Why Photography is Like Bowling

Bowling Alley

Bowling Alley, University of Texas – Austin, Texas

“That’s a great picture, what camera did you use?” How many times have you heard something like that before? I realize it’s meant to be a compliment, but I can’t help but interpret that statement in another way. To me they are saying, “Wow that is a great picture, it must be a special camera that created such great image”, implying that any skill the photographer has was not a factor in the making of the photograph. Some people are in that constant search for the magical camera or special lens. They come up and ask “Which camera should I buy?” This is not going to be a post about equipment vs. vision — that’s an interesting topic that I will leave for another post. Suffice it to say that I am in the camp that believes that equipment does make a difference, it’s not purely a vision thing. However, I can’t help but wonder how often cooks hear a question like “Wow that was an awesome meal, what cookware did you use?” “Don’t you think the Le Creuset is so much better than the Calphalon or the All Clad?” Does the painter get asked what kind of brush they used to create that painting? My guess is that cooks and painters don’t get asked those questions, at least by the lay person. If you have evidence to the contrary please post a comment. I don’t take the possibly backhanded compliment, personally anymore. I’m too used to people asking the same questions. So why do photographers get such inquires about their equipment when other creatives don’t? As I pondered this question, it struck me about the similarities of photography and bowling. What am I talking about? Read on and I will try to explain.

There is no doubt that there is an element of luck to photography. I’m not talking about the expert photographer catching a lucky shot, which I know does happen from time to time. I’m referring to the luck that a complete novice picture taker has if they happen to capture a great photograph. They may not know anything about photography or the camera but they happen to take a picture that turns out to be great. They may not know why it’s great or be able to recreate that image again but they were lucky and they got the shot. I believe this element of luck makes people think that taking more great pictures is easy. After all, you can’t create a painting by pure luck or randomly chisel at a block of marble and get a statue. Those art disciplines take years of devoted practice, right? Photography, that’s easy since I was able to take a great picture even without any practice. If my theory is correct, I think people believe, “Since it’s not really that hard to make a great photograph, all you need is an expensive, fancy camera to make excellent photographs all the time”.

Bowling is one of those casual sports for some that also has an element of luck. Most people, I believe, don’t take bowling seriously as a sport. It’s something kids do during a birthday party or a bunch of adults do to have a fun night — bowling and some beers. People might think “Bowling can’t possibly be difficult and be a serious sport since the first time I played, I got a strike”. Heck, that 6-year-old at the birthday party even got a strike. I must admit, at one time, I was also guilty of thinking this way. When I was a teenager, I didn’t play any sports seriously. The occasional baseball or touch football in the neighborhood as well as a little tennis with the family. When I got to high school, my friend Frank and I wanted to find a sport in which we could get a letter. I don’t know if they still do this in high school but it was a big deal to have your school letter on your jacket back then. It meant that you were on a team. We figured, how hard could bowing be? We could get on the team, get the letter and it would be easy. So freshman year, we went to the bowling team orientation meeting. We were shocked when the coach said to not even bother trying out unless you had at least a 140 – 150 average. At that time, I was lucky to get a 140 on a single game. The prospect of getting a 140 average seems daunting. Frank and I became fast friends and we joined a weekly bowling league. By the senior year we were ready for the tryout. We both got on the team and If I remember correctly, we both had about an average of 160 or so.

I think what people tend to underestimate the difficulty of consistent performance. Just because you get a lucky photograph once in a while or get a few strikes, it does not make you a great photographer or a great bowler. It also does not mean photography or bowling is easy. A professional photographer or dedicated amateur can make great photographs consistently. A varsity bowling team member or a professional bowler can consistently get strikes or spares. It takes dedication to excel in both activities. The lucky accident makes people underestimate and potentially look down on that activity. Some think “Photography is not a real art like painting or sculpture” or “bowling is not a real sport”. This, I think is a mistake. My dedication to Bowling ended when I graduated high school. I ended on a high note, though. One of the last games I played, I was in a county-wide tournament and I scored my highest game ever, somewhere around 230. The few times I’ve played afterwards, my skill level was never the same and my score has fallen back to the regular, casual player range. Now, my passion has shifted to photography. I don’t claim to be a great photographer but I am increasingly able to create images that I pre-visualize before taking the shot. Situations that used to be challenging to capture have become easier with much practice. I know that I still have a lot to learn and master but I will continue to hone my craft. And someday when someone compliments my photograph and makes an equipment inquiry, I may simple respond, “Yes, it’s all due to the camera.”

10 thoughts on “Why Photography is Like Bowling

  1. Nice post Andy and you are right! Of course, I suck at bowling though so I never get a good score there. I guess I spend too much time with my camera! Jim

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