Sports can be hard. Photography can be hard. To be good at sports requires patience, practice and perseverance. So does photography. Sports offer constant opportunity for self-improvement and analysis. So does photography.
I used to play competitive sports when I was a kid. I played in high school football and golf tournaments and for some reason, I was good at both right from the start. I couldn’t break 100 on a golf course today for money, nor could I run a wind sprint – but I have enough experience with sports to be able to use it as a metaphor for photography.
While there’s plenty of negativity in the world today, athletes and photographers both tend to be optimistic. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t put the time in to do what they do.
When I was a golfer, I used to think my best golf was always around the corner. As a photographer, I still feel that way. I still feel like I can continue to make better and better photographs.
Another way that both sports and photography are similar is in their ability to both humble and even humiliate the people who participate in each.
When I was young I had a commanding lead in a high school golf tournament on my home course. I knew the course better than anyone. My putting was fantastic. At the turn, I had a four-shot lead and was going strong. I was confident. I had just won the tournament the week before in nearby Kettering, Ohio and thought this tournament was a lock. Then came the 10th hole where I dropped a shot on an easy putt I could make in my sleep. I found the bunker on 11 and dropped another shot. On 12 I managed to hook my drive and ended up behind a tree. One more bogey added to the score card. By the time I got to the 13th hole, I found out I was tied for the lead. I managed a par four on the 13th and 14th but dropped another on the 15th due another missed putt. I took my lead and threw it away and ended up second. It felt like finishing dead last.
Fast forward to my time as a photographer. Some of you remember my story of Cranes in the Fire Mist. To be blunt, this is a photograph that kicked my ass for more than a decade. Just as I would get close, some essential element of the shot would pass me by, and like hooking my drive behind a tree or missing an easy putt, I learned that misfortune can befall athletes OR photographers at any time.
The point of this post is simple. We engage in activities every day that are challenging because we like challenges. We do things that are hard because we like to test ourselves. We work at impossible goals because we are driven and optimistic.
Things like sports and photography can help us realize our strengths and our weaknesses very quickly. Both can lead to raw disappointment or abundant joy.
When photographers start to realize that there are many things in life that require similar dedication, it might give them the hope that they can outlast the next hard photograph. The few super successful pictures bring them back for more, despite the many failures along the way.
Moral of the story? Don’t give up.