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3 Photography Tips I Learned in a Pool Hall

Ok, so that title might seem like a punchline, but it’s true! Have you ever noticed that sometimes lessons from one part of your life bleed into other parts- and often with great results?  I was out on location the other day setting up a shot, and couldn’t help thinking about some of the little things I’ve learned over the years that have really helped me in my photography process, and that I still focus on today.

Tip #1:  “Finish the stroke before you celebrate”  

This is the first lesson I learned years ago when I started playing pool, and honestly it’s one of the best.  As background, I should say that I LOVED pool. I was in my early 20’s (amazing I can remember that long ago!), had my own cue, and was in a local league.  I loved the math, the angles, the pace, and the way I could literally get lost just hanging out in the pool hall learning and practicing shots. I was good, but only in practice.  As soon as the adrenaline of the game hit, and as soon as I had what I knew to be one of my best shots in my sights, well, I blew it.

  • Head down – check.  
  • Confirm the angle – check.  
  • Regulate the breathing – check.  
  • Pull the cue back and stroke – UG!  I seem to always pop the shot, pull my head up, and start celebrating my success before the follow-through. This often meant that there simply was no follow-through, and definitely no success!  

Fast forward some years later.  I was learning wildlife photography and in my case (at least at the time) this was all about learning to shoot birds.  As many of you know, there’s a good deal of patience that can go into setting up a shot and waiting for that perfect moment. Often, you are setting the shutter speed a bit slower in order to capture wing motion, etc. This makes it even more important to keep things smooth and consistent, and make sure all of your preparation is worth it in the end.  

  • Stabilize your stance and keep your head still
  • Confirm your settings
  • Calm your breathing
  • Smoothly press the shutter button, and don’t pop anything – keep it slow and steady.  Celebrate only when you see your final image back in your studio! This is so important especially when dealing with unpredictable and moving subjects – I can’t tell you how many blurred, “almost shots” I missed early in my photography life because of my exuberance!

Tip #2: “Take the time to study the game”

In billiards, it’s all about angles.  In photography, it’s all about knowing your subject and your equipment. Just think of it.  If you are taking photos of children, you are not only setting up the shot, but you are trying to anticipate that perfect expression, giggle, or interaction that will take your image from average to awesome.  If you are a wildlife photographer, understanding the behavior of your subjects is imperative. Is there a ‘tell’ before your subject takes off at a run (or flight)? Are there specific courting behaviors that if you understood, you could be better prepared to capture not just a photo, but a photo that tells a story?

Whatever your subject, make sure you know what you are are trying to achieve, and take the time to study your subject and their behavior as much (or more!) than you study the technical aspect of the shoot.

Tip #3: “Learn from the masters”

This tip should really be “learn from the masters continually”.  In pool this refers to watching professional players, and even to learning other games (like 8 ball, 9 ball, snooker, etc.) in order to broaden horizons and improve your overall game.  In photography, you need to do the same thing and continually learn from other professionals whose work you admire. Doing this will allow you to see different approaches to photography and sharpen your skills.  Actively follow photographers you love on social media, Read their blogs, troll their portfolios, and be present in the moment- actively think about the things that they are doing so you you can learn and adopt tips as appropriate for your process and your vision.  This can include lighting approaches, focus plane, composition, and angle of shot to name a few.

Remember, there are as many aspects of photography as there are photographers, so make sure you keep exploring, keep learning, and keep being curious.  

Happy shooting!

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