Like a kid in a candy shop, I stood on the bright fresh green grass, eyes wide open watching the Arizona Cardinals on their practice field. I wore my media badge like an Olympic gold medal. This was my first time shooting professional sports and I was quite excited to be there. At the end of the day I walked away with some great photos, but even more important I learned a lesson in the art of mastering your craft.
You football fanatics are probably quite familiar with Larry Fitzgerald, wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals. He is widely considered to be one of the best receivers in the league and has even surpassed some records set by legends in the game such as Jerry Rice. He is the most popular player on the Cardinals roster and is currently the 5th highest paid player in the NFL. Fitzgerald is entering his 9th season in the league and has probably put in more practice time than most of the players on the team.
Even so, when the blow horn sounds signifying the end of practice and the players shuffle off into the locker room, one guy stood remaining on the field. After each practice Fitzgerald would ask one of the young trainers if he would throw some balls to him. They wouldn’t be there long, but the time was always used practicing the difficult one hand, or over the head catches. It was methodical in nature, as if “Fitz” wanted to make sure and do it 50 times before leaving the field. He never had trouble with the drill, it was just something he insisted on doing each time.
So what does this have to do with all of us? Often as photographers we get comfortable with our craft. We feel we know everything we need to know about our camera. We get relaxed using the powerful software programs only learning the things we think are important to us. We dedicate our portfolio to natural light photos because we would rather not have to learn how to use off camera flash. We only shoot in studio, because we would rather not learn how to shoot using natural light. We stop studying the work of master photographers before us because our schedule is already booked up for the year. We stop learning business skills. We stop growing.
I see this all the time in our industry. I am guilty of it myself. We find our comfort zone and quit pushing ourselves to be better. Watching Fitzgerald out there on the field helped me remember that to be successful you have to push yourself harder than ever before. You have to want it more than the next guy and put in the time and effort to become an expert of your craft. As photographers we should be learning everything we can about our cameras, software, composition, business, lighting. We should be surrounding ourselves with others who think likewise so we inspire each other to be better. As the great Green Bay Packers football coach Vince Lombardi once said, “The quality of a person's life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor.”
My challenge to you is to stay out on that field after everyone else has ‘headed back to the locker room’ and like Fitzgerald practice those skills that will help you truly become a master of your craft.