Saturday, July 7, 2012

Behind the Lens: Stuck in a photo rut



Kansas guard Ben McLemore elevates for a jam during a scrimmage on Wednesday, June 20, 2012, at the Horejsi Center.


Ben McLemore pulls back for a dunk during warmups and prior to the start of the alumni scrimmage game on Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at the Horejsi Center.

Several readers have commented to me before that they can often pick with a great success rate which Journal-World photographer shot a particular photo on a given day without looking at the credit.

It’s true; quite a many distinguishable differences exist from one photographer to the next, starting with what lens each prefers, how close we are from our subjects when we shoot and how we tend to compose our images. All of these points of consideration help define a style or how we make visual sense of our surroundings.

This idea became uncomfortably clear to me when editor Jesse Newell brought down two printouts of Ben McLemore dunking during the Bill Self basketball camp at the Horejsi Center. One was from June 2012 and the other from June 2011, both shot by me. I maintained a smile while Jesse marveled at the similarities between the two.

“You can even see the same advertisement,” he said.

While he was pointing this out, I was thinking, “Man, I really need to start moving around a bit more.”

Jesse inadvertently gave me a helpful reminder of how important visual variety is for photographers — and especially photojournalists — who have to find new and interesting ways to cover cyclical events. But even the casual shooter can improve the quality of his or her takes by experimenting with different focal lengths, distances or shooting from a drastically different angle.

Familiarity can be comforting — I guess that’s why we consciously or unconsciously gravitate to the spots where we’ve previously achieved some success. But the same choices time and time again can also lead to predictability.


Martin Rosenblum 10 years, 3 months ago

I sort of disagree. What makes for good sports photography is the moment. The moment/split second before a dunk or immediately after a dunk, for example. Capturing a facial expression on the sideline is different from action photography. Candid, unplanned photo ops are present everywhere. It's the person who sees them and captures them who is the artist. Predictability, in your case, is the product of years of experience and experimentation. To borrow an expression, Cameras don't take pictures, photographers do!

I'm envious of anybody who has a natural talent for capturing action shots where time appears to stand still. I've done a lot of amateur photography and have had some success in contests, etc. with things non-human, ie. landscape, architecture, etc. My most proud moment otherwise was a shot of Bill Self appearing to be picking his nose on the sideline during a game. Not Nick Krug - worthy, but still a "win" for me.

Don't veer too far away from what we have come to expect and respect from your work. Ansel Adams didn't compromise very much and he had a pretty good run. .

Martin Rosenblum 10 years, 3 months ago

PS. The only improvement I could suggest would be more cheerleader tight shots.

John Randall 10 years, 3 months ago

Are you suggesting KU cheerleaders should start wearing tights?

btaylor6a 10 years, 3 months ago

I appreciate the commentary Nick. While the concept of varying shooting positions or "capturing the moment" may be obvious to most adults, I have a difficult time getting my beginning journalism students to understand this. If possible, would you have the time to email some insights on capturing quality sports images. I would love to share your opinions with my students. We are currently shooting with a Canon 7d paired with a Canon 70-200 f/2.8 non-IS lens. While I can tell them what to do until I am blue in the face, I'd love to give them advice from someone still in the industry.

Thanks for your time,

B. Taylor

Nick Krug 10 years, 3 months ago

Sure B. Taylor, I'd be happy to. Could you email me at so I know where to reply. I'll start thinking of some points I think might be helpful.

skragglydoo 10 years, 3 months ago

Good commentary but don't listen to Jesse. Krug is one of the best photographers around and I always know it's his shot because it's damn good. Not because it looks the same as another.

KGphoto 10 years, 3 months ago

Love it! You should do more of these. So here's my take, for what it's worth...

Being camped in the same spot for every game has carved a groove in your basketball style, sure. Can't do much about that though. It's the best spot. That's why all the pros are there right? That's where you get paid. Unless you work for NBC and have cameras mounted around in impossible locations, you need to be under that basket to get the cover shot.

What people don't understand too well, and what you humbly leave untold, is that even though you are right in front of the action and have the best possible seat in the house to get great "moments" during games, it's still incredibly hard. It is a non-stop scan of the environment. You have to juggle a lot of game knowledge at once. The first instinct (when I started, anyway) is to just follow the ball. But you have to figure in all the factors if you want consistent moments. Real game knowledge. What's the score? How much time is left? Shot clock? Who are the key players? What's coach doing? The bench? Fans? You kind of have to know all those things, and more, at any given moment so you know where to point.

Then of course, from the floor, those big guys get in the way a lot. You can, and do lose key moments simply because you have a player's big butt in your face. I found that to be a real trick. Finding the moment around or through the other players.

The moments are tricky, and while I agree with memhawk that the photographer is more important than the camera, a good camera and lens are indispensable for great action. For instance you have to be able to isolate a facial expression with depth of field. Not just any lens can do that with quality. Then you have to deal with low light inside an arena, and fast moving action, so you need a fast lens. The expensive and fast lens helps with exposure, depth and clarity but it comes at a price. Professional glass is expensive, and unless you are doing some sort of artsy action style, you can't do without it.

When I first started turning in assignments at school I had a cruddy lens that came with the Canon. I was getting good shots, but average critiques. I spent about $2500 on a couple of professional lenses and started getting amazing critiques. People were literally oohing and ahhing what were essentially the same shots I was taking before. I started getting "A" grades, and started building a legit portfolio.

And to that point, Ansel Adams was able to have a pretty good run by staying in his photographic wheelhouse, but only because he was improving a photographic method, and in turn technology, while doing it. We owe a lot to those who have increased the performance of cameras.

Martin Rosenblum 10 years, 3 months ago

I'm feeling like an abstract comparison. Hudy = equipment and HCBS = photographer.(the player = the subject). The camera and the photographer affect the way the subject is seen. Hudy insures the physical aspects are maximized while HCBS acts as the part of the brain that manipulates the cognitive senses that select the best angle, depth of field, framing and even key lights of the subject/player. Combined, both are equally as valuable.

Eliott Reeder 10 years, 3 months ago

Interesting insights from Krug, and you as well KG, good stuff. I always enjoy these 'Behind the Lens' articles!

Dirk Medema 10 years, 3 months ago

Definitely cool to get this most recent installment of Behind the Lens.

Maybe you could do this during these slow summer months. Maybe pick some of your favorites and pair up with Jesse or whomever was reporting and write about the event from Behind the Lens.

Martin Rosenblum 10 years, 3 months ago

He tried, but:

His zoom lens kept getting stuck at full length

Jesse Newell insisted that he needed to cross-train as a photographer.

Samantha refused to be photographed while Keegan tried to tag along.

His screaming "..Money Shot, Money Shot" kept creeping her out.

His shutter speed was just too fast, if you know what I mean!

LJW refused to refer to Samantha as "former University of Kansas student" in the lawsuit where she charged Krug with theft of intelectual property (her version of a "back door cut"). The judge dismissed the suit based on not recognizing Kansas University as a legal entity.

ahpersecoachingexperience 10 years, 3 months ago

Call me crazy but if you're sitting on the other side aren't we looking at Ben's @$$ in one picture and his armpit In the other?

Byron Porter 10 years, 3 months ago

I find that I gravitate to shooting the same style of pics that have been popular with my friends when I shoot another event, whether it is a dog show or surf on the North Shore of Oahu. I believe that my desire to have that accepted/good/popular image is what causes this.

I also found that if I step outside of the box and shoot an unorthodox image - literally what is behind me or down the beach - captures the moment or some supplemental features of the moment that enhance the body of work.

My issue is adapting to the fluid/high paced activity to get both types of images. If I have my gear setup to capture a surfer going left at Pipe or a player elevating for a dunk, I would miss those images if I focused on the activity surrounding the surfer or the ballplayer. Even when I have two cameras setup for this very purpose, I will, by definition, miss something if I look for that supplemental image.

For me, if I'm at Pipe or if I had a pass to be on the baseline in Allen, I'm in those positions to capture those particular types of shots. It isn't necessarily a 'style' of shot that I'm getting, it is an image that is framed by the location that the shot is captured from. This is where photography becomes my competition - capture the moments that I need to capture - whether it is Kelly Slater in the tube at Backdoor or Ben rising for a dunk and then also capture that extra image that adds to the moment and gives my viewers a better understanding of the moment.

Thomas Thompson 10 years, 3 months ago

Nick, I have enjoyed all of your KU sports pictures. What type of camera and lens do you use? Kupops

Nick Krug 10 years, 3 months ago


Thanks for the nice compliment. We currently shoot with Canon gear, 5Ds, 7Ds and lenses ranging from 24 mm wide angle to 300 telephotos.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.