WATCH: A Conversation with Sports Photography Legends Jean Fruth and Darren Carroll

WATCH: A Conversation with Sports Photography Legends Jean Fruth and Darren Carroll

Last week, we sat down with celebrated sports photographers Jean Fruth and Darren Carroll for a moderated discussion and live Q&A about their respective careers.

Jean and Darren walked us through a few of their all-time favorite photos, told stories about mentorship and big-break moments, and got a chance to ask each other burning questions before discussing gear and the value of personal projects.

Watch to learn about: 

  • Special projects throughout Jean and Darren’s careers
  • How these photographers got their start
  • Tips and best practices for organizing a lifetime of photos
  • Invaluable advice from cherished mentors

Cover image by Darren Carroll.

On-Demand Webinar: A Conversation with Sports Photography Legends Jean Fruth and Darren Carroll

All your questions answered

Thank you to everyone for submitting questions during our live Q&A with Jean and Darren! Read through some of their answers below and feel free to tweet any lingering questions to @photoshelter@jeanfruth and @dcarrollphoto.

This Q&A was lightly edited for clarity and length.

What are you two shooting with? There’s a big question about mirrorless versus DSLR these days. Do you mind sharing a little bit about what’s in your kit?

DC: For my action stuff, I am a Sony guy. I made the switch about two years ago. For those of you who are familiar with Sony gear, I carry two A9 II bodies, an A7R IV body, 400mm 2.8, 70-200mm 2.8, 24-70mm 2.8, and a 12-24mm f/4 lens. One of the reasons why I love the Sony system is because it’s adaptable, so I can also bring out an old Canon FD 500mm mirror lens every now and then. Plus, my Leica lenses for my Leica rangefinders will work on the Sonys, so I use those as well.

When I do documentary work, in addition to the Sony stuff, I like to use a Leica M240 with 35mm, 50mm, 75mm, 90mm, and 21mm lenses on that. For film work, which I still do when I can – and a lot of that is more personal stuff nowadays, more than anything else – I have a couple of Leicas. I have an M3, an M6 and I have Linhof 4x5s that I still use when I have the ability to dust them off and shoot some barbecue pit masters or something like that.

JF: Also Sony. Sony A9 II is my go-to camera for most of my work, but also the Sony A7R IV for portraits, stadium shots and landscape shots. That’s a go-to camera for me. Obviously 20 frames per second doesn’t hurt for action, so that’s a big deal. I would think, for Darren, having the silent shooting on Sony is probably huge for you. When you were mentioning golf, I didn’t even think about having to be that quiet.

DC: Actually, it is such an integrated part of what I do now with those cameras that I don’t even think to mention it anymore. When you’re on the golf course, turn the sound off. Done. The only thing I will say is it can get a little crazy when you keep it on 20 frames per second and silent at the same time, because all of a sudden you’ve filled up a 64 gig card and you’re like, “What the hell did I just do?”

JF: Yeah, that makes sense…My kit is very similar to Darren’s as far as the 400mm, 70-200mm, 16-35mm, and the 12-24mm lenses. I have a walk-around 24-105mm, which is really fun if you’re just doing one camera, one lens. Then a few primes. I really like the primes. The 85mm and the 135mm primes make such pretty portraits.

We talk internally at PhotoShelter a lot about photo fails. What’s the best photo that you just missed, and what happened?

JF: I’ve got plenty of them. But I was in the Dominican Republic and it was one of my first trips there. I had someone who was driving me and I was just a little bit shy about asking for what I wanted. I was shooting on the street and then got back in the car. It was a friend of mine driving, a retired scout, but I didn’t know him that well. And also my Spanish is sketchy at best. We walked by these kids who had baseball bats and as we were driving by, one of them had a machete. It was just such a great shot, and I just let it go by and it haunted me. Still haunts me really, because it was just this fabulous moment that he had a machete in his hand.

Of course today, I would absolutely run and go make that picture. But it’s about taking chances and not letting an opportunity go by. But there are mistakes for sure. Everybody has them. 

Goose Gossage gave this great bit of advice at one of our Grassroots Baseball clinics, and he talked about being on the mound and having a crummy night. If you don’t throw that in the garbage, you’re going to go back and have another crummy night.

If you’re shooting a game, or you’re at an event and you have a miss and you sit there and start chirping on the back of your camera, you’re going to miss the next thing. So you gotta let that go. You gotta throw it in the garbage and you got to move on very quickly. Let it go, or else you’re not going to have the opportunity and you’re going to miss the next one.

DC: One that I wish I had back was the PGA championship at Bellerive in St. Louis two years ago. I was shooting for the club, so I didn’t really have any interest in the news value of what was going on. On Sunday, Tiger [Woods] was in the hunt. He was kind of out of it, but he could still make a run when he was on 18. So I decided that the view from the back, looking up to the green with the giant grandstands, was what I should be shooting. It turns out that Tiger drained this putt and just went nuts dead away from me in the opposite direction. I just said, “Well, you know what? This was your job. You got the grandstand and you’ve got Tiger little in the green, and he may be facing away from you and pumping his fist but whatever.”

Then when Brooks Koepka, the eventual champ, came walking down the fairway, I went back around to the other side of the green, which is the direction Tiger was facing when he made that putt. I looked back down the fairway and I saw the giant scoreboard and a couple more grandstands. I was like, “You idiot. This was the shot. Why the hell weren’t you here? You could have gotten all of them.” So that was a big fail there.

What advice would you give to younger photographers who are pursuing personal projects and want to get them out into the world?

DC: Personal projects are often the most rewarding and they will lead to other things. The Charreria project that we showed a picture from earlier didn’t lead to anything in terms of a magazine story, or a book or anything like that. But I now have a comprehensive answer for whenever I send my portfolio to an advertising agency or someplace like that that says, “Show me what you’ve done on your own initiative.” And it’s not just one or two pictures. Jean has a book. I have this body of work that I think looks like it does because it’s all me. It is all personal. You just kind of have to make the time.

Right now we have plenty of time, that’s for sure. I am working on a little personal project now where I’ve just been walking around my neighborhood. I mean, we’re shut down. Gyms aren’t open, yoga studios aren’t open, and everything that people do to stay fit and stay sane in Austin, Texas – which is a pretty fit city, to begin with – is shut down. I’ve been wandering around my neighborhood, finding people jumping rope in their driveways, doing Pilates in their front yard. It’s just the way people keep themselves in shape, it resonates with people. And I have editors who’ve been like, “What have you been up to lately?” I send them this link on my site and they’re like, “Yeah, okay. You’re not just sitting there doing nothing. You’re working. You’re trying to be creative.” So that’s been satisfying the past couple of weeks of craziness. It’s been a good way to keep the creative juices flowing, so to speak.

Find something you like. Find something that interests you and stick with it. That’s probably the best advice I can give. Don’t force it.

What about you, Jean? It sounds like shooting baseball was a personal project to begin with when you were coaching. Can you talk a little bit about that?

JF: Yeah. I think in so many ways, it’s easier than ever to get your work out there with all the social media channels that are available and websites that are so easy to put together. I mean, with the platforms that are available, you can have a custom made website in a day. I mean, if I can make a website, anybody can make a website. Well, thanks to PhotoShelter. For sure. It’s plug and play, but it’s a customized website and it’s absolutely beautiful. There are so many things that you can do to showcase your work.

So put your portfolio together and show that range of work – that you can do anything, that you are prepared, and that you can handle whatever the assignment may be. You certainly don’t have to have a book and show up at Steve Fine’s office anymore like Darren had to do with a portfolio paper book. That’s a lot of work going from door to door and hoping somebody is going to flip through. Now there are websites at your fingertips.

Then it’s about networking and connecting. Who else out there on social media is doing what you’re doing or might be interested in what you’re doing? Connect with them and see if they’ll have a look. It’s much easier for someone to have a peek at your website, but have it ready and have it prepared and have your best work up there. 

Like Darren says, don’t have the one you’re not proud of in there. Take that out, edit it well, and show that work. Put your website together. Now’s the time. The thing we can control right now is putting our best foot forward, so that when we’re back out there shooting, maybe we’re better prepared and we have an opportunity to reinvent ourselves a little bit.

Want to get the answers to all of the questions from the Q&A, including a behind-the-scenes look at Jean Fruth and Darren Carroll’s big-break moments? Watch the on-demand webinar.

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