Friday, June 28, 2013

REVIEW: Sports Photography: From Snapshots to Great Shots

Sports Photography: From Snapshots to Great Shots is book for those who dream of becoming a pro sports photographer and who want to hear tales from the field about how season veterans get their amazing shots. Bill Frakes shares a series of enjoyable stories of how he gets the shot for nearly every sport you can imagine. This ends up being both a pro and con of this book because the breadth of sports covers means there’s no depth to any one sport. At just over 225 pages I’d call it more of a teaser or sampler than a real in-depth look at sports photography, but it is chock full of fantastic sports images by a well respected pro sports photographer.

At times the book has some quotes that stop and make you think deeply. Some of my favorites included:

No photograph should ever need a caption, but every photograph must have one. – Wilson Hicks (page 27)

Be sure to expose for the picture you want to make, not what your histogram is telling you. – Bill Frakes (page 144)

I’ve never bought a piece of equipment that hasn’t paid for itself. Be smart in your investments, but don’t be afraid to make them. – Bill Frakes (page 216)

It’s also features a reality check with discussions about the gear required to get the shots he does. Many people who read this are probably thinking, yeah, you need a 400mm f/2.8 lens, but Bill is far beyond that. His default kit includes three D4’s and a D800, 5 lenses (including the 200mm f/2, 400mm f/2.8 and 600mm f/4). 4 pocket wizards, and so much more. In fact, even if you have the money for the 60 (yes, 60) remote cameras he sets up around the track for an event like the Kentucky Derby, the odds are you don’t have the connections he does to put your cameras there (or on the 50 yard line at the Super Bowl, or behind the rim at the NBA finals, etc…). So, if you are one of those types who thinks that Joe McNally is over the top with his 47 flashes in Hot Shoe Diaries, then this book is going to fry your brain! 

While the images are awesome in the book, towards the end it starts to feel a bit like your having a conversation with one of those name droppers as the tennis section is a little light on text and heavy on the who’s who of Tennis at their career defining moments. I’m sure we’d all probably do the same thing if we were as lucky as Bill, but by that point in the book you are realizing you’ve got be Bill “F**king” Frakes to have the opportunities he had then and enjoys now. He’s got some amazing shots and his success is well deserved, but let’s face it – if you can put your cameras and body in the spots where he can you are going to have an amazing portfolio. The trick is doing what it takes to get there so you can have those opportunities, and this books isn’t as deep as I would have hoped in those areas.

What he doesn’t really talk about is how the politics of pro sports photography have evolved to the point where the old curmudgeons who are lucky enough to have credentials seem to have a hatred for those who want to follow in their foot steps (great example). Perhaps it is because other pro photographers who do things that don’t require credentials (i.e., stock photography, weddings & commercial jobs) have found themselves losing their livelihood to amateurs, so their “good old boy” club is protecting itself by trying to keep the unconnected shooters out. More than anything I’ve seen on the planet, sports photography is without a doubt a business that is ALL about who you know and not what you know. With the access you get at most sports events, a working finger and a proper camera is all that’s required to leave the game with some good shots and the truly talented leave the game with great shots and the best connected have remote camera setups in impossible places to get the phenomenal shots. This is the reality of the business, so a book like this should realistically have a chapter on the reality of what it really takes to get credentials.

A Better Way To Learn

Beginner Sports Photography with Scott Kelby
Beginner Sports Photography with Scott Kelby on Kelby Training (discount)

I was disappointed with the educational side of this book but by sheer coincidence I found out that Scott Kelby was offering a Beginner Sports Photography class on Kelby Training when I was on his show The Grid. Tonight I finally had a chance to check it out and I was actually quite impressed with how good it was! I’ve shot NFL football, Formula 1 racing, the Olympics and more so I’ve got a decent handle on what’s required to be a sports photographer, and Scott does a fantastic job of putting it on on the table in his typical easy to understand way.

Click here to learn more about this course and watch the first segment for free, and visit here to get a discount on Kelby Training if you haven’t discovered the best deal in photography yet.


Don’t expect much education from this book, but you can get much inspiration from it. Sure, it does have some fundamental tips that will help you photograph your kids sports, but in some cases the author fails to offer a budget solution to shoot (i.e., you aren’t going to have remote 2400w/s strobes at your kids basketball game). In this sense, it’s a good reality check about what the real pros are doing to get the shots that mere mortals can’t pull off (mostly due to the money required to get the necessary gear). With those disclaimers, I found it to be highly entertaining with some very cool photos, so I enjoyed it much the same as I’d enjoy a novel or typical coffee table book like The Moment It Clicks. At under $15, it’s worth the money if you are a excited about sports photography.

Where to order

Click here to order at Amazon. If you have a Kindle Fire (or compatible reader) then you may want to get the Sports Photography: From Snapshots to Great Shots [Kindle Edition].

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1 comment:

Unknown said...

It's so easy to hold the shutter button down and catch frame after frame of professional sport action. Before you go shutter crazy, its important to recognize what is worth capturing and from where can you get the best shot.