I’m a sucker for a good sports metaphor. The last two nights I’ve hung out with Todd Deutsch. Maybe because Todd is a baseball fan and Little League dad, I’m in the mood for a good baseball analogy. Batting, it seems to me, is a lot like photography. Whether you are a slugger like Gursky or a contact hitter like Erwitt, the rules of hitting are mostly the same. Perhaps these tips from Jack Aker might also apply to photography:
- Have no fear — in order to hit you must stay in the box at a distance from the plate from which you can hit any pitch in the strike zone.
- Have a balanced stance — if you are not comfortable and relaxed in the box, you will tighten up, which will keep you from swinging quickly and smoothly.
- Keep your eye on the ball — this is not just a cliche. Try to see the ball while it is still in the pitcher’s hand, and follow it all the way to the plate. Try to see your bat hit the ball. When you take a pitch, or don’t swing, watch the ball all the way into the catcher’s mitt.
- Grip the bat loosely — your fingers and hands should not tighten up on the bat until you are actually starting your swing. If you squeeze the bat while awaiting the pitch, you will tighten up your arms and shoulders and you won’t be as quick with your swing.
- Don’t overswing — if you are thinking only about hitting home runs, your swing will be out of control, and you will probably pull your head away and take your eye off the ball. The result – you’ll strike out. Think only of making sharp contact and putting the ball into play.
- Learn the strike zone — although a few pitches which are just out of the strike zone may be hit for base hits, most of your safeties will come on pitches which are in your strike zone. Every batter’s strike zone is different. Learn your strike zone. Be patient and swing at strikes only.
Or maybe photography is more like flyfishing. I’ve always loved this quote from Stephen Shore’s 1982 edition of Uncommon Places:
Color film is wonderful because it shows not only the intensity but the color of light. There is so much variation in light between noon one day and the next, between ten in the morning and two in the afternoon. A picture happens when something inside connects, an experience that changes as the photographer does. When the picture is there, I set out the 8×10 camera, walk around it, get behind it, put the hood over my head, perhaps move it over a foot, walk in front, fiddle with the lens, the aperture, the shutter speed. I enjoy the camera. Beyond that it is difficult to explain the process of photographing except by analogy:
The trout streams where I flyfish are cold and clear and rich in the minerals that promote the growth of stream life. As I wade a stream I think wordlessly of where to cast the fly. Sometimes a difference of inches is the difference between catching a fish and not. When the fly I’ve cast is on the water my attention is riveted to it. I’ve found through experience that whenever- or so it seems – my attention wanders or I look away then surely a fish will rise to the fly and I will be too late setting the hook. I watch the fly calmly and attentively so that when the fish strikes – I strike. Then the line tightens, the playing of the fish begins, and time stands still. Fishing, like photography, is an art that calls forth intelligence, concentration, and delicacy.
Or maybe photography is like cricket. The fantastic photographer Trent Parke (who just opened a show at the Alice Austen House Museum on Staten Island) is also a former professional cricket player. When I see Trent next week, I’ll ask him if he has any good cricket tips to pass along.