Jessica Vampola, photographer
This post is about Jessica Aghajani and the how and why that, for the first time, we had *two* photographers at a National IGP Championship.
I normally operate as solo photographer for all events I book. Once Jessica and I started to travel to events together, she started shooting videography of the events and this served as a terrific artistic expression for her as well as a nice complement to the work I do. This year, inbetween the Working Dog Championship and the USA GSD Nationals, we talked about training her to be my second shooter. There were a number of excellent reasons to do this:
1) Jessis has already a proven photographic/videography talent.
2) This pandemic made us aware that we are not invincible and something could happen that would prevent me from being able to shoot a booked event which would be a big disappointment for competitors who look forward to photography of there important occasion. We needed a back up plan.
3) With two photographers, we have the cool opportunity to work multi-angles of key moments like the jump, escape and long bite. 4) Even with the best cameras and an experienced hand, there is the possibility of missed focus. But with two camera positions we could mitigate the chance of a missed shot.
The decisions was made and we contacted Nikon Pro Services for the additional pro bodies we would need to make this happen for the Nationals. They are great partners and lent us two top of the line D6 cameras. We would alternate between my usual selection of lenses: a 400mm f/2.8 prime, a 120-300mm f/2.8 and a 70-200 f2.8 zoom. All lenses mounted on identical Nikon D6 bodies. The two long lenses would be on monopods and both of use equipped with knee pads.
Jessica is a very good photographer, so she already had basics and understanding down. I’m overly analytical (OCD) so when I say she is very good, I mean like better than 99% good. We used the South Central Regionals as a warm up where I shadowed her and provided instruction. She did great and we looked good to go for the Nationals.
There is nothing you can do to prepare for what a photographing a National does to your body and head. It can be grueling. To be honest, it didn’t occur to me to explain this part to her. It looks easy. But the reality is hard to put in words. At the end of day one she had a bruised eyebrow caused by keeping a camera pressed firmly against her eye. Calluses on her hand from throwing a camera monopost around like a baton for 8 hours and sore knees & back from countless lunges required to take optimum perspective for the shots. But what bothered her most was missed shots. Nothing is more frustrating than a missed shot. Let me explain something that may not be obvious to non-photographers. Anyone can nail a shot given time. But at Nationals you don’t have time. You literally run non-stop from phase to phase with no breaks, not even for lunch or bathroom. It’s in sweltering heat and cold rain, often on the same day. Often you only have a second to get the shot. Your body is tired from moving around the field and lunges and your brain if fried from trying to focus on setting/composition/position. Things go wrong and cameras have problems, settings get messed up. You almost ever have the perfect situation. All of this throws you off your game. What carries you is muscle memory and the only way to get that is repetitions. It has to almost become subconscious activity like a default mode of operation and that mode needs to be perfect. The only way to get this is ridiculous amount repetitions. For anyone, but especially someone is like Jess who is good at everything she does, the learning process can be humbling. I know, I remember living through this as I learned, the process was painful.
Adding to the stress was my well intentioned feedback on her captures and constant instructions. Intentions don't matter when you're exhausted and frustrated. This is hard enough for a perfectionist like Jessica, but compounded when the person providing the feedback is your spouse. But true to her form, she toughed it out and got better and better with her captures. Frankly her learning curve was stunning. With a few more events under her belt the ability to work from muscle memory will be ingrained and I am sure she will have mastered yet another talent.
An unanticipated byproduct of this is we have double the photos to go through. That will be a post for another time
As if I needed another reason to love her. But there it is. <3
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