Monday, June 13, 2011

Competitive Edge

10 tips to help you shoot sports like a pro
By William Sawalich, Photography By Mike Powell Published in Shooting
Competitive Edge


Graphic shapes, nice light and big moments—all of these elements contribute to good pictures. But the great images that rise above require not just one of them, but all of them simultaneously. For an image of Rafael Nadal winning a semifinal match, Powell was able to utilize beautiful light, leading lines and a special moment to create a dramatic image.

"Rafa knew at this moment that he was in the final and feeling strong enough to win," Powell says. "It's a great moment, but had it happened at noon, the image would have lost its appeal. The light takes this from being a great moment to a beautiful image. The dark background, shaft of warm light, edge to his hair and arms outstretched give it an almost religious icon feel. This is very important at the pro level—you can't just have nice light or a cool subject or an interesting composition. To shoot images that the eye can pause on and keep going back to, you have to have all these things working together in one image. It all goes back to having layers of interest to give the image legs."


In photographing swimmer Michael Phelps' historic run at the Olympics in Beijing, Powell worked overtime. Willingness to go the extra mile is essential for capturing special images whether at the Olympics or Little League. For a close-up of Phelps having just won his record-tying seventh gold medal, Powell scouted ahead of time to find a vantage point far from the official position allocated to photographers.

"The reason I arrived so early was to get an angle that only a few would get," he says. "Prior research told me that a few spots in between TV cameras would be available—if the TV crews were cool with it. This would give me the chance to shoot an angle that few other photographers would get, plus there was a scoreboard right underneath me. Experience told me that swimmers turn to the board to confirm their place before reacting. So I got there early in the morning with extra coffees in hand for all my new neighbors—place secured and a good time had by all."

Adds Powell, "I've seen pro photographers with great talent fail because of work ethic, and average photographers reach great heights by hard work."


Powell says, sure, luck plays a part in great images, but luck comes to those who work hardest.

"'I'd rather be lucky than good,'" he says. "I heard that someplace. Me, I usually have to work longer and worry more to be lucky. An editor of mine often said you have to live by the 6 P's: Proper Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance."
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