It was hot. It was muggy. It was August and high school football practice was open. It was the kind of day when wilting in the heat and humidity seems the best option. It was, in short, the kind of day when you would like to be anywhere other than a high school practice field shooting summer practice. This is the kind of assignment we have all shot hundreds of times. This can mean, especially when influenced by heat and humidity, there is a strong temptation to mail it in and not go the extra mile to get something special. It is, after all, practice.
Errrrrrrrkkkkk. Slam those breaks on right there my friends. This is exactly the kind of situation we can not allow to happen. I have said for years, a blind squirrel can find an acorn when there are acorns all over the ground. For those of you who are not southern by birth, let me explain. The expression means when the shooting situation is excellent any photographer can come back with a picture. Got it? Where a photojournalist makes a reputation is in situations just like this where the pictures are not falling from the trees like ripe nuts. Because we have shot football practices so many times, it becomes easy to coast through the next one. After all, how important it is it?
Maybe going the extra mile and working a football practice like it is the best assignment in the history of mankind won’t earn you a single extra dollar. Maybe it won’t win you any prizes. Maybe the photos will never end up in your portfolio. Maybe. Maybe not. When it comes time to make cuts in your department your boss might look around at the staff and wonder which one he can do without. Maybe then that extra mile you walked shooting football practices will pay off. Maybe you will be the one with a job when others get laid off. Even if the boss is forced, for economic reasons, to lay you off, you will at least make it a hard decision because letting go of his hardest worker is not something he will actually want to do.
Be the guy it is hard to lay off. Economic realities are what they are and layoffs come even to the best shooters. Don’t make it easy for them to lay you off. Work hard on everything. Shoot football practice like it makes a difference. The fact is, not only will you make it difficult to cut your job, you will benefit directly from working hard at practices. You will get better. You will cause yourself to grow as a photographer. You will be able to take stuff you do at practice and apply it on other jobs. Simply making a better work ethic, an ethic that refuses to be mediocre, even on hot, humid, August days at football practice, will pay off both in the immediate and in the long term.
Fact is, none of us know if we will have jobs next year. Who knew that photojournalists, really excellent photojournalists in Alabama’s three largest newspapers, would be out the door when the year started? Who knows just how long the print news industry will last? I don’t know. All I know, all I can control, is how I work today. Stay sharp and use those dull assignments like a whet stone on a knife. Make yourself better, sharper, keener with every assignment.