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Even in our late 60s we lean on the lessons taught by photo editors Peter B. Hickey at the Rochester, N.Y. newspapers in the 1960s and Larry DeSantis of UPI in New York in the later years.
Each urged photographers under their guidance to expand the opportunities for greatness through experimentation of lenses. Each of those editors could accept temporary failures if they witnessed young photographers asserting themselves in the quest to go beyond the comfort zones of that time.
Those were the days before automatic focus lenses and before 300 2.8f lenses combined with modern and well-lighted arenas. Today's high school gyms are often lit better than the NBA arenas of the 1960s.
And thus, basketball photographers tended to gather near or under the basket, with short lenses, capturing the action as the Celtic's John Havlichek tried to score on Philadelphia's Wilt Chamberlain.
It was Hickey who talked about many photographs having several pictures within a single picture, and he'd crop and re-crop negatives to show by example what he meant.
DeSantis could often be heard saying he didn't want to see another picture of "some guy in his undershorts shooting a layup" or "another second base action for the rest of the season."
Each demanded photographers bring another level of sports action to the playing field of journalism.
With that as support we began to use 300mm f4 lenses at basketball games, pushing the film to 3200 asa when need be to accommodate the lens, lighting and action. In later years we did the same when we went into a financial straight jacket to buy a 600mm f4.
We were told by others that we couldn't use the 600mm to cover football because it would be too hard to follow the action and too hard to focus and too... well you get the idea.
The very first football game we used the 600mm lens we had one sharp picture on a roll of 36... ONE! But we got lucky and it was an excellent photo of Emmitt Smith of the Dallas Cowboys leaping over a fallen lineman... we continued to push our luck, take our chances and learn on the run.
We weren't alone. The APs Greg Smith in Dallas was forcing others to use the longer lenses simply by the images he was producing. The spectacular and near-spectacular images he produced made all those photographers around him better photographers.
If you wanted to be among the best, you had to show up with the proper weapons and know how to use them.
The lessons to be learned are simple. Never stop learning, never stop adapting to the changing world around you and never stop using your brain.
If you want to be the best, don't settle for mediocrity in anything you do, be it photography or anything else.