By Christopher Mast
Before I set off to participate in Sports Shooter Academy IX a few weeks ago I was very excited but nervous about how I’d stack up with so many other talented photographers shooting at the same events.
Nonetheless, I had the goal of capturing one of the ‘best of the day’ photos before I left. I quickly learned after day one that having a goal and achieving a goal were two entirely different things. When the group sat down for the first critique session, my photos just did not stack up to some of the beautiful images that were captured the day before. I was motivated from that review though. After looking at all of the images I knew I could do it.
Then came day two of the Academy. I feel I performed better, but my images were nothing to write home about yet. I adjusted my goal from capturing an image of the day to just making the final instructor selects. All the while I was getting invaluable feedback from the instructors. On day three I had an image make the final three in the instructors selects. All week, the instructors encouraged us to seek out unique images, to work differently than the other students.
I decided to shoot the Steve Scott Invitational Track & Field Meet on the last day of the Academy. Before the meet I made the decision that with all of the events that would be happening, I’d stay light and mobile and not carry around a ton of gear. The second event of the meet was the women’s 800 meter race.
I noticed a lot of the photographers set up on the first turn to capture the final straight and finish line with big glass. I needed to find a different location so I opted to sit about ten feet off the finish line with my 70-200mm. I was hoping for a close finish and that I could catch a tight shot of two runners battling out at the finish line from the side. While the runners came down the straight and completed the first lap of the race I worked out my plan and practiced as the runners went by.
As the race neared its conclusion I was ready to shoot and the unthinkable happened. The leader in the race, a Long Beach State runner, fell about 75-feet from the finish line. I grabbed my backup camera with a 24-105mm lens on it and shot as she fell. I shot loose enough to capture the other runners on the infield react to what was happening. I stayed with the runner as she fell, got back up and stumbled and fell again across the finish line, finishing third in the race. At this point I left the spot and went to photograph the other events during the meet.
When I got back to the hotel to edit my photos I saw that I had captured this perfect moment when the runner had hit her face on the track with the reaction of over athletes in the background. I cropped the photo as tight as I could to really draw the viewer’s attention to the fallen runner and the faces of the people in the right of the frame. I learned through the week that capturing the story was what photos should show. Nobody could plan for a runner to fall in the final moments of a race but I did plan for where I wanted to shoot from and how.
There were many beautiful images made on this day by each photographer, but this image captured an entire story. It was the emotion, the human side to an athletic event that draws us to sports. At the end of the workshop, with a little luck and some planning, I was successful in achieving my goal that I had set for myself: A photo of the day.
(NOTE: Christopher Mast’s image was also selected the Best Of SSA IX.)
(Thanks to SanDisk and Nikon for sponsoring the awards for the Photo of the Day; Thanks to Think Tank Photo for sponsoring the Best Photo of SSA IX award.)