You miss more than you hit

In baseball, a batting average of over .300 is considered pretty good. What’s it mean? It means that, seven times out of every ten chances, you failed. And that’s if you’re good.

Now, consider that baseball is pretty easy, compared to photography. After all, in baseball, you know when you’re at bat, and you know when the pitch is coming. As a photographer, I have no idea when I’m going to see my next photograph. This is true not just now as I sit at my computer and write, but it’s true even when I’m working, even when I have the camera to my eye and I’m “at bat,” so to speak, and ready to swing. I can miss photos because I don’t have a camera, and I can miss photos because I clicked the shutter half a second too soon or too late. Taking candids of my nephew yesterday after Easter dinner, I missed a number of shots that I think would have been good, because Matthew is a year and a half old, constantly on the move, and not generally willing to hold a cute expression long enough for me to focus and react. I was shooting with flash, and I had to wait a second or two between shots for my batteries to recycle. Them’s the breaks.

Who shot Oswald?

This truth—you miss more than you hit—applies even to famous photographers, perhaps especially to famous photographers. I’m reminded of it today by a post today at Mike Johnson’s The Online Photographer blog. The post is actually a link to an article by Michael Granberry at the Dallas News. The article was written in 2004, but Mike Johnston thought of it today and decided to repost it. I recommend you read Granberry’s article, and visit The Online Photographer, too, because Mike Johnston posts the photos.

Here’s the gist. In November, 1963, on the day that President Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was being transferred from one jail to another, ace photographers for Dallas’s two daily newspapers were on the scene, expecting a routine photo-op. Both of them took dramatic photos of a totally unexpected event: the fatal shooting of Oswald by Dallas weirdo Jack Ruby. Here are the two photos; click for a link to the source page, where you can see the photos enlarged.

Beers’ photo on the left, Jackson’s, on the right

On the left is Jack Beers’ great photo. Beers was the photographer for the Dallas Morning News, and as Oswald was escorted into the garage, Beers was better positioned than his rival from the Dallas Times Herald, Bob Jackson. Beers saw Ruby running forward earlier and reacted faster. In so doing, he got a great shot, showing Ruby with his pistol aimed right at Oswald’s heart, in the very act of pulling the trigger. But Jackson, who was slower to react, got an even greater shot, showing Oswald’s reaction as he is hit by the bullet, as well as the sheriff’s surprise at the shooting. Jackson’s photo (on the right above) won the Pulitzer Prize that year. If Jackson’s photo hadn’t been taken, Beers surely would have won instead.

Them’s the breaks.

I was aware of both photos but I had never read this back story and I’m grateful to Mike Johnston for bringing it to my attention. I urge you to read Granberry’s entire account over at, for more about the human angle, in particular.

The moral

The moral of the story is obvious but important. No matter how good you are, or how hard you try, you are going to miss many, many more photographs than you ever take.

I carry a camera with me almost everywhere I go. Yet I miss good photos constantly.

Sometimes I strike out swinging, that is, sometimes I have the camera to my eye and I’m looking in the right direction, but I click the shutter a split-second too early or too late, or even more painfully, I click the shutter at the right instant but the flash didn’t fire, or the shot was focused incorrectly. It happens.

But often, I strike out looking, that is, I don’t have a camera with me, or I just can’t raise it to my eye fast enough. Last fall, while on a bike ride by the lake with my wife, I saw one of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve ever seen. Uncharacteristically I did not have a camera with me, and there was nothing I could do but stop and admire the remaining couple minutes of the sunset. Another miss that sticks in my mind, is the photo I did not take of a mountain lion crossing the road directly in front of my car. This happened a couple of years ago, at the top of Rocky Mountain National Park. My camera was in my lap, but I was too dumb-struck to grab it and shoot. My wife was with me and saw the mountain lion, too, so I know I didn’t imagine it. Apparently we interrupted the mountain lion an instant after it had attacked an elk; we saw the cow elk, agitated and bloodied on the shoulder, running down the road as we continued on our way. We reported the sighting of both animals when we got to a ranger station. The ranger we spoke to had worked in the park for twenty years and never yet seen a mountain lion.

Fortunately, I forget most of my misses pretty quickly and don’t lose sleep about them. You have to learn to live with it.


One comment on “You miss more than you hit

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