Laura Barisonzi – Sports and Fitness Photographer


– Hello and welcome to
the I three lecture series hosted by the Masters in
Digital Photography program at the school of visual arts. We are thrilled to have
photographer Laura Barisonzi as tonight’s guest speaker. A graduate of Brown University and RISD, she is currently based in New York. Laura looks to capture natural
action and genuine emotion. Her style is based on
the beauty of real people in natural movement. Commercial clients
include Adidas, Bud Light, Canon, Cartier, GAP, Google, Heineken, Madison Square Garden, New Balance, NFL, Nordstrom, Red Bull, Reebok and Samsung. Editorial clients
include Adweek, Barron’s, the Guardian, Health, Muscle & Fitness, Popular Photography, Rolling
Stone, Runner’s World, Sierra, Surfer and Women’s Health. A few years back, I had the opportunity to teach with Laura at
New York Film Academy and so, I can truly say that beyond being one of the top sports and fitness
photographers working today, she is also a gifted educator. Help me welcome Laura Barisonzi
to our lecture series. (clapping) – Thank you Hi-may, it’s
a real honor to be here and a real pleasure to
be introduced by Hi-may who is really talented. So, I wanted to start with
this image and this quote. “The whole point of taking pictures “is so that you don’t have to
explain things with words.” So, that’s it, any questions? (audience laughing) just kidding, okay, so my
name’s Laura Barisonzi. My specialty really is sports
and fitness photography, though I also like to shoot portraits. The topic I wanna do this
whole lecture around is what I’ve learned from screwing up. So rather than just doing
like a timeline of my work and like my career, A, B, C, D, I kind of want to focus more for you on the takeaways of what
I think I’ve learned from my mistakes. So, quick structure is just introduction, I’ll do a quick origin story of how it is that I ended up shooting sports and fitness photography. Then I wanna talk about, Then I wanna talk about how does a photographer improve because I think that’s something that gets skipped a lot is how can we all progress as photographers? Then I’d like to discuss
insights from shoots. So, that’s gonna be mistakes I’ve made, ways you can not make
those mistakes, et cetera from just shooting in general. And then, what any shooter
can learn from sports. I’m gonna stick with the sports theme and keep us on sports as just
sort of a metaphor throughout. And then, is it real enough? A problem which afflicts
both sports and photography. So, starting out on the introduction. How did I end up here shooting sports? The irony is, I actually grew up in a really sportsy area of the country right near Green Bay, Wisconsin, where nobody that I grew
up with cared about art, they only cared about sports. So, it’s kind of ironic now
that I’m shooting sports. This is the kind of stuff I shoot now. I actually didn’t start
out with any interest in photography at all. I was really into drawing. So, as a kid I would draw all the people who would come over to my
house. I would do portraits. When I started out as like six, I was the annoying weird
kid like drawing everyone. And then, I started
copying Michael Angelo. I was really into figure drawing. I took a lot of figure classes where I did nudes and stuff like that. Obviously this is not my drawing,
this is Michael Angelo’s. But I do recall like
copying these exact pictures and being really interested in figure. So then, I’m not gonna
show any of my paintings ’cause they kinda suck. But basically, I painted and
painted for like 10 years. I did a lot of oil painting. When I first started
taking classes at RISD, that’s all I studied was painting. And then, I had kind of a crisis which was that I didn’t like being alone in those boxes that they give you. The cubicles, the white
cubicles in art school that they put you in for painting. It was really uninspiring for me and really hard to be in there. Like I wanted natural light. I wanted there to be other people around. I felt like I was trapped in my head. So that’s when I started
experimenting with photography. I didn’t really know
anything about photography. I hadn’t any training in photography. At that point, I was like one
of those lonely planet kids who wander around with their
backpack and like travel and you know you’ve got
your lonely planet book, you’re wandering around,
this is pre cell phone so I’m old guys. And I’m getting lost, I’m taking pictures. I’m shooting all on color slide film because I liked the
saturation of the colors. This was like before there was
decent digital cameras still. It was borderline. So, I didn’t really have
any feedback from anybody. I was just sort of shooting blindly. I did take my pictures into some of the professors at RISD, and, let me catch up where
I am in my notes here, and so basically, the
one guy who met with me and looked at my work with,
his name’s Steven B Smith, and he’s really awesome. He shoots like landscapes in the west and suburbia and stuff like that. And he looked at all my color slide film, and you know he has all
like these RISD photo majors so I was really intimidated. And he was like, well
at least your shooting interesting stuff compared to my majors. And I said, okay, so (laughing) that was like the only encouragement I ever received from that. But I knew I was really far behind, but the problem is, is I didn’t ever think I was gonna be a professional artist. I always thought I was
gonna have quote a real job. So I was at Brown. I was studying to be an
international lawyer. Art was just my passion. It was like the thing I
did with all my free time that I actually cared about. So, I graduated from college. I was getting ready to go to law school and I just like kept
traveling, taking pictures. And I was kind of having this crisis where I didn’t really
wanna be a lawyer any more. So, I was taking pictures and
basically the turning point of when I couldn’t deny
what I wanted to do anymore, was when I discovered artificial flash because I had up to that point, I had just been taking
like travel pictures. When I got my first flash,
basically I just was some photographer that I
was assisting lent it to me, I was like in love it was all over the minute I got a flash in my hands. I was like I’m done for, I’m addicted. So, You know, there’s so many people get addicted to patography it’s so fun. And then from then on, it was like just trying to feed the addiction really. It’s just like commercial photography was the way to keep it going
that I could keep shooting. That I could just keep
doing what I like to do which is shoot in light. I love lighting. So, interestingly at
that same time early on when I was interested in photography, this is so random, but
one of the photographers that I was most interested in was Alexander Rodchenko who is, I don’t know how well known he is, but he’s this Soviet
era sports photographer who’s really a black and white master, who documented that whole
time in the Soviet Union when sports was really celebrated. And so, his photography was
really inspirational to me. I had a bunch of his books. And even though I didn’t
shoot in black and white or particularly like black and white, he was a real inspiration to me. So, this is the point in the lecture where most people just jump to their amazing incredible work and never talk to you
about how they got there. But the truth is, it took
me a lot of, lot of years to get to the point where I’m making work that looks the way it looks now. So, I kinda wanted to bridge that gap and talk about how does
a photographer improve. How does that happen? Unless you’re some who’s magically gifted and starts out being incredible, how do you improve? ‘Cause I think that’s the
path that most of us are on. So this is an early picture
from back when I was backpacking and again, I was starting
to explore the same themes that I was exploring from the beginning which is the human form. Especially like the idealized human form of like a beautiful, athletic person, with like where you can
see all their muscles, you can see their form. But also, you know in movement. And then, I’ve actually
happened across photos, this is probably 16 years
ago that I took this photo. And then, this is throughout the years, each one bridges a gap maybe like three or four years forward. I’m essentially taking the
same photo over and over again. But it’s developed in the
way that I’ve done it. And then this is from just
like a year and a half ago. So, to see that again,
this is like 15 years ago, (laughing) really I haven’t made that much progress you guys. And (laughing) then this is
like a year and a half ago, right, so, I mean not saying that this is the only picture I take is a guy jumping off of stuff, like let’s hope I do a
little bit more than that, but the idea is you
can have the same ideas and really just be developing them and improving over time. So this is a little dip tick I took of Malcolm Gladwell in his home ’cause I’d mentioned I also do portraits. So, the reason I mentioned this is that Malcolm Gladwell’s kind of famous for popularizing this
idea of 10,000 hours. The idea that if you do any, if you wanna get great at something do it for 10,000 hours, right. So this was sort of like his pop idea, and he said anyone can
become great at anything if you do it for 10,000 hours. Well, that’s been a little bit, that’s another shot I took of him, that’s been a little decredited because they did a big MIT study and they found that that’s not true for all fields but it still was very true for music and sports. They didn’t study art at all as a field as a profession ’cause I
guess it’s not a profession. But, so, I think it’s
really, really, really true for art just like it is for music. And actually I was classically
trained in music also. I spent 14 years playing the viola. So, I believe in practice and
I believe in doing your scales and all that right. So, I believed that that was the way I could get better at photography. Like plug in your 10,000 hours, right. Well, they have studied and
pulled this back a little bit and found that it’s not just 10,000 hours of doing your scales, it needs to be a little bit
more structured than that. So, it needs to have
a deliberate practice. And what they mean by that is to engage in consistent
and purposeful practice where you’re fully tuned in, you’re not like texting (laughing), you’re fully tuned in to learn the skill that you are working on
and you’re minimizing your distractions as
much as you possibly can. So, if we did 10,000 hours
of deliberate practice, anybody could become a great. There’s still a little bit
of a limitation in that, in that you should
hopefully be doing something that you’re kind of good
at is what they did find. But let’s talk a little
bit about the 10,000 hours of deliberate practice and why I think that applies to photography in particular. I think photography is
actually a lot like music, in that a lot of it is a motor
function with our camera. So, just like you have to train your hand on your instrument, you have to train your hand on your camera to the point where you should not be thinking about your hands at all when you’re shooting. So, that’s where I think a big part of the 10,000 hours comes in. Also, the photography
itself becomes reactionary, you are not actually thinking
about what your doing with your hands anymore. Everything happens way too fast, especially in sports, to
ever be thinking about what I’m doing with my camera
or what my settings are. That’s all automatically
happening with my hands and then everything else
is almost instinctual. Hold on, I have to catch up to where I am in my notes. (laughing) Okay, right, so often
there’s no time to respond. The minute that you’re trying to capture is so transitory that the reaction must be immediate and instinctual. There is no time to chimp. Every time I see someone chimping, I’m like, cringing a little bit right, because the minute your chimping, everybody knows what I mean by chimping, it’s looking at the
back of the LCD screen, we call it chimping right? You look at the back of the camera, you’re chimping, probably
you just missed another shot. So, you wanna train
yourself to be so good, you already know what your exposure is. You already know what it
looks like in the camera. Well I guess now with mirrorless you don’t have to chimp as much, but everything should
just be completely fluid. Like when you’re playing an instrument, when you’re playing a violin solo, you absolutely are not thinking about what hand position you are with your wrist or anything like that, you’re just shooting and
it’s coming out perfectly. And your mind is on
much higher things like, did the orchestra come in
late or something like that. So, same thing with this photo. A lot of these sports
moments that I show you, they didn’t last any time at all, like I barely remember seeing the photo. I just see it when it
comes out of the camera, when I look back at my film I see it. It almost happened so fast,
I never saw it with my eyes. So, I’m gonna throw in some sports quotes, ’cause A this shoot is about,
or this talk is about sports. So, and I think that a lot
of this stuff does apply because a lot of photography
is about performance in the same way that sports
is about performance. So, “A lifetime of training
for just ten seconds,” by the great sprinter Jesse Owens. So, that’s how I feel
sometimes when I’m shooting when I get a really great
opportunity to shoot like a celebrity athlete,
and often it’s so brief, and I think to myself, okay,
training better kick in ’cause this is my one
opportunity with this guy and that’s all I get,
a lifetime of training for just ten seconds. Here I’m like holding my breath (laughing) and you know I didn’t have anything holding me down at the
bottom of the water, anything was a low production shoot. So, you know you had like a
split second to get that photo and I’m bobbing back up again. So there’s no time to
really think about anything. So, getting back to the 10,000 hours. I do think it matters that
you’re pursuing something with those 10,000 hours
that you care about. I’ve done a lot of different
kinds of photography in my pursuit to be a successfully
commercial success right. So, I’ve taken a lot of
different types of photos. For example, I’ve spent
time photographing things I thought other people
were interested in seeing but I actually was not
interested in seeing. And this is really true
because if you were trying to be a commercial photographer, it’s very tempting to shoot
what they want to see, right. But if you don’t care about that thing, it’s very, very hard
to take a good picture. And if you don’t care about something, I would say it’s impossible
to take a great photo of it. You can maybe take a good
photo, it will be hard. But it’s like impossible
to take a great photo. And it’s amazing how much easier it is to shoot something that
you care about. (laughing) So, save yourself the
trouble down the road and choose something now that you actually care about shooting because it will actually
make the shooting easier. So ask yourself what’s your passion. You should be asking yourself, what are you really
excited about shooting. Of course, no matter what, this can be a struggle on
commercial photography, what if you’re not interested in what they want you to shoot? And I think this keeps some people away from the opportunities
of commercial shooting ’cause they’re purists. What I would say is that hopefully you can build a portfolio of things you’re actually interested in so that when people call you for things, to shoot certain things, those are the things you’re interested in. For example, you know
now I’m really lucky, someone like Red Bull will call me and have me shoot a world famous climber. Well, I’m really excited about climbing. I climb, like I already know
who she is, it’s awesome. So, it doesn’t feel
like work at that point. Let’s see, I think the best solution is like a said, build a portfolio of things you’re actually interested in so that the things people call you for are the things you’re interested in. For example, I am terrible
at photographing food, okay. I’m terrible at photographing drinks. I’m really bad at photographing
interiors without people. I’m really bad at photographing jewelry. I’m really bad at photographing handbags. I’m really bad at photographing cosmetics. It’s too bad ’cause those are all really great ways to make a living. If you’re good at those, congratulations, ’cause you could make a
good living. (laughing) I just don’t care enough
about those things to make a living shooting them. I just don’t care. You put that in front of
me, I don’t wanna do it. So, do you know what your passion is yet? How do you figure out what it is? It’s actually and easy solution, just try shooting everything
and see what sticks. You can feel it. It becomes pretty obvious
what you’re good at and what you’re not also. People have different abilities
even within photography. Let’s see, I’m good at dealing with the chaos of being on
location, and it’s chaotic. Some people hate it, I thrive on it. I love the chaos. I love that the light’s
changing every 15 seconds. I love that there’s
people walking in my shot. I love that it might rain. I love just all of it. So, I don’t have the personality to perfectly light a ring in the studio, like you know get the diamond to pop. But that might be good
at what you’re good at. The key is just to figure out what your personality aligns with. That’s what you should be shooting. Again, what’s your superpower? Maybe it’s again, like I mentioned that I grew up right next to Green Bay, but if you personally,
if you give me a guy who can run a 50 yard
dash faster than his peers and put me on a field
with some lights and fog, I’m pretty happy, that’s
play for me, that’s fun. At that point I’m just a kid with my toys. And that’s what it should feel like. If you finding something that you like, it shouldn’t be work. So, now we’re gonna segway
into insights from shoots. I wanna talk about the things I’ve learned from doing things wrong,
from screwing up on sets. Here I am on location in Florida. Let’s see… Let’s talk about all my mistakes. I’ve made a lot of them and I really hope that
you can learn from them. Early on, a lot of common shoot mistakes when you’re starting out
with personal work and stuff are, I saw the shot and I walked away. How many times have we all done that? Uh, and you know when it sticks with you still think about it years later, that’s when you know
you really saw the shot and walked away from a good one. And we all still make the, and you know I try not
to but it still happens. Next one, saw the shot
but made minimal effort, didn’t get close enough. I didn’t spend long enough time on it. In other words, like you saw it, you kinda knew there
was a good shot there, so you might like have taken the picture but you didn’t really commit. You didn’t put in everything
that it would have taken to get a real good picture from it. And I think that that hurts too ’cause then you have that picture and you know that there
was a better photo there, but you didn’t get it. Ah you’re laughing, are you thinking of specific shots right? It’s like I can think of specific moments that I wish I could go back
in time and get that back. And sometimes, you know, it’s
you’re with your friends, it’s dinner time, whatever, it’s hard but you saw the shot. You have to listen to your eye. You saw the shot, you need
to do something about it. Okay, now we start to
get more complicated. On a shoot, another
mistake you could make is, you were distracted by your gear. You didn’t get the gear right. You were focused on the gear and by doing that, you missed the shot. The more gear you accumulate, the bigger the gear you have, the more gear you think you
need to get a good picture, futzing with the gear, missed the shot. I think we’ve all been there too. Let’s see, I will say that they key for all three of these is that hesitation is your enemy. Another variation on this one is, especially for portraiture, you were distracted by your gear and you didn’t connect with the subject. You were more connected with your gear than you were with the subject. And that’s part of the 10,000 hours is getting so good at your gear that you don’t have to
think about your gear. Now, this next one I still definitely do. It’s all the difficult
decisions you have to make, the right angle, the right
lens, the right background. And sometimes you look at the photo and you don’t realize ’til you got home, I chose the wrong angle, I
didn’t use the right lens, why did I put him up against that wall when there was that
other thing right there? Those sort of mistakes and I think no matter how advanced you are, you still make those mistake. Next one, wasted time on
one particular set up, not enough variety. Sometimes we get in a rut. It’s like you start shooting something, it seems to be working, you know you just keep shooting, you keep shooting, you keep shooting, and then all of a sudden your times up and you only did that one thing. No matter what, you can’t put
all your eggs in one basket because when you get home, that one thing might stink, right. So this is a more like subtle thing that I still definitely do, but I can just get stuck in one thing and keep shooting it. This one, didn’t listen to my
gut about a glaring mistake. This becomes more and more pertinent as you work on sets with more people. All of a sudden you’ve
got all these people standing around saying, awe this is great, this is great, it’s really working, this is so awesome
Laura, blah, blah, blah. Meanwhile, inside your head, your like she should not be
wearing that white shirt. She looks terrible in it. (laughing) (audience laughing) But you don’t say anything. You don’t wanna disrupt the flow, everybody’s like, that’s
what you’re there for. That’s the most valuable
thing is your eye, it’s your gut. So, you always have to listen to your gut. Or if your shooting,
let’s say your shooting for the person your shooting, the client is your
subject, also dangerous. They’re wearing that white shirt and you’re like oh my God,
what are they thinking? They shouldn’t be
wearing that white shirt. And then they, you know,
the next day they email you and they say what were you thinking those photos of me in the
white shirt look terrible. (laughing)
(audience laughing) So, really it’s like, once
you’ve been around the block these are the things that
you get to later but, here’s me probably making
some terrible decisions up in the cherry picker. (laughing) It’s exciting to be up in
a cherry picker though. So, probably I just
wanted to stay up there even though it wasn’t a good photo. Okay, last one, wrapped
before I knew I had it. Ooh, this is a big one because this is the one
thing that you have. If you have a gut that tells
you when you got the shot, listen to it. You gotta listen to that
voice that tells you, you got the photo and don’t
wrap until you got it. Even if everyone’s waiting on you. Even if they told you they
only have three more minutes before they gotta get back
to their meeting, whatever. You don’t stop until you got the shot. Because it’s your name on the line. You’re the one who’s
gonna have to come back and say this is what I got
and I’m super proud of it. So don’t wrap til you know you had it. And that kind of plays
back into the second one, Saw the shot but made minimal effort, didn’t get close enough, didn’t spend long enough time on it. Even when I critique students’ work, I say oh you know you
shoulda done this or that, and they say, awe I know, I
knew that when I was doing it. I knew when I was doing it
that I should have done that but I just like I didn’t. So, really I think we know, especially as we get more experienced, we know what we need to do but sometimes we just
don’t wanna rock the boat, we don’t wanna ask people for more time, you know we said we’d be out of this place by four o’clock, whatever it is. You’re job is to not
care about any of that, all you care about is the picture, even if it makes you a jerk. That’s the truth. Here’s some sets where some
good decisions were made and some bad decisions were made. As I become a better shooter, I would say the mistakes become more
subtle, but just as costly. I’ve had some opportunities where I could have gotten
something really good but I chose the wrong angle et cetera. Moving on let’s see, the common error that you probably thought that I was going to say was the most painful error of course, is when the decisive actions
happen sooner than I thought but I wasn’t ready to shoot it. That’s probably what thought I said, when I said oh I was gonna, I messed up. Literally, I messed up, I missed the shot. I saw it happen but I didn’t take it. That actually doesn’t happen that much. But luckily for us is they’re designing AI equipped bio-genic camera that can be implanted in your eye soon. So, then it’s gonna actually
upload all it’s content to the cloud. And so we’re only 10 years out from never ever having that
mistake happen anymore. So, how can we learn from our mistakes other than making them
over and over again? I would say that editing my shoots is one of the most valuable
phases for my growth that you could possibly have. A lot of people say, oh
I hate editing shoots. I love editing shoots. It’s like the, it’s
basically like I can go back and evaluate everything that I did right and everything that I did
wrong and it’s fascinating. It’s the instant replay of photography. It’s like how great
quarterbacks watch their tape, I’ll go back to a shoot
and just like look at it and be like why did I
make that decision there, why did I spend a hundred frames on that? You need to look back at your shoots and spend a lot of time with them. It’s your game tape. Because of the time that I’ve spent learning from mistakes, I think now that I do
anticipate errors a little more and most importantly I have a better sense of what path or what decision is going to yield good results. I’m thinking ahead and I’m
trying to be predictive of how I spend my time. And my pre-visualization has improved and my determination to not
miss a shot has increased. The more shots you miss, the more moments that you think back
and think they haunt me those shots that I didn’t get. The more of those there are, the more my determination
to not miss a shot is there. The more I, I know how much is at stake for every shot that I might miss. Andre Agassi says, “what
makes something special “is not just what you have to gain, “but what you feel there is to lose.” Sometimes at an important shoot, that’s what I feel is just the dred of what it’s gonna feel
like if I miss. (laughing) okay, so, now I wanna move
on to something important about location shooting which is the type of personality you have. In order to be a location shooter, I would ask, how pushy are you? I’m just skipping ahead
a little bit (laughing). If you’re not pushy, you might struggle as a location shooter. Also, are you a rule breaker? This ties into your idea
of find your superpower. Are you ready to fight for the shot? I’m not kidding. Are you a trespasser? We live in an era of lots of rules and there are never ending permissions that must be gotten
for every single thing. I frequently joke that half of my job as a location photographer,
is getting yelled at and I wish that was a joke. (laughing) (audience laughing) Even
if you’ve gotten a permit, often there’s still some
restriction someone will find, someone didn’t file the
permit, they don’t have it, they don’t think that you fit within it, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. My long time first assistant who’s here, has a refrain when we
are getting approached by authority of some type, be it a security guard,
a cop, maintenance staff, someone who’s about to bust
us or tell us to go away. Every time it’s about to happen, which is very, very often, he says, just tell them
we’re photographers rules don’t apply to us. (audience laughing) At that point I groan
’cause I’ve heard that joke like a thousand times
but there is a little bit of that myth and belief
that you have to hold on to if you’re gonna walk away with a good shot as a location shooter. This one we definitely
got yelled at. (laughing) Anyway, if you don’t, if
you’re not willing to push, imagine the amount of pictures you’re going to miss out on. Shoot first, ask for forgiveness
later is what I would say. And be prepared for hecklers. The beauty is, you know, it’s digital so, just shoot to two cards and
when they ask you to format one you just format one of ’em. (audience laughing)
(Laura laughing) And I should state, you know, the world where everyone
is breaking the rules is gonna become a drone filled
hell, I acknowledge that but you know I’m not
saying break every rule, but for location photography thing, there’s gotta be some rule breaking. Now, in terms of sports photo journalism, are you pushy also applies. Especially these days, if
something is a good shot, guaranteed you are not the only
one trying to get it right. Are you going to take, are you gonna get your body
to where it needs to be and hold that spot and make it yours? (laughing)
(audience laughing) If space is limited, the
sports photo journalist may defend a territory to
guard it’s view of the subject. Similar other species such
as news photo journalists will fight over a territory in
which to place their tripod. Territorial photographers know
exactly where the boundaries of their own territory lie and defend it. Alright, now I wanted to
talk a little bit about preparation versus opportunity which I think are two opposing forces in photography that are really important. So, here’s a bike picture I took with a bunch of fancy lighting. And then they did a popular
photography magazine story about how I lit it. They even made a cute
little drawing, like that. They made it look really simple and easy, so all you need to do is draw your drawing on a piece of paper and then show up to the
shoot and set it up. I actually have assistants ask me, did you draw a diagram? (laughing) that’s not at all the way I work. So, this is sort of an illusion. But I think that this type of thinking really appeals to people. The idea that everything is
perfect like little models, you can draw your lighting
setups ahead of time and everything will turn
out perfectly like math. In my opinion, that sometimes works but often it’s a lot, lot
more complicated than that especially on location. You can go in with your
drawing or your setup in mind, but there are lots of
other things going on on set that need to be responded to, adjusted, changed, monkeyed
around at the last second. Don’t like think that you
can stick to your drawing. So, a photo like this is very strongly on the preparation side of
preparation versus opportunity. This took weeks and
probably painful numbers of conference calls to achieve. So, you know, something like this, you planned for it, lots and lots of money was spent on it, et cetera. So, sometimes I think we get confused, especially as photographers
when we’re evaluating our work and think that because something required so much planning, it must be good. Oh my God, so much planning
and money got put on this it must be good, but then this shot I
grabbed with zero planning and I think it’s better. So, (laughing) right, and there was almost no money spent on that one. So, a lot of times we
start getting carried away and we think about, you know, just because something
was planned, everything that’s what I need to do and people will give you lists of shots. These are the list of
shots you need to get and at first you’re gonna be like, okay, I’m just gonna follow these shots and you could end up with nothing good because you stopped looking
at everything around you. The reality is, photography
is still responsive, it’s still opportunity based. It’s sort of chance, it’s what you see. So, no matter how much we plan, really it’s like the opportunity of the moment. There’s not a science to it. The push and pull between
preparation versus yeah, blah, blah, blah, okay. So, it’s a trap to easy to assume that the shots that took a lot of money and planning are better,
et cetera et cetera. And that’s part of why people
require exterior editing too is that when you edit your own work, you get really caught up in the idea of how much money or
effort went into a photo, as opposed to, this was just a grab shot but it’s actually a better shot. Like this shot I like because I know how much of a pain in the butt it was. I’m not sure it’s actually
that great of a shot. But a quick story on this shot, this was actually shot in
Central Park during a video shoot and we had to have a portable studio setup in Central Park and because the video crew kept changing their mind
about where to have the shot, we had to change the
studio position six times before we got the photo
which lasted four minutes. So again, I value this shot because I know how hard it was to get, but to an average viewer, the average viewer doesn’t see that. And that’s the thing about photography. Totally unplanned. Okay, so not on your timeline. Similar thinking, as to preparation that you can prepare,
that you can’t prepare, not on your timeline. Sometimes the best shot doesn’t
happen when you’re prepared. It might be when you first arrive. You get there, you haven’t
even unpacked your camera and there boom was the
best shot of the day. That’s definitely happened to me. Sometimes, you know, it
might be the end of the day. You’re really tired. You’ve been schlepping your gear all over, it’s been a twelve hour shoot, you’re hungry, you wanna go home, you’re clothes are all wet, there’s the best shot of the day. So, you really can’t predict it or what if it might, you know, you’ve just photographed
12 hours of races, you’ve been stationed at the finish line and then you realize the best shot was actually 200 meters
down the river that way. Sometimes the best shot is just
when you’re standing around waiting for something to happen, waiting for a different shot to happen. So, again, things that
don’t necessarily happen on your timeline. I’ve had shots, the best shots ever happen when like dinner was served, and like I look outside and
it’s like the best light I’ve ever seen, it’s like awe. It’s been cloudy for three days and now the best light’s happening. So, you just can’t predict. You just have to be willing to do it all. Here’s, this is referring to packing gear. My name is Laura B
(audience laughing) and I have been addicted
to photography gear for 12 years and counting. This is a couple years old, but this is just like a
very, very, very small sampling of gear I might bring on a job. So, making smart decisions, have you seen all the Instagram pictures everybody posts of their gear? It’s almost like a competition. Like how much gear can I possibly have. Like I don’t think one person can carry all that first of all. But you know, a lot of this comes down to smart decision making. And people who know me and how
much gear I bring to things are gonna say that this is really ironic, but maybe I’m talking about
this ’cause I have a problem. But I used to be a, like do backpacking, like on the AT and stuff like that, and so same thing, you learn very quickly what you put in your
bag that you don’t need. They talk about, a lot, everybody starts the Appalachian Trail from the South and you start and that first 20 miles are very easy and very flat. It might be 20 or 30 miles. And then at that first stop
where everyone can stop, you just find piles and
piles of all the gear that everyone’s taken
out of their backpack ’cause their just, they’ve been suffering, suffering, suffering, suffering. Books, you know, like
comfortable Crocs for at night all that stuff. So, I’ve been like this on photo shoots. You know, after four hours, I’m like I just can’t do this anymore. We need to go back to the
car and just dump stuff. So, at the end you do end up paying for how much stuff you bring. Owning more, does not make
you a better photographer, sadly, I wish it was that easy, that you could just
swipe your credit card. But it’s just not that easy. Okay, moving on, just because
you’re shooting sports doesn’t mean you have to shoot like a sports photographer. What am I talking about? Well like, in sports, most
sports photo journalism that we see is the same shot. It’s like the wide receiver jumping up for the catch right. And it’s because those people are working on assignment, they’re supposed to get that
decisive moment in the game be it the guy crossing the finish line, the main catch of the game, the one like time someone actually does anything in a baseball game, (audience laughing)
you know (laughing) so, this is a photo I took
pretty early on in my career. And it’s the day I decided
to shoot the Boston Marathon like it was a landscape photo. I was just getting into sports photography and I really liked landscape photography, and I was like you know
that landscape effect where you try to make
grass look really smooth, so you put a really thick
ND filter over the lens and it makes everything
basically the grass, the long term effects of
weather become blurred out even in the middle of the day. So I’m like what if I did
that on the Boston Marathon at the moment in the marathon
when it’s the most crowded. Boston Marathon, something
crazy like 45,000 people run it. And like 15,000 of them
are charity runners, so they’re all really slow. So, if you go at that moment when all the charity runners (laughing) (audience laughing)
all of the charity runners are in that one spot you
know half way through, that’s what that was. So, I basically chose the most crowded, miserable moment of a marathon and tried to shoot the people
as if they were weather. I mean you don’t usually
have this many people that you can achieve this affect. Well, this photo actually got
me a gig with Runner’s World, shooting the Boston and New York Marathons for five years. So, it was kind of random. It wasn’t really a
sports photo in that way other than the subject was sports. So moving on… what can any shooter learn from sports? Even if you are not interested in sports, I’m sure not everybody
here’s interested in sports. What can you learn from shooting sports? Maybe you’re not even interested
in sports photography, I feel bad for you at this point. (audience laughing) Edward Muybridge, I don’t know if I’m pronouncing his name right, yeah? He’s really actually really famous in the history of photography. Has everybody studied this picture? It’s really a sports picture right? So, this is you know, 20 cameras, and this is the first
time that they every got one five-hundredth of a second because he basically
created really high ISO film so that he could get one
five-hundredth of a second. And do you know what the
reason for this picture was? It was to prove a bet because he and his other
horse trainer friends wanted to figure out if all four, or sorry not horse trainer,
you know horse owners friends wanted to figure out
if all four of the legs were all off the ground at any one point, that was the whole point of this photo. It was like a commissioned sports photo. Well, I would say that, you know, it’s one of the greatest
technological advances in photography to get
up to that shutter speed and thus it’s sort of
like sports photography and the history of photography are in mesh because they’re both trying
to do the same thing. They’re trying to
capture unseeable action. So here’s me trying to
capture unseeable action. I was shooting for Red Bull, 18,000 feet. This happened so fast, I
didn’t even see it happen. Basically, they’re doing
a formational jump. So they all need to jump out of the plane at the exact same time so that they’re in the same place in the
air to like lock arms once they jump. So, all the women were
like around the door in some kind of crazy
jammed up against the door, and then they open the door, of course my exposure changed
by about four stops suddenly and then, or maybe six, and then they all jumped out and it
was maybe one long count. I mean all 13 women
were gone out the door. Thank God for motor drive. That’s basically all that got this photo. And I didn’t even know what it looked like or have any clue what it looked like until I got down out of the plane and was like, oh, that’s
what that looks like. So, that’s the magic of photography. Like, we’re able to see something still that the eye can’t see. We’re able to capture almost this magic of like now I know exactly
what this image looks like. It’s seared in my head,
but even though I was there I didn’t really see it. And you’re actually able to
experience it more than I was at the time there’s like
massive amounts of air blowing in on my face, I didn’t have one of these like
mask things from the helmet. So, I didn’t even really see it. So I think that’s what’s
still really exciting about sports photography and
any type of photography really be it travel or portraiture. We’re trying to experience
and see something that we’re not seeing with our naked eyes in extreme detail. Here’s another effect I did where I was trying to see what a pitch looked like. This is in camera. So, I’m trying to see what a
profession pitch looks like. Because that’s something that really we don’t see all those
parts of the pitch normally. You know you might shoot a guy like this for an hour or two hours and he only pulls off a trick like this one or two times. But I’m able to distill the session down into what we call the decisive moment which is you know, what’s so important in sports photography, decisive moment. “If you have everything under control, “you’re not moving fast
enough,” Mario Andretti. Anyone whose ever worked with me would use this more of as a complaint than a compliment, but I definitely, I think that good sports photography is controlled chaos, and sometimes I get very frustrated with photographers who are very methodical and slow and telling
everyone to hold still. So, maybe even if you’re
not a sports photographer you can take some of that idea
of movement into your work. Sometimes when I shoot athletes, they start moving really slow, even though I know that
they’re a really fast runner. That first run that they take off, they’ll go really slow. I’m like why are you running so slow. They say, well the other photographers have me run like that. I’m like oh my God, no way. So, this is again in camera. It’s incredibly risky to shoot like this. You’re gonna miss like you
know eight out of 10 shots, but I would rather miss like
you know 99 out of 100 shots and get one great shot. Then end up with 100 slightly safe shots. So, practice, athletes
are really into practice. Musicians are really into practice too. But athletes are really into practice. And photographers, we almost
never talk about practice, like oh, how many, the musician, classical musician conversation, how many hours did you practice yesterday, oh four, it’s like something horrible. We never say to each other, how many hours did you practice
last week in photography? Like never, but if you
think about what I said about the 10,000 hours, it
is still a physical pursuit. And I do feel when I
shoot something like this, if I have not shot anything
like this in a month I will feel it. I’ll be like I’m out of practice. So, I do think we should think about keeping in practice
like an athlete does. This is not a quote, this is just a fact ’cause I’m sorry, I’m a runner too, so I’m interested in this. If you stop running for just a week, your maximal aerobic capacity, one of the key indicators
of performance potential, begins to decrease. Take two or three weeks off and you’ll add a minute or more to your five K time, oh my God. So if you stop running
for two or three minutes, your performance, or two or three weeks, your performance is like dipping. So, I’m not saying we
have to be like runners but we do have to think about the skills that we do almost in the
same way as sports or music where it is something
that has to be practiced. If you just sit around
and talk to everybody about photography everyday
and are never doing it, your skills are not gonna be sharp when that decisive moment
actually happens in front of you. We’re all gonna go for a jog after. (audience laughing) (Laura laughing) Okay, team building, yet
another sports theme, right. The quarterback is only as
good as his offensive line. Game day cliches, but there
is a lot of truth there. Does someone have your back? People over emphasize how
solitary this pursuit is and how much everything is just like that one genius artists. Especially in commercial photography, you need a good team. I get ideas talking to
the people I work with who I didn’t have before just because I have someone to bounce ideas off of. Also, I don’t have five arms. Technology, there’s new
firmware updates every week. This cannot be a solo sport really. Also, more than two eyes is good. If I don’t have to focus
on my gear malfunctioning or setting my gear for the next shot, then I can keep my eyes
where they should be, on my subject all the time. There are huge advantages to
working with people you trust and people who respect you back. So, please treat the
people you work with well. One man can not be a crucial
ingredient on a team, but one woman, oops, ah nope, but one man cannot make a
team, Kareem Abdul- Jabbar. In sports, teamwork is really important and I do think in photography we over emphasize this idea that it’s just that one genius
person leading everything. So, is it real enough? I’m gonna end with this. This is Darya Klishina. She’s a Russian long jumper who I had the pleasure to shoot in the Spring of 2016. So, that was a really crucial
time for track and field, I don’t know if you guys are
track and field fans at all, but in the spring, they
were making the decisions about the Rio Olympics. And Darya’s from Russia, but she trains in the United States. So she was actually the, right
after I photographed her, she was the only woman
who was allowed to be, the only woman or man,
who was allowed to compete from the Russian Track and Field team because she could say that
she had not been to Russia in three years, very smart. So, no one else got to compete. They took her status
away, they gave it back, they took it away, they give it back. By the time she got to
compete, she was ninth, she got ninth, even though the year before she had gotten second in the world. She was really stressed out. But I will say, that up to that point, then if you followed, I don’t know if you guys
follow sports and doping, then in 2018, the Russian team as a whole got everything taken away from them right. So, the reason I bring this up is that, sports in general is having
a huge credibility problem in that even when someone, the Kenyan just won the Berlin Marathon, there’s all these doubters online being like oh but the Kenyans are doping, track and field no one believes anymore, baseball no one believes anymore. So, all these people who are like vaunting and celebrating as you
know these great heroes are being questioned. And it’s funny, but I don’t think that the parallels from photography are that far is because every
time you show someone a photo even if it’s great, they don’t
believe it’s really either. Right, I had to tell you as
I was showing you photos, hey this is in camera, this
is in camera, whatever right. So, it’s almost like we want our heroes to be so great, right. We want our, we wanna celebrate in sports the people who are the strongest, the people who are the most athletic, the people who are the best. But then we also wanna push them so far but then we wanna doubt them and say you know, but they’re cheating. So, I think we have a credibility problem and I think in photography,
as more and more of CGI bleeds in especially in
this high production fields, people don’t believe the things that you show them anymore either. So, you could be this
great incredible athlete but will people really believe that she didn’t dope,
even if she never did? Or you could be this great photographer, but what’s the difference between you and someone who’s doing
everything artificially? So that’s just like one other similarity I wanted to end with. And one more sports quote, Do
you know what the favorite, what my favorite part of the game is? The opportunity to play. That’s still how I feel about photography. I hope I always feel that way. Questions. (audience clapping) – [Woman] Okay, well thank you very much. I feel incredibly out of shape. (laughing) (Laura laughing) well because the digital program, of course, I’m interested in like so you make the selects and
do you process your images or do you hand that off to
like a professional retoucher? – I do a lot of my own retouching. I don’t think there’s any way I’d be where I was in my career if I did not do a lot of my
own retouching quite honestly. I don’t always get to make those selects, some brands like to do
all their own retouching to keep consistency like
Under Armour for example. So, it really does vary on the client but in most cases, I’m
doing the retouching. – [Woman] Do you charge for that? – Yes, (laughing), uh huh, well if it’s like and
editorial type of situation where there’s no retouching budget, I won’t charge for it. I’ll just do it because I want the picture that’s going out to be super awesome. But if it’s non-editorial I would. – [Man] You have a wonderful picture of it’s very abstract, it’s a girl, she’s upside down, her hair is falling, – Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, – [Man] Could you please explain how you shot that
– oh yeah I saw everyone going like this when I put
it up, yeah. (laughing) it’s just that there’s like a wall that she’s wedged herself in – [Woman 2] No, she’s got one hand down. – [Laura] I should’ve yeah, so see how her hair
like obscures the hand. It’s actually not Photoshopped, other than like the dust on the ground. – [Man] Well she’s actually
got herself wedged in there, so it’s all leg muscle and… – [Larua] It’s leg and the one arm, so it’s like a three
point, three point pose. – [Man] I love that
picture, I think it’s great. – Oh cool, I mean it’s really
more about her (laughing) than me but, yeah, she’s really awesome. She has a million, trillion
Instagram followers. (Laura laughing) – [Man 2] I noticed in
one of your gear photos you had some road mic equipment too, so do you do any video?
– I do video also – [Man 2] what principles
do you take between the two, like similarities or things that the photography feel is different from a setup or crew perspective? – Oh I mean, that’s a really big question, but I do feel that
actually sports photography and sports video, it’s pretty
easy to go back and forth ’cause we’re looking for
something really similar like these decisive moments and the big action and stuff like that. But, I think telling a
full story with sports takes a lot more for video. In terms of crew, there’s so much variety in like what people ask me to do, from everything from
like really small to big, so it’s just hard to make. If you had a more specific question, I could try, it’s just
like video and sports, it’s like a big question. I do have clients who ask me
to do both at the same time, it’s really hard, but you know we do it ’cause they ask us to. (laughing) (woman yelling)
– OH, oh, oh, I see, okay So when you go out to practice, like if you’re just going out to shoot for yourself
to practice some things, what’s like obviously you don’t
bring your whole gear kit, what do you consider sort
of essential pieces of gear that you would take with you, just if you’re you know
practicing for yourself? – I mean it depends what I’m shooting, but I think this is a
really old school thing, I still really like primes
for when I’m practicing because they make me move more. Which I know that’s an
old fashioned thing to say ‘Cause for a long time people said, oh primes are sharper, and then telephoto and then zoom lenses got just as sharp. So, there’s really no reason to say that zoom lenses are
not as good as primes. But the reason I like primes and I like them to make
my students use them too is that they make you move your feet. And as photographers, we get lazy, especially if you’re used to the studio, you get lazy, you don’t move. A really good quote, I forget who said it, is what makes a good photograph is where you were standing. And in my case too,
it’s where I’m squatting or where I was laying on
the ground or whatever. So, there is kind of
a physical thing to it of like how much I try to move around. So, sometimes as practice,
I’ll try to go shoot something with just one camera and one prime which is really painful
and it’s not necessarily the best way to shoot it. But it’s a good way to practice moving. – [Man 3] An extension
of that question also, is do you take time out
to do personal projects to push your vision other places? – Oh yeah, there’s nothing
like a personal project because it’s like all of those things that I was talking about, the mistakes that are getting in the way
of me just following my gut, go away ’cause I don’t have an assignment, I don’t have anything I have to do that might not be what I
think what I should do. I just get to do what I want and that’s like the most
crucial and the most fun. And actually I get the, usually get better pictures. (laughing) – [Woman 4] How did you
get your first client and did you make any mistakes with that? – With the first client?
– yeah – My God I don’t know if I remember what my first client was. It was probably something really bad and like not impressive at all. I don’t remember. (woman mumbling) I actually don’t think I
had a really big break ever. Sometimes when I hear
other peoples stories, I think like wow, they were so lucky and so successful so fast and that’s part of why I talked about I really didn’t have that happen. I had a really slow
build to get where I am and it wasn’t very easy. And like, I mean every big job I’ve gotten I felt like I was already
prepared to do that like five years ago. (laughing) so, by the time I got the big job, I didn’t feel unprepared or
scared or anything really. I know that some people say, oh my God, I got this call, I wasn’t ready for it. Like, I didn’t feel like that. I felt like I really had to slog and like show people stuff
over and over and over again. – [Man 4] I had a question
about your passion projects, like where you share them and… – Oh yeah, I just did a
project that I didn’t show simply ’cause it wasn’t
pure sports fitness. But I did a project that I really enjoyed and might be a fine art book, I’m still trying to decide. I don’t think it’s complete yet, but there’s been some interest
in it as a fine art book, but it’s called Drumline and
it’s about marching bands in the south. And that was a real passion project. It had some sports influence, so I didn’t show it ’cause
it’s not pure sports and I wanted to keep today on topic. But if you go to my website you can see it and it’s I mean I think marching bands is a really cool mixture of like culture and sports and stuff like that. So, that was one of my projects, was that the question, sorry? – [Man 4] Yeah, it was, it was, and I guess an extension of that is just like in the age of
Instagram and social media, how do you cope with, you’ve seen the industry change so much in the past 10 years, so, how does it influence your work? And how do you keep your work relevant or you know what are things you see
happening and so forth? – Yeah, so it’s totally
changed the shot list that we get from clients, firstly. Because that’s why I kept referring to these long shot lists from clients, because clients need to
generate so much content because they all need to fill their Instagram feeds constantly. So, rather than like this
one perfect hero image that they used to be going for, they want shot lists that are like basically as much as you can physically cram into a day without dying. Like, so, productivity is above all. And so, they give you these shot lists and they just basically
want you to achieve their social media goals
for the next three months or the next six months. In the advertising world,
they call it evergreening because it’s about keeping
the social media tree always green. So, that’s very hard for me because as a perfectionist, I wanna create great
work that’s a great image that’s gonna live in my portfolio. I don’t necessarily wanna
create a hundred mediocre photos that we didn’t have time
to light or get perfect. So, that has been hard for me. I still show a lot of my
personal work on Instagram. I try to post once a day. It’s hard because you do
have to lower your standards to post that much, right, and that’s what we’re all doing. – [Man 5] My question is, how do you not just try and use skill
but also train your eye to know how the humans trains how actually the athlete
body can make the best shot? – Yeah, I mean obviously it’s much easier if you’re working with a
great athlete. (laughing) right, so I definitely worked my way up from starting out with people who were you know just starting out,
to people who are some of the greatest athletes in their field. I got to shoot Milos,
who’s like two years ago, who’s had like the fastest
serve in all of tennis. Obviously when he serves in tennis, he’s gonna look totally
different then just some guy. So, that is one advantage. I’m showing you these athletes
who are really incredible and if you can get access to people who have great athletic prowess
obviously it looks better. The one good thing about Instagram, is it’s really increased
everyone’s vanity. I know that’s like a
terrible thing to say, but it is in to our advantage because everyone now
wants to be photographed. It’s so much easier to get people to agree to be photographed than it was ever before because everyone is desperate
to have non-stop content of themselves. So, in that sense you
know, you can photograph pretty much anyone
because everyone’s willing to be photographed. It’s kinda weird. You gotta question? – [Woman 5] I was just curious if you have opportunities to
develop a relationship with your clients beforehand or if there is a mixture of that, how do you connect with them if you haven’t had prior experience? – What do you mean by client? – [Woman 5] The… – You mean the people I’m photographing? – [Woman 5] Right. – Okay, so that’s usually
not my client, right. So, like, you mean the people, the athlete, how do I connect with the athlete before I start shooting them? – [Woman 5] Right, do you spend
time with them beforehand? – It really depends on their schedule. Some professional athletes you know they might only have a
few hours for a shoot even if it’s or less, even if it’s like their main corporate sponsor. You’re like what do you mean you only have three hours for this shoot, like, this is your main person
who is paying you money. I try, and this is really hard to do, I try to talk to people
before I ever put the camera in front of my eye. And when you’re really stressed and have no time on a shoot, it’s tempting not to do that. But I try to go walk over to them and have at least one full conversation before I’m like, hi I’m Laura,
let’s interact you know. You can’t really interact
with someone fully when you’re in front of the camera. That being said, sometimes
there’s very little time. But I think that the more
you know about a sport, like the more I know about tennis, the more I can connect
with a tennis player. So, if I don’t know
about a sport beforehand, I’ll do a lot of research so that whatever I’m talking
to them sounds educated, they will take me so much more seriously if I’m using the right words. If I’m giving them direction
that’s accurate to the sport, ’cause then they actually, if I’m giving them feedback,
then they wanna work with you. It’s almost like I’m a director and they’re like a dancer or something. So, the minute your
giving them good feedback and your showing them that
you know about their sport, we can have a lot of
fun together actually. I hope that helps. – [Host] Thank you so much Laura – Thank you so much everyone. (audience clapping)

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