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Opinion :: Avoiding the armpit pitfalls of basketball photography
· 8:07pm February 10th, 2013
It will come as no surprise to many people who read my words that I didn't take journalism in college.
My major was in public administration, but I quickly discovered it is more fun to write about what government should do or can't do right rather than actually doing it.
So when I began my journalism career, I read lots of books by people who were quite successful in the business.
Peggy Noonan. Jody Powell. Mike Royko. A book from ISU called “Community Journalism.” A Missouri School of Journalism college text book (from which I adapted my initial lessons for our Junior Journalists). Dave Barry. P.J. O’Rourke (who says he hates Dave Barry because Dave Barry is funnier than he is. I disagree). Paul Harvey. Charles Osgood. More Mike Royko. More Peggy Noonan. William Safire. More Royko. More Noonan. Dan Rather. More Royko. More Noonan.
And Lewis Grizzard.
Royko taught me how to be thorough and look for nonsense. Noonan taught me how to look at both sides. Barry and O'Rourke taught me to look for humor and try to make what I write enjoyable to read. They along with the rest, taught me how important this job is.
Grizzard, however, taught me my most important sports photography lesson.
Grizzard was a southern columnist and humorist who died in his 40s after battling heart disease all his adult life. He made fun of everything, including himself. He was willing to point out the mistakes made by journalists, including himself.
In one of his many books – I forget which one – Grizzard wrote about a short time in his life when he was in the sports department of a southern newspaper. He wrote about the challenge of taking basketball photos.
“All of our photos were pictures of armpits,” he wrote.
And of course, armpit shots are a natural hazard when photographing that sport. Guys (or gals) wearing sleeveless shirts and raising their arms to shoot, pass or block a basketball.
But Grizzard had a colleague who somehow found a way to take photos of basketball action – good photos without armpits.
But later, Grizzard wrote, that photographer left for another job.
“And we went back to taking photos of armpits.”
As this year's basketball season began, I knew the Vinton-Shellsburg Vikings were going to have a great year, and they they are determined to get to the State Tournament. So I knew in December that I would be taking lots of basketball photos as I tried to share the journey that has become their impressive, undefeated 2012-13 season with you.
As I began this season, I remembered how Grizzard's humorous column gave me the first, most important lesson of basketball photography:
“Don’t EVER take photos of armpits.”
Now, you can see, in the Vinton Today sports section, lots of photos of basketball players. But I work very hard to make sure you do not see photos of armpits.
It's not that armpits are the among the least photogenic parts of the human anatomy -- although they certainly are.
I soon realized that avoiding the armpit pitfall helps the basketball photographer take the best basketball photos possible. Avoiding arm pits requires the photographer to take photo from a variety of angles and camera heights. That -- along with lots of practice to see what works and what does not -- leads to better basketball photos.
No, in case you wonder. Not one single journalism or photojournalism textbook says "avoid armpits while taking basketball photos." That principal -- like so many others important to life and this career -- can only be found in the archives of the humorists.
And the success of following that advice is the kind of thing you only learn from experience.
I challenge you to look at basketball photographs in other publications. I predict you will see armpits. Lots of 'em. Everywhere.
But I do my best to keep them out of Vinton Today.
So, if you see a photo of Viking basketball that you like, say a word of thanks for Lewis Grizzard, and the wisdom of journalism's' humorists.
Three cheers and a protonymic tiger for the trails of Googling
A birthday tribute to the Gipper