New rule: the “Oh SH!T” lens

I had a seriously “where have you been all my life!?” moment
a while ago and it goes like this: When I go to shoot a sporting event the lens
of choice is usually my trusty Nikon AF-S 400mm f/2.8 which often gets a Nikon
TC14BII converter added for the extra reach that you need when you really can’t
get close enough to the action. If any of you have shot football, soccer,
baseball and whatnot you know the drill. You can pretty much head out the door
with just a body and that huge lens and be covered because anything shorter isn’t
of much use. As much as I love shooting with a normal or wide lens it’s
essentially pointless except for artistic scenic renditions of a neato stadium
if you get, say, spectacular late afternoon light. Sports is a long lens world.
Not exclusively but largely.

Except for that .5% of the action when it spontaneously happens
in your lap. The seasoned football shooters that I knew when I got my start
called it the “Oh shit” lens because when that running back heads down the
sideline and the defender does a leaping with arms spread wide tackle upon him
it almost always happens about fifteen feet from you where your big lens is
useless. That’s why the shooters in the know carry a second body around their
neck with a 70-200, or maybe even wider, just in case something cool happens
that isn’t “way out there”.  It’s a very
useful camera/lens combo to have when you need it but I swear I can’t recall
home many games that I’ve had my second body and lens digging into my neck and
never pushed the button on it because not one thing happened on the field where
the “oh shit” was needed. But when it is BOY HOWDY! Is it cool. Thus I’ve done
this for years …

..but never in a studio setting. Why? The beauty of the
studio is that you have control. Or do we? I rarely shoot in a pure studio,
almost always on location, but when you are doing a portrait session you as the
photographer are specifically taking things into hand. You pick the location,
the angles, the lighting, where the subject is going to be and to a large
extent what the subject is going to do and you pick your gear for what you want
to get out of your time there. But what happens if while you are say fiddling
with your lights or whatever the subject does something unexpected and
interesting? Do you have a camera with you? No? It’s on the tripod over there
preset for your “perfect” composition? Then you missed that cool shot didn’t
you huh? Now you feel totally unprepared and if you are like me kinda silly for
missing what may have been the single most interesting shot of the day because
it was so spontaneous.

So what I’m now trying to always do is bring two cameras to
a portrait session and keep a body with a 50mm lens or so around my neck for
those “oh shit that’s cool!” moments. For me those are always the keepers.

Here are some favorite outtakes using this approach.





And yes I do believe that if you do something interesting, read as silly, in front of me I’m darned tootin’ going to shoot it.

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