What do you do when an opportunity, unlike any other, appears in front of you? Are you someone who jumps at it without really worrying about failing or are you someone who hesitates, internalizes, and ultimately turns their back to it. Less than three weeks ago the Co-Founders of MyStrengthBook, an upcoming powerlifting metric tracking software, reached out to me and asked if I wanted to be the photographer at something really special. Powerlifters, from around North America, were being flown in to gather their testimonials on tracking their own powerlifting metrics and train. Training because the IPF Raw/Classic Worlds are less than three months away and these individuals are focused on winning. We aren’t talking about powerlifters like myself. We are talking about the best of the best. Current and past world record holders, world champions, and even a champion of champions. A title reserved for the most elite lifter at an event; better than all of the other lifters at a World Championship.
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” – Anais Nin
“Yes!” didn’t even register in the conscious before flying from your mouth. I was the former with regards to my question above but that hasn’t always been the case. My passion for photography up until this point has been shared with a few individuals who appreciate it, but it hasn’t taken the leap into a professional setting. It so happened that a few those individuals were embarking on their own journey to develop this software and appreciated my work. Two years ago we met through my own random decision to choose powerlifting as something I was interested in. I reached out to Avi and Mike and showed up one day to train and learn. That was it. One single decision two years ago and it’s culminated in friendships, co-workers, and an opportunity to meet individuals that I had only seen in print, online, and streamed live from world class events such as the Arnold’s and the IPF World Championships in 2015.
My opening question applies to everyone. How do you react when these opportunities appear? Derek Siver’s, a music entrepreneur, appeared on Tim Ferriss’ podcast in a December 2015 episode and a week and a half ago I finally got around to listening to it. What did I take a from this?
“It’s either Fuck Ya! or No”
Another ‘click’ moment for me. We go through life with all of these options in front of us; now more than ever an overwhelming number of different forms of distraction available to us. It can become really difficult to decide what we should focus on. Derek Siver’s suggestion is brutally simple. If you have a hundred things in front of you why aren’t you only saying yes to the things that have an expletive before them in your mind. In other words; look at your own list and choose the things, that without even thinking about, you would jump at and know you’d enjoy every minute. Suddenly the list of 100 things dwindles to half a dozen. He goes on to make a very reasonable observation about humans in general. We all say yes to way too many things and end up getting bogged down in mediocre tasks that we don’t always enjoy. 100 things all going on and our finite time gets distributed in miniscule amounts. Half a dozen things and suddenly we get to spend more time doing the things we want to do.
“&%$@ Ya!” I wanted to do this photoshoot. Powerlifting. Photography. Does it get any simpler than that? So what were my takeaways.
Confidence is King
You are going to screw up and that’s ok. Being confident about your own abilities will translate into an overall good product because it spreads through the audience and people feed off it.. I took a lot of photos, with some bad ones thrown in there, but for the most part I was really excited with the final product. Being confident in that type of setting goes along way. You are the <insert whatever your passion is here> and everyone is looking to you as the expert. So I was the photographer. It was important because I was surrounded by the powerlifters in no short of the world class sense of the word. The photos turned out better than I can imagine and I’ll share a few here shortly.
Go With the Flow
When you are amidst athletes that are world calibre who are training for their own professional accomplishments you go with the flow. They need to train because a day off for them is the difference between gold and silver on the platform. The difference between hitting that world record deadlift or not. So you make sure you aren’t in the way and adapt to what is going on around you. These athletes are all in their own flow and it becomes quite easy to move about watching them and adapting as they train. This became critical as training ramped up and they were all working out in different areas. Go with the flow resulted in being attuned to what was going on around me while moving about to capture those great images.
When you are in the moment you need to be present. Take it all in and enjoy it because these types of opportunities may or may not happen again. We often spend too much time looking ahead and it is moments like these we want to look back on later and recall with clarity. During the day I would occasionally just put the camera down and observe the interactions between all of the athletes, the learnings going on and being shared amongst, and just the pure physical strength on display. Having the ability to be present also opens up opportunities throughout the day. My motto with photography has always been to tell a story and being present that day allowed me to sit back and watch for different moments to unfold. Watching how people behave within their own training styles and saving that in the back of my mind for later in my own training. It also allowed me to really focus in on the story that I was observing to hopefully be later captured not only by the photo but also words on a page. I’m going to see all of these athletes again competing and I’ll recall the day and their training styles and effort put in.
Take the Opportunity to Learn
My goal for the day was to capture some great images but also to learn as much as I possibly could. These were top performing powerlifters and clearly had refined their own training to be the very best. I also wanted to learn how I would behave as a photographer and if I’d enjoy it as much as I thought in a professional setting. So what did I learn. I learned that I love this. If you’ve made it past the first yes or no decision and take the next step it becomes easier to figure out whether you love it or more plainly like it. Whether it’s the half dozen things or one of the 100. I loved it. It motivated me to the point where I’m now looking for any and all opportunities to try again. Reaching out to people I’ve never met, making new connections, thinking about different opportunities and how photography may benefit others in this field. Everyone has a story to tell and capturing the photos can be a critical part but it leaves an opening. An opportunity to go deeper and really understand the story by asking questions and writing it down. A photo relays a moment in time, capturing the essence of life in that moment but you don’t see the back story. So perhaps another opportunity awaits. I’ve got a few ideas percolating in the back of my mind to explore that story more.
The End Result
A work in progress. The photos are now in the editing stage. No different than writing we must edit and optimize the photos taking into consideration weaker lighting situations, cropping out unfulfilling components, etc. A teaser of what is to come though:
One of my favorite images of the day. The photo evolved as we were capturing profile shots of Brett Gibbs (seated below) when Kelly Branton passed through the image behind him. Rather than just pass by he took the opportunity to provide a little silent motivation without Brett’s knowledge and the photo turned out great. A super heavyweight screaming with fury at a stoic fellow competitor.
As an 83kg lifter, Brett Gibbs is the powerlifter I most look up too. Current 83kg world champion and holder of several current and past world records he carries with him a passion deeply ingrained in the sport. Listening to him talk about growing up in New Zealand and becoming only the second New Zealand powerlifter to become a World Champion clearly shows that he is carrying a nation on his shoulders. He has goals. Big goals that means nothing less than world championships and world records continuously being broken. I’ll be cheering for him to succeed in Texas this summer.
Kelly Branton, the first Canadian to squat 900lbs, is a large man that carries his strength around with a quiet demeanour. Intensely focused before every lift, he retires to the background to reflect on how the lift went and think about what’s next. His 120+ class is intensely competitive and last year he took 3rd at the World Championships. He is looking at none other than the top spot this year and as a Canadian, and fellow powerlifter I’m cheering for him all the way.
These stories are brief and only convey one photo. A day’s worth of images and stories abound and it became apparently clear to me that I want to know about these people! I want to know what drives them. What keeps them focused day in and day out. Powerlifting is a sport about numbers but more than anything constant, and relentless effort over periods of time that can stretch into decades. Setbacks abound in the form of injuries, life in general, and mental lapses but the drive must still remain for all of these lifters. My own goal is to continue to grow as an athlete while also taking my photography to the next level. I have a few ideas that I hope come to fruition over the next few months. Stay tuned.