Musings on the Perfect Shot: You Lose Some, You Win Some. (part 2)

Our business, by all measures, is about the infinite quest to capture the perfect shot – the ever elusive, often unattainable, highly subjective “perfect shot.” This is quite possibly one of the greatest misnomers of our shooting life.

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If you calculate how many shots [or actual exposures] we take each race day against how many ones fall into the so-called perfect category, we are essentially failing each and every day. If we take an average of 700-1000 frames in a day, we might find one perfect shot. Or we might not. That’s quite an admission to make. And yet, we continually sort through the day’s haul in search of the one perfect shot. Go figure.

So, what makes a perfect shot? And, furthermore, does it even exist? The pursuit of this inquiry is most likely what motivates nearly every professional photographer throughout his/her career – can something so quintessentially subject to the myriad of variations in aesthetic currency, platform and usage, style, storyline, and perspective ever truly be considered perfect?

Levi's GranFondo 2013

2013 Cyclocross World Championships, Louisville KY2013 Tour de France -  Stage 17

Of course, in the visual art trades, there are accepted guidelines for “perfection” in composition, framing, depth of field, environmental context, and narrative. And while shooting bike racing, or any sport, these do still apply. But that’s merely the foundation. As a professional photographer, what cuts it in our own minds between the perfect shot and any another image has a lot to do with how you make your living. And who your audience is.

2013 Tour de France - Stage 17 TT Vuelta a España 2013 - Stage 20 2013 Tour de France - Race to the Champs

We shoot with so many factors constantly in mind that when asked by hobbyist photographers “How do I take a perfect shot?” the answer is not intended to be vague or standoffish but strives only to know where to begin. Is it the perfect shot of all time? Or is it rather the perfect shot of that day’s race? Is it the ideal glossy “cover shot” or is perfection something that can only measured by time and hindsight? Who is it perfect for? A question rarely asked by viewers but a critical one for us on a daily basis.

Vuelta a España 2013 - Stage 11

Vuelta a España 2013 - Stage 11 20130512_©BrakeThrough Media_IMG_4930

While we do shoot for the love of it, our essential motivation must stem from a deep concern for our clients and, in turn, the viewers. Within a race environment, the perfect shot of the day might be the one most flattering to say a brand client, like Oakley, CLIF, or Specialized. In these instances the product must shine in such a context that it appears heroic and – without question – the athlete must also be a perfect emblem of that brand’s image.

Vuelta a España 2013 - Stage 21

2013 Ironman Kona Vuelta a España 2013 - Stage 14

In other instances we are looking for a perfect moment – usually something gelled in time – that is quintessential to the cultural scene around us or how the race played out. This is when the perfect shot you seek is for an editorial client, a magazine or online platform, where an entire story can be told in one frame.

2013 Tour de France - Stage 13 Passion and Pain in the Pyrénées Winning and Losing - A look back at 2013 20130331_©BrakeThrough Media_IMG_5634

Sometimes we create our own personal challenges we are looking to conquer image-wise and this drives us to try new types of images whether it be high speed, slow shutter, from the view point of the spectator, or to be backstage where rarely a photographer is allowed. These challenges can yield all sorts of perfect shots, but they may only be perfect to you because you accomplished a feat few people might ever see the back story of. A perfect shot may be so in your own mind because you nearly fell off the cliffside while shooting it! And with all the tales we have of injury, scares, and near fatality – it damn well better be perfect.

2013 Road Worlds - Road Race WomenTNN_Camp

Vuelta a España 2013 - Stage 10

In the end, as a pro or an enthusiast photographer, only three individuals can truly decide what makes a perfect shot: the photographer, the client, and the viewer. The rest, well, that’s just part of the hunt.