Parental Sports Photography – My most Fantastic Voyage

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Where do I start? Yeah that’s the same question I have been asking myself since Scott and Brad offered me the chance to be a guest blogger. First I am under no illusions that I am anywhere near a good enough photographer to share the same forum as Bill Frakes, Mike Olivella or any of the other fantastic photographers that have preceded me. I am just a very proud Dad who started out trying to take pictures of his son playing soccer. So I am both humbled and honored to have this chance and I hope that maybe a few of you will enjoy my ramblings and a few of my shots.

I started getting into photography about six years ago when my son was in the 6th grade and became starting goalkeeper for his middle school soccer team. I bought my first digital camera without much knowledge or thought. A Panasonic FZ-20, 5MP 10x zoom and I thought I was ready for SI! At first I was happy with my choice because I could take pretty good pictures of my son standing still in front of the goal.

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But as soon as I started taking action shots the ball was blurry or my son was blurry and I never seemed to get the shot I wanted.

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I wanted my pictures to just look better than they looked. I made that Panasonic work for middle school but I knew as my son entered High School that I needed a better camera and I needed to be a better photographer. So after saving my pennies and trying to learn a little more about cameras I bought my first DSLR, a Nikon D80 with an 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens. Wow what a difference, my action shots actually started looking like action shots!
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I saved a little more and got a 70-300 VR f/4.5-5.6 lens to get closer to the action and the shots that I wanted.

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But still those shots were very rare for me. And at night they were horrible! What was I doing wrong? I wanted more consistency and really more keepers from the shots I was taking. I starting playing with all the settings and shooting anything I could shoot to see what it looked like when I changed certain things. But I still didn’t know all the things I need to know. I didn’t understand the difference between f-stop and a stop sign and what the heck was ISO?

I tried reading books about photography, and that’s when I first encountered the name “Scott Kelby.” I bought “The Digital Photography Book: Volume 1,” and there was this amazing section about shooting sports that I still refer to today. I finally understood what I was doing wrong, what I was almost doing right, and that I had to start saving and get some really good fast glass to get the kind of shots I wanted to hang on the wall of fame I had planned for my son.

So after more saving of even more pennies and doing some research I ordered the legendary 70-200mm Nikon VR f/2.8 lens and headed to a soccer game. I had read and reread the section in Scott’s book about shooting sports with the lens wide open, so I set my aperture to f/2.8. I knew from the book that I didn’t want my shutter speed to dip below 1/640 so I raised my ISO, took a reading, and settled in for the game to start.

I took my first series of shots and looked down on the LCD screen and literally took off running to show my wife the shot.

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They finally looked like I wanted! And I started getting more and more keepers every time I shot. But I did notice that I also had a lot of shots where the ball was just out of the screen or just coming in to the screen or just not where it needed to be for those SI type shots. This is when I learned what the two words “frame-rate” meant!

In case you haven’t noticed yet I am the type of guy who goes out and tries something first and then after I fail miserably I go and read the instructions! So again I started saving again and I bought a Nikon D300 and a MB-D10 battery grip, now I had 8 frames per second! And that has made all the difference in my shots.

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I could have saved myself a lot of time and money if I had read Scott’s book first, but I would do it all again because of all the things I learned on the journey. One of the first statements in Scott’s section on sports photography is that it’s expensive, so if you want the type of shots I did be prepared to shell out some bucks.

Along the way I have gotten some shots of my son that I think are really pretty good. I read on Scott’s blog about the “Shoot on the sidelines with Scott and Mike” contest and decided to enter really just as a way of honoring my son and what a fine young man and great goalkeeper he has grown into.

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I just wanted other people to see a good shot of him doing the thing he loves most in the world. I really gave no thought to winning, and that was reinforced every day when I would look at the shots that had been uploaded for the contest. There were so many amazing shots that I was just hoping to maybe get an honorable mention.

When the day of the announcement of the winner came around I had almost forgotten about it. I got to work and was involved in something when I thought to check the blog to see who won. The site loaded up and I saw my name and I was dumbfounded. I actually turned my monitor around and ask the guy in front of me if I was reading it right! I am still amazed and honored to have won.

Then I get the call from Scott about not being able to go to FSU and that whole debacle. While I was disappointed, I was instantly fine with it. I had won! Now thousands of people were getting to see my son and my picture! How thrilling is that? And all the comments and support from everyone who reads Scott’s blog overwhelmed me. But the phone call I got from Scott the next day was the surprise of a lifetime. Scott called to tell me that we were going to see the Chicago Bears vs. the Cleveland Browns in Chicago. What an amazing make up prize!

I had never been to Chicago, so I flew up on the Saturday before the game and spent the whole day walking around the streets of Chicago sightseeing. My thanks to Kathy Siler at the Kelby group for getting me in the perfect place to do some sightseeing and for getting me there early enough to have a whole day to explore downtown Chicago! I went to the Skydeck in the Willis (Sears) Tower and to the top of the John Hancock Building and saw everything in between. I even managed to get a few good shots along the way. Here is a shot of my feet standing on the glass of the Skydeck looking down 103 floors.

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The world famous Cloud Gate aka The Bean.

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And the Chicago River at night.

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On Sunday Scott picked me up bright and early. We went to breakfast and talked about our families and photography and I was treated like we had been friends for years. When we arrived at Solider Field we accidentally ran in Mr. Mike McCaskey, owner of the Bears, and we were taken up to the owner’s suite. Mr. McCaskey then wanted to find a special vehicle that had been adorned with Bears logos and things and we walked around all the tailgaters searching. We actually found the vehicle and Mr. McCaskey spent roughly 20 minutes with the owners.

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He stopped countless times to shake hands and take pictures with any fan that asked.

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Mr. McCaskey and his family are the most down to earth, hospitable and just down right nice people you will ever meet. As was the entire Bear organization. Then of course we get down on the field and start shooting the game and after about five minutes up walks Mike Olivella and we start talking. He gives me a few tips and we all start shooting. At halftime we were invited back up to the McCaskey’s box for a feast of a lunch and then back to the field for the second half. It was truly a magical weekend that I will never forget.

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Scott has remained in contact with me from time to time and I was floored when he asked for my advice on shooting soccer. I told him the restrictions he was shooting under were very limiting but I told him how I would approach the game and gave him the one real tip I have and use. I usually go into the auto focus menu of my D300 and lower the focus points to 21 and sometime even 9 when the action gets faster. It seems to help the auto-focus track faster and just makes crisper images overall. I also set the AFS-C setting to release but I think those are very well known tips.

I tried to give him the locations that I stand in to get shots of both field players and the goalkeepers. My son even told me to tell him a few players to watch and two of the four he mentioned actually scored the 2 goals for the U.S. Team. So at least one of us knew our stuff! To shoot any sport well you really have to know the sport pretty well and the more you shoot the better you will get.

Since I have discovered photography I have always felt challenged to make better pictures. It is the one thing in life that I have found you can constantly learn more about. You can always get better at making pictures. It’s that knowledge that I can always get better that makes me want to learn everything I can about photography.

I also love history, and photography is a way of freezing a millisecond of history that I can enjoy as long as I live. It’s why I wanted to make those pictures of my son the best that I could make them. So I could always enjoy that moment.

I want to thank Scott, Brad, and Kathy Siler from the Kelby group for everything they have done for me. I want to thank Mike Olivella for all the tips and tricks and fellowship at the game as well as for being a stand up guy during all the drama of the contest. And I want to thank Scott Bourne of photofocus.com for sending me the wonderful gifts he sent me during that same drama. I want to thank Mr. Mike McCaskey, his family and the entire Bear’s organization for allowing me the chance to shoot the game at historic Soldier Field. I also want to thank each and every person who made comments of congratulations and support after the contest.

I also want to thank my wife, Leisa for sitting by herself at a lot of soccer games and for allowing me to pursue my photography addiction. I promised her I would look into to rehab for my problem!

And last and most especially I want to thank my son for being the subject of some of my best photography work. He is an amazing young man who is not only an All-District , All-Region Goalkeeper , but also #1 in his class in his high school. He works so hard and puts 100% effort into everything he does both on the athletic field and in the classroom. I am honored every time someone comes up to me and asks me “Are you Austin’s dad?” He is graduating high school in a few months and moving on to college. I wish that like my camera I could freeze history, but I know I can’t. It’s just the beginning of another chapter of my photographic journey.

About The Author

131 Comments

  1. All’s well that ends well. It sounds like there is no one more deserving of the grand prize– a humble family man who’s turned into an awesome sports photographer who enjoyed the trip of a lifetime. Mr. Walker, you’re living the dream and taking the path that thousands of us out here are aspiring to. Most of us still haven’t quite gotten to the 70-200/2.8 part of our dream yet :) , but at least we could live a little vicariously through you.
    Congratulations on your wonderful adventure!

    • Thanks Greg , and I had to save a lot of pennies to get that 70-200mm but I had a vision of the type of pictures I wanted so it was well worth it! Thanks again!

  2. Great story and blog, Alex! You were cetainly deserving of winning the contest and I’m glad everything worked out after all the turmoil. Your son sounds like an amazing kid, I’m sure you must be very proud of him. Sounds like he’s on a path to having a very fulfilling life.

    Congrats!
    Charlie

    • Thanks Charlie , He really is an amazing kid and he seems to do something every year that out does the previous year so if he keeps that up he will have an incredible life. He has accomplished more in his 18 years than I have in my almost 48. But that’s what makes me the proudest Dad in the world.

  3. Sir,
    Your blog is very touching. I’m sure it will strike a chord with every parent out there. Only that we all get trigger happy and think that all the 970 pictures that we took when our child walked from the bed to the dresser all by herself deserves to be a wall poster! Very few use this opportunity to transform oneself from a parent with a camera to a true blue photographer.
    Thank you for showing that we can do it too. We believe now!

  4. I needed that article..as a Dad shooter it helps me know I can get better with time and effort.

    Thanks Alex

  5. Just wait until the crybabies at sportsshooter.com catch wind of this.

    • Bosco , I actually thank those guys everyday. And honestly I see their point to a degree. It’s hard making a living doing what they do and I’m sure we’ve all defended or turf from time to time. But at the same time I was never under the illusion that I would break into the business when I entered the contest. Either way , they did me a huge favor and I bear no anger or ill feelings nor did I ever. There’s already enough negativity in the world!

  6. Alex,

    I’ve been following Scott’s blog for a long time and your post is one of the best I’ve read. I am really moved by your story. I’m not a parent and I don’t shoot sports, but your experience resonates with me nonetheless. We all started taking pictures for one reason or another, and we each take our own journey towards making better pictures. But however different our journeys, we are kindred spirits in our pursuit of capturing moments of our lives in images that convey the power of the experience. Thank you for sharing your story.

  7. Alex, thanks so much for the awesome story, but more so, for the awesome example! It is truly great to see that your love for your son has lead to the development of such great talent. Thanks again!

  8. Wonderful post Alex. Thanks for sharing your story. I also have spent a lot of time photographing my son in baseball and track. These are some of my favorite photographs and have so many memories attached to them. It was wonderful to see how your photography skills have developed over time. I am so glad you were able to photograph the Bear’s game after the FSU game fell through.

  9. When I first read Scott’s origional post I was amazed how the other photographer’s responded. I really enjoyed reading Alex’s post and how the story turned out, it’s inspiring.

    I have a son that races small sailboats and I chuckled at Alex’s comments as his knowledge and skill grew as I had similar experiences while learning to photograph small sailboats racing.

    • Thanks Tom! Great last name by the way ..:) And I grew up on Bugg’s Island Lake near Clarksville,Va so I have always loved the water and sailboats. I would love to shoot some racing.

  10. Some points to remember in life whenever I become a father :)
    Thanks for the post and tech information as well.

  11. Thanks for a down-to-earth story that will inspire us beginning photographers.

  12. As others have said, an inspiring read. I particularly liked the personal photographic history, from those “ordinary” shots through to those “extra-ordinary” high quality images. Thanks for sharing.

  13. Excellent story. The winning pictures of your son is great. You don’t need pro athletes to get great images. very motivating post for all of us amateur photographers. Thanks Alex (you made me even more happier about the 70-200 2.8 I should receive on saturday …)

    • Thanks Xavier! That lens will never disappoint you! I use it for everything from sports to taking prom pictures. I love it and so will you, I know Saturday can’t get here soon enough for you!

  14. Great inspirational post Alex! It is very cool to see how your photography evolved. Your son is lucky to have such a proud dad taking these great pictures of him.

  15. Alex –

    As a fellow family sports shooter, I share your enthusiasm, pain, growth and now development into a full fledged sports photographer. You are most humble to say the least. It is a wonderful tribute to your abilities in self-education, to see the progressive quality of your images over the years and the development of your son at the same time.

    This is something that you will be able to cherish for years to come and no one can trivialize or take this a way from you.

    Your blog is outstanding. You have come full circle. Well done!

  16. Alex

    What a great post. Your story is similar to my own. Scott’s books have opened a new passion in me to make the best images I can. It’s wonderful to see that good guys really do finish first. This is the only blog that I read every day and it is because of Scott’s passion for excellence. Congratulations on your win and continued success with your photography.

    You should be very proud of the accomplishment of being a great Dad as well. Sounds like you have a fine young man to show for your efforts. Continued success in documenting his college career.

    Best Regards,
    Dave

  17. Alex, What a story! Win contest takin shots of your son then guest blogger on SK’s blog, now that will put you on top of the world. You know we see all these guys with these big bucks and shotting everywhere on earth and it’s great Scott has one of the down to earth “regular” guys on his blog. Keep on truckin :) . Have a blessed day.

  18. Wow! What a wonderful story. I can relate to 100% of this.
    Thanks for sharing!
    Alan

  19. Great post Alex. And to Scott that was an inspired idea to have Alex do the guest blog. I fully expect this one will get something like the number of comments that the Zack Arias video did.

  20. Alex, your blog post and the privilege of calling you a friend make everything we went through beyond worthwhile. You may think you learned a few things from me when we finally got to meet on the sidelines, but what I learned from you makes everything else insignificant in comparison. You taught me what it’s like to triumph with humility; you showed thousands of people what it’s like to face disappointment with class; and even though you had every right to vent anger towards me for not being able to deliver what was promised, your heartfelt compassion for my situation made the sun break through some dark days. Your story is exactly the reason I approached Scott about staging the contest and despite the bumps in the roadwe had to travel, I’d do it all over again. U de man.

    • Thanks Mike! You honor me with your words! I can only attempt to live up to them everyday! You taught me much more than those tips on the sidelines. You taught me what’s it like to stand up and admit a silly,simple mistake and to keep standing against over-whelming negativity! I am one of the few people who know the things you had to deal with and had to endure. I am honored to call you a friend and a mentor! As I have told you before if you ever need a strong back , weak mind type to carry your gear…….You call , I haul! Thanks again for everything!

  21. Great post! Thanks so much for sharing your story and photos. It’s great to see how quickly your shooting has evolved–giving me hope that my shots will get better and better as well. And your comment about capturing moments in time is exactly how I feel each time I click the shutter. You’ve captured some wonderful moments for your family.

  22. As a father of a former high school athlete I know the joy it brings being able to photograph your son doing something he loves. In my case it was high school football and I was fortunate enough to photograph my son for his Junior and Senior seasons from the sidelines. It was quite a rush. Best of luck to you and your son, Alex. Your dedication to photography has really paid off.

  23. Alex, It is refreshing to see some imperfect pictures and inspiring to learn the story of how you came to make better ones. Thank you for being willing to share that. I couldn’t stop reading this post. It is truly outstanding because it is so real.

  24. I love how the pictures match the narrative. Most people might not have posted the, um…”less than professional” images. But it truly shows how much you’ve grown. The first couple of pictures are not that great. The next couple are better and the following set are better still. But I thought to myself, “that’s still not SI quality”. And then I saw the pics from the Bears game and thought, “he did it! That’s SI stuff, right there!”. Great picture-story! It shows your progression and inspires others.

  25. Great work Alex, it tells the same story that most of us want to happen to us, Try, fail, Try harder, Fail, Try even harder, SCORE!

    Maybe Scott would be nice enough to send you to South Africa in June to be a official correspondent for the World Cup!

    • Thanks Ryan! I am really big on the try/fail method, the failing part always motivates me to do better. And Dude my son has had World Cup fever since about January! He jokingly told us that’s what he wanted for his graduation present! The boy EATS,SLEEPS,LIVES soccer!

  26. Alex thank you for a fantastic post; very honest and very humbling and of course accompanied by some stunning imagery.

    Good on you and without question the recognition you’re receiving is well and truly deserved!

    Best wishes to you,
    Glyn

  27. Alex,

    What an amazing story and the repsonse of comments from the readers explain not only that you are an amazing photographer, but also a wonderful writer to boot. I thoroughly enjoyed your story and photos. You are an amazing person and it reflects in your work and in how you tell your story. Maybe Scott will give you the opportunity to do some more blogging, we all sure enjoyed this one. Keep up the outstanding progress, seems like to me you have perfected it.

  28. Great post. I have many great memories and pictures from my kids tennis and soccer. The low light of soccer really makes you learn how to take pictures! I re-read Scott’s book many times too. I am getting ready to take soccer pictures of my two younger ones now. I have fun making slideshows for the team at the end of the season. I don’t have the 70-200 2.8, but I do own the Canon 70-200 F4. I want to know your best spot for taking pictures tip!

  29. What an awesome job, Alex:

    I think this story resonates with everyone: parents, photographers, sports fans. At the end of the day, the coolest part about what you’re doing and why you’re doing is for the clear love of it. For the love of your son, for the love of photography…

    A lot of people can learn a lot from you… congrats for that!

    RC

    • Thanks RC! I am honored and humbled by your compliments! Your shot of your wife in her ballet shoes and your daughter is one of the greatest pictures I have ever seen! Thanks!

  30. Alex, that was a great blog post! I shoot a bit of everything, but the most fun is to shoot my sons’ baseball and football games. It just means so much more to capture that. Then I find myself shooting the other kids because I want their parents to have some good photos to cherish, too. It’s a good way to meet and get to know people, too, when I show them the results. So glad you had the opportunity to do all you wrote about and shared it with us!

    • Thanks Jeff! I do the same thing, just another reason to improve my skills, seeing the smiles on another parents face when you give them a great shot of their child! Keep up the great work!

  31. Thanks so much for this post. I am in exactly (well, almost) the same place you were when you started. My son is in middle school, playing for the town’s travel team, and I’m trying to figure out how best to capture the action shots with my D60. There are a few decent ones, hopefully there will be more now!!

  32. I was a fanatical soccer player, like your son, and have very few pictures (none of them any good) to remember those days. I now have a 2 1/2 year old daughter who gets more photographic coverage than Brittney Spears. I can totally relate to your story! What I really love is how much time and money you were willing to invest in documenting your son’s life on top of what I know from experience is a very expensive sport (countless pairs of shoes, gloves, bags, jerseys and warm up suits, tournament trips, etc.)! My Dad loves to tell how he thought soccer would be great because you only need one ball for a whole team… imagine his surprise when I brought home my first Eurosport soccer catalog and pointed to a pair of Adidas World Cup shoes at about $150!
    It’s great to see the love you have for your son and how your hard work is paying off!

    • Thanks Rob! And yeah especially with my son being a goal keeper. We usually spend about $500-600 per season with gloves and cleats and jerseys. He goes through 2-3 pairs of gloves per season! And that is the way to treat your daughter, if she plays soccer……make her a forward…..:)

  33. Great Blog Post… Its fun being a parent who is pretending to be a professional photographer. Its good to know I am not the only person who trys to figure it out first and reads the instructions later. LOL

    Congratulations to you for raising a fine son and for being able to document it along the way.

  34. Your post rocked!!! Congradulations. I too got into photography for my kids (now 4 and 5 1/2). It has led to all kinds of things such as basement studio portraits for all our friends. Now my oldest going on 6 and sports are right around the corner.

    My wife would like to know if you find any rehab that works for that photography addiction… :-) We may be incurable, but we’ve got awesome shots of our kids.

    Best of luck with your continued success.
    Brian

  35. Very cool post! Love the fact that Scott asked you to guest blog, and what I like most about this post is seeing your progression advance. There are tons of folks who are in to photography for fun and its cool to see someone striving for the best shots they can make.

    Kudos to you and your son, looks like you’re going to have quite the collection of photography for him when he’s older. AND, kudos to Scott for giving you the ‘guest blog’ spot… one of my favorites so far!

  36. That was a great article!! Having get a great chance to be apart of something as sweet can be life changing!! Congrats!!

  37. Absolutely fantastic article. Just the fact that you started in photography so late gives me hope that I, too, can start shooting better, even if my stuff is just for fun. My son is only a year and a half, but we’re still struggling to get good action shots of him (or any shots), even though he’s not yet in any sort of real sport. I’m going to go back and re-read the Scott Kelby books, and just mess around and try things. Thanks Alex for the inspiration.

  38. Great post, Alex. Your photographic journey is quite inspiring. Good luck and thanks for sharing such a great story. I’m sure SI will come calling soon enough.

  39. Great story Alex… What I think I liked most about the post was the honest story of your trek. I really connected with the last part of being a proud dad.

    Thanks for sharing your story…

    Thanks Scott for allowing Alex to share his story. I think you should do this more often. It’s great to hear from those who have made it in the big time, but it’s also nice to hear from people like Alex.

    Matt

  40. Now that’s what it’s all about! Best blog post..loved it and I am so frickin’ jealous of Alex for the opportunity to shoot with that Kelby fella..:)

    Dave Kallaway

  41. Thank you for sharing some high (and low) points of your photographic journey. It is a wonderful read and story, Alex.

    Congratulations on your successes and best wishes for fun, adventure, and growth in the future.

  42. Alex – your story has inspired me and touched a soft spot in my heart. I have a 4 yr old and a 3 yr old. Long story short I’m following in your footsteps… Thanks again for sharing and continued good fortunes for you and your family.

  43. Hi Alex:

    Wonderful guest blog! This is the first time I’ve left a comment for a guest blogger. I really enjoyed hearing how much your son means to you and how it has lead you to become a wonderful/passionate photographer. Like you, what I enjoy about photography is that you can always learn more and it’s the journey of learning that’s one of the best aspects of photography. Your photos show how far you have come and what a wonderful journey it has been (with so much more to come).

    Best wishes to you and your family.

    ps: I think you are the only person to reply to every single comment. Just another example that shows what a kind and considerate person you are.

    • Thanks Jamie! I always enjoy learning though sometimes I don;t like being taught….:) And I am so humbled by all the comments I feel like I owe each and every one of you a personal thanks.

  44. Alex,
    Great job writing the blog. What an honor to be with Alex and Mike. I am also a proud dad shooting my sons athletic. I have learned a lot from Scott and Mike like you mentioned. It is amazing how much they are willing to share. I also took the same path as you eventually saving enough to buy the 70-200 f2.8 lens and the D300 camera. What a great combination.
    Happy shooting, Greg.

    • Thanks Greg! Thy are both wonderful guys and I am proud to call them friends. They are so willing to help and I wish each of you had the chance to meet them like I did. Love your choice of gear!

  45. Alex,

    Great post, great pictures, and a great story.

    After taking and developing my own pictures back in the film days, I bought my first digital camera (the one I could afford) 2 weeks before my child was born eight years ago. My wife just thought I had purchased another gadget to play around with.

    But after taking pictures at the birth (nothing too yucky) and being able show family and friends a slide show on the back of the camera and printing a picture of our 10 minute old daughter and posting it on the door to the hospital room, she was glad I bought it.

    We now have a wonderful record of her growth and activities and it is a lot of fun to browse through those old pictures.

    I was particularly happy to see the picture of your feet looking down from the Skydeck. I have been taking pictures of my feet as we travel just to prove that I was there since I am in so few photos.

    There are many of us traveling the same path as you – learning and growing through photographing our child(ren).

    Good luck on the rest of your journey and thanks for sharing.

    (And I think you are the first person on this blog who has replied to EVERY comment!)

    • Thanks Clay! I’ve kinda always had a camera but was never really “into” photography until digital. I wish every day that I had been more interested and learned more much earlier in my life. Best wishes on your journey too , it sounds as if I may be 10 years ahead of you so we have been down the same path!

  46. Wow Alex, Thanks for the post. The photos of your son are awesome. It sounds like your wife could sit with mine while we are out shooting. If we could only find a way of combining Soccer with Baseball. I completely identified with your story of progressing from the point and shoot to the Canon 30D w/ a 70-200L mm IS lens. I am know trying to figure out how to go longer with the lens and move to the Canon 1D Mark IV camera. I think I may see you in rehab soon.
    It was great to see everyone rally around you and help to make the contest into the success it turned out to be.

    Congratulations and best wishes.
    Greg

    • Thanks Greg! I would love to have enough money to invest in both Nikon and Canon but alas my son will be attending The University of Virginia School of Architecture next year so I think any new camera investments will be on hold for awhile…..:) Tell your wife to sneak us a meal in rehab…..lol.

  47. Alex – As I finished reading your guest blog, I thought you nailed it on so many levels! I enjoyed reading your personal growth in learning the art of photography. I have known others who started out with the “Best” equipment and could have done better with a point and shoot camera. You wanted to learn to do better and you did. You kept trying. Your story also touched me as a Dad too. I have a son and a daughter. I’m proud of both of them and what they have done over the years. They are finishing up with college and I can relate to all that you are dealing with. I was glad to hear that things worked out for the contest from last year. I was hoping at the time that something special would happen for you and it did. As a photographer and Dad, well done! Enjoy!
    Larry

  48. Thanks Alex, you were a deserving winner. There’s no better photographic subject than your kids. Mine are just starting their journey (3 and 1), but I look forward to many future sporting events.

    Just curious if you (or anyone else reading this) ever ran into autofocus troubles with your 70-200mm VR? I bought mine way back in 2002 (before kids, when there was actually a little spending money lying around) and the autofocus troubles have reached a point where it fails constantly and is basically unusable. Not a matter of cleaning the contacts, done that. From what I’ve read lots of folks who bought this lens during that time have had this problem, but I believe the defect has long since been corrected. Unfortunately, I find myself remembering how awesome this lens was, but not actually being able to use it. I guess I’m about to suck it up and send it back to Nikon and hope they don’t charge and arm and a leg for repair.

    Oops, didn’t mean to go off on a tangent. Really just wanted to say congrats Alex! Great post, great pics.

    Greg

    • Thanks Greg! Actually I mounted my 70-200 the other day and it wouldn’t auto focus at all! I almost dropped dead , but I took it off remounted and and it has been fine since. I am praying it was just an anomaly and won’t happen again. I hope you kids do well and you get some great shots in whatever sport they decide to pursue!

      • Hey Alex,

        Hopefully that was an anomaly for you, but that is sort of how it started for me. The lens seemed to autofocus fine for the first few year or two then the autofocus started failing periodically. If I took the lens on and off a few times I could usually get it to work again, but this was a pain. First, I thought it was dirty contacts, but no. Then I thought it was a battery issue but no (I’ve tried it with my D300 with the battery grip). It’s reached a point where the lens is totally unreliable. I will occasionally shoot a wedding and this used to be my favorite lens, but now I have to leave it in the bag b/c I can’t risk not getting the shot. I’ve researched the problem a fair amount and found countless forums where folks have had the same problem and it appears to be some sort of lens defect. Not a problem on the new 70-200 model I hear, but I’m certainly not in the position to shell out that kind of cash. So I guess my only option left is sending it back to Nikon and hope they don’t give me a HUGE repair estimate.

        I SINCERELY hope you don’t run into similar problems, with this lens, but it is something to watch out for. I actually borrows a friends 70-200VR lens at one point and it started doing the exact same thing.

  49. As I told you earlier, best guest post I’ve read…and maybe even best post…sorry Scott! I’m continually amazed by both your dedication and accomplishments (and maybe a tad jealous). I’m proud to be a fellow photographer and friend and to play on the same soccer team as your son. See you at our game this Friday. Haha ;)

  50. Mr. Walker’s photography is, by far, some of the best I’ve seen. He is very meticulous and does all he can to get the “perfect shot”. His sports pictures truly capture that moment we’d all like to freeze and remember! Not only does Mr. Walker take incredible sports pictures, but his other pictures are amazing as well. I feel blessed and honored to know this man, call him a friend, and have him as my wedding photographer in 2 1/2 months!

    • Thanks Heather! What a great nickname you picked for yourself! I am so nervous about doing my 1st wedding because you are the daughter I never had and I really don’t want to mess them up! Thanks again Loud Mouth!

  51. Thanks so much for sharing your comments. I’ve never responded to a blog before, but your story resonates. What struck me the most is the obvious love and respect you have for your son. It’s inspiring. Anyway, about shooting, I’m still learning. I have a friend at work who has been teaching me and I’ve been struck by how willing to help many people in the photographic community are. Lots of nice folks. My wife just told me she’s interested in learning to shoot so we can enjoy the photographic journey together. By the way, I’m shooting a wedding for the first time in June and I feel like I used to feel before a baseball game: stomach in knots but excited. Thanks again and best wishes to you and your family!

  52. I have progressed through my photography the same as you, Alex. In fact, it is so much alike I thought you were writing my bio for a moment! Thanks for sharing. It gives hope to the rest of us out there that like to “try first, read directions later!” :)

  53. Hey Alex. AWESOME! There are some truly great shots in there of Austin and I know how proud you are of him. Congratulations on this achievement. I really enjoyed reading your blog. It seems I am starting the same type of journey with my son, so I may be calling for photography tips. Enjoy the next part of your journey.

  54. This is a great article I stumbled on at the right time. My four year old started soccer a few weeks back, and I have been shooting some of the games and practices. Fortunately I am starting in the same place as you on equipment (D300 + 70-200) , but shooting sports is still a whole new world to me. I am mostly used to statics : natures, cars, and people. While my aviation photography does follow some similar principles, I still find sports a brave new world. I appreciate the hints and suggestions, as each week I am learning more and more. Congratulations on your great work, and best of luck for you and your family in the future.

  55. Mr. Walker,

    I’m proud of you! I see the transformation from the beginning up until now, Just remember tighter is always better when shooting sports. Good job and keep shooting!

    Saquan

    • Sorry, one more thing Shooting in Raw will save you, Two or three years down the line you may have to go though your images, and you will come across some images that you have missed. you’ll be able to edit them without destroying your Jpeg files.

      • Thanks Saquan! I shoot everything but sports in RAW because it really slows the D300 down. I just got a Mac and Lightroom 2 so hopefully I will be good!

  56. Just like the other 100 or so people, I thought this post was quite excellent. I do not think it can be overstated that we all started this passion at the same place — not understanding why the picture we took is not what we want and then going through the process of learning how to make it what we want it to be. It is so refreshing to read someone’s reflection on a process that we are all going through with our own photography. Very inspirational and motivating. Congrats on your winning picture and the great improvement of your art.

  57. I just started photographing my daughter’s cheer competitions. Any suggestions on cheer comps? I shoot with a Nikon D80 and a 70-200 f2.8. I’m waiting to upgrade my camera until the new models are released soon. Also, do you use a ballhead on your monopod? If so, what ballhead do you suggest?

    • Chrashawn I have never done any cheerleading shoots but I would shoot everything as wide open as possible when you are trying isolate your daughter and maybe close it down a bit if you are going for group shots. The D80 is a great camera and honestly I wish I still had mine as a 2nd body/backup but I sold it to raise some cash for the D300. I use just a regular Manfrotto 234 Tilt head on my monopod and usually have a Black Rapid camera strap looped around my shoulder for a little extra support. Thanks for the questions , hope I helped

  58. I got into sports shooting pretty much the same way, only mine was with my daughter playing basketball. Point & shoots didn’t work so I got a Nikon D50 and a 50mm 1.8. That eventually led to pretty much the same equipment as you, D300 w/battery grip, 80-200 f/2.8 for outside stuff and some fast primes for indoors. My daughter completed her high school athletic career this past weekend by running in the state track meet. While I will continue to cover sports for her high school I have an empty feeling now that my own kid won’t be taking the field of competition. Anyway, thanks for your article and that is a great shot.

    • Thanks Alex! And I have the same feeling already even though his final game is probably 3 weeks away. I honestly have no idea what I will occupy my time with.

  59. Great article,. I really enjoyed it. I think of photography the same way, by the way — a way to freeze a tiny moment and keep it forever.

  60. Great post, Alex – congrats on the win and those awesome shots! Now I definitely have to scrape together the cash for a 70-200 lens :-)

  61. Alex, do you happen to have a website or a flickr stream where we can find more of your photos?

  62. Awesome post and awesome story. Keep shooting.

  63. What an awesome story from both Scott, and Alex.  I was not following Scott’s blog when this contest (or the backlash) took place back in 2009, however I’m disheartened by the reaction of the many selfish people who at one time in their lives needed that “first break” opportunity and where would they all be had it never happened ???  To everyone that stepped up on this story, hats off to all of you.  I’m an amateur (but very passionate) travel, landscape and wildlife photographer who only occasionally shoots sports – big hockey fan, but what Canadian isn’t !!!  Inspirational…so thanks for sharing this again Scott after all this time.

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