It’s not that I don’t bring anxiety to the table when planning out a shooting day with multiple photographers. It’s that I channel said anxiety into making a solid plan, and it has made me a better team leader on cross country day. Let me explain.
I learned how to photograph horses when I covered show jumping, and got very used to being able to shoot at least half the fences on course from my chosen spot on the rail. One can track the rider over the entirety of a show jumping course, unless you’re shooting Aachen and in that case, you can just be thrilled to be at Aachen and that is enough. I’ve never been as happy as when I was crammed into a photo pen with 30 other photographers in center field of Aachen’s main stadium. At Aachen, not being able to see the whole course from ground level is a given, that’s how big that field of play is.
But I digress. I covered show jumping for enough years and at enough venues that I became perfectly comfortable with walking up to a grand prix a few minutes before it began and learning the course as I shot the first few riders in the order. With 12 – 14 fences over a few hundred meters jumped in under 76 seconds, the good shooting spots reveal themselves quickly.
When I began shooting the cross-country phase of three day eventing, I had to learn to let go of that comfortable feeling. It was quickly replaced by ever-present FOMO that I was missing something important by not being able to see the whole course. It is an absolute and certain fact that over 3,000 meters jumped in five and a half to six minuted, I am always, always missing something. So I had to learn to let go of that FOMO, too. While important things always happen on parts of the cross-country course that one can’t see, as a photographer, this is where a good team comes in.
For a show photographer covering three-day eventing, job number one is to photograph every competing rider and do as complete a job as possible. That means at least four, sometimes five to six photographers strategically placed on course. Making a plan is critical, not changing the plan last minute is even more critical, and a lot of pre-planning goes into the process.
To strategically place everyone, I start walking the four to six cross country tracks days in advance of the first rider on course. And I don’t make decisions alone. Whoever can walk the course with me, does, and much discussion ensues about what to shoot and who will be better shooting where. It’s important to be honest about gear and ability level; just like jumping the actual course, I really try to place each photographer in a location where they won’t feel overfaced, where they will shoot well and have fun. Shooting well is so important. Otherwise, why make the effort?Course walk one feels hectic and confusing. Anxiety level is high. I bring printed course maps, I make notes, and try to get a feel for the track for each level. I leave feeling stressed and out of sorts. This is always how it is, and I accept that.
Course walk two on the following day is better. The course map notes make more sense. I start to memorize each track, and before I go to sleep I walk the courses for every level in my head. It’s better than counting sheep, and the anxiety level comes down. The Day 3 course walk is when I find my zen place. I know every single fence for each level, I have looked at them from multiple angles, I can answer questions about them, and along with the team, we can make final decisions about where everyone should shoot from.
It is that knowledge, and checking everything else off the to-do list (sync all camera times, make sure everyone has food, review switchovers, check gear, check it again, give everyone a course map, make sure everyone is feeling a least some level of mental zen) that creates a successful cross country day and results in a complete album for the riders.
Oh, and bring a dog on your course walk. Always bring a dog.
See you out there!