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The Secret To Success Tweet This   Forward This

2 August 2013

He led his college football team to two straight undefeated seasons, won the Heisman Trophy, the Maxwell Award and the Walter Camp Trophy and was voted the Associated Press athlete of the year in his senior season. Who was he?

Dick Kazmaier, who passed away yesterday in Boston, is the Princeton halfback who ended his college career in 1951 after 2,404 yards passing and 1,950 rushing. But you may never have heard of him because he declined to join the Chicago Bears, who drafted him after college, and went into business.

"I had achieved everything I could achieve as an individual and as part of a team," he explained. "I felt there was nowhere to go but down."

For once fame was not as fleeting as a halfback from Princeton.

Disintegrating Dock. How many times have we shot this subject? Every time seems like the first.

But the N.Y. Times obit has a more memorable quote from the Princeton great the AP favored over Ben Hogan and Stan Musial as its 1951 athlete of the year.

It's the secret of his success:

"I had good coordination and speed," he said, "and I practiced. I shot baskets. I threw a football through a rubber tire. I'd field ground balls. It was just a natural part of life. There were no sports camps, no special training."

He practiced. He was good, but he practiced.

Practice is something of a foreign concept to photographers. The closest we come to it is Experience. You shoot and shoot and shoot. And one day you look back and realize you're better.

If you have shot and shot and shot.

But Practice is a more narrow sort of repetition. You do the Same Thing over and over. You throw the football through the same rubber tire swinging from a rope tied to a tree limb. You slide to your right, bend down and glove the ball on a bad hop, slide to your left and scoop up the next one skidding over the dirt. Over and over.

Some people would have you believe it takes 10,000 hours. But who's counting? Time flies when you're having fun.

That's the forgotten factor in Practice. Fun. You can enjoy throwing a football through the hole in a tire or shooting baskets until the light fails. It doesn't have to resemble work to be effective.

So what's Practice look like to a photographer?

It could be nothing more elaborate than just shooting the same subject over and over. Maybe you do it with different equipment, maybe the same. Maybe you try a different exposure mode or a variation of one of them. Maybe you try it at different ISOs even though they aren't all appropriate. Maybe you just use a different focal length, a new lens.

And maybe you don't do anything different at all -- you just do it again.

We have a few subjects we've shot over and over again through the years. A row of logs on Twin Peaks. The Palace of Fine Arts. The disintegrating docks along the Bay. We always stand in front of these subjects as if we've never seen them before. How should we expose the shot? How should we frame it?

Each effort seems like the first to us, even though we've done it dozens of times. That's how it feels when you're having fun.


Practice is valuable. Practicing the steps that lead to great photos helps to make those steps a natural part of each shot. But intentionally experimenting with techniques and settings that lead to bad photos will also prove valuable. It's often just as valuable to know what not to do and why, as what to do. After 50 years of photography I've made every mistake in the book and those lessons come hard when the media is not digital, when you can't analyze your shot right away.

-- Jim Clark

Well put, Jim. The one button on the camera we wouldn't miss is that Trash button. Somehow when you learn from your mistakes, you remember what you learned. -- Mike

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