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Handling the Stress

Photographing sports forced me to study things and dissect them like never before. And I learned from some of the best sports photographers at Allsport, which has now become part of Getty Images.

We would go to the track or the field the day before and study the light. We wouldn’t take a single picture, but just observe how the light changed around the course the entire day, from sunrise to sunset. This allowed me to plan the specific spots where I would position myself during certain times of the day, to take advantage of a certain quality of light.

Sports also made me very comfortable with long lenses, and with shooting extremely tight. Any mistake and you’re out, whether it’s focus or framing. Any wrong move, you’re done. That approach really influenced my aerial photography and most of my photography in general. So when I have a 500mm in my hand, I’m as comfortable as most people are with a 50mm.

It also helped to accept the fact that I would often have only one chance. It’s probably the biggest factor in photography, across all fields, more so in sports, but especially in photojournalism. There’s a tremendous amount of pressure that comes with that reality and it can lock you up mentally. It can completely destroy you.

Your heart starts to beat like you’re running a marathon. You become faint and you can start to shake, given the amount of pressure on you. At a certain point in your career, you realize that you’re cooked if you’re feeling that way. But what you need to remind yourself is that this is one of 10,000 swings you’ve already shot this year. Don’t worry about the significance of it right now.

Keep your emotions cool and collected, as well as your mental state, and treat it as if it’s just another swing. Just shoot it, get your picture, and block out all of the emotion.

The danger for me was I became so good at this, that I would equate it to being a sniper or a hired killer. I learned to utterly block out every emotion.

But the result was that it removed all emotion from my photographs. It made me a very effective sports photographer because I rarely missed the shot that would be prominently published in the paper. I could capture all these photographs, but emotionally I was dead, and I learned that I had to be careful about that. You can’t go too far in that direction. You’ve got to have a little bit of life left in your images.

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