center stage because that's where directors seem to concentrate their efforts, but I kept my eye on the microphone on stage left (or is it stage right?) because I just knew this particular director loved that corner and would rotate his talent solos from center to right during the shows. I started moving as I watched this actor enter the stage. I showed up at my shooting position as she started singing into the microphone. I already had the perfect focal length on the camera and I was fine-tuning the aperture while I was bringing the camera up to my eye.
It was at that point I first realized that the gear didn't make the professional photographer professional nearly as much as knowing where to stand, where to move next, and when to push the shutter button. But it's also the same thing in portraiture; your personal positioning, as regards the subject, makes all the difference in the world. Your ability to understand a sitter's comfort level with close and far, direct and indirect postures, and the way they position themselves in relation to the camera makes all the difference in the world. With some clients I mirror their aloofness and use longer lenses for our sessions, other clients seem to want me to leave the camera, come close to them and talk them through the process before we shoot. Some want to have their space while others feel neglected if you don't come over and say, "May I straighten your tie? Looks great but the camera needs to see it at a slightly different angle." Over time you sense how familiar or how reserved the portrait subject wants you to play the encounter.
It's not so important whether you use Nikon or Sony or Olympus but it's pretty important to know where to stand and when to get there. Arnold Newman once said that photography was 90% just moving furniture. He had to move it....it was in the way of exactly where he knew he should be standing.