Football. The Way It Is… Oct./Nov. 2010

“The dictionary is the only place that success comes before work. Hard work is the price we must pay for success. I think you can accomplish anything if you’re willing to pay the price.” – Vince Lombardi

For quite sometime now, I’ve been considering this latest post in an attempt to highlight my football coverage, and what it means from my perspective on the field as a sports photographer, and as a one-time HS player a long, long time ago. Not only during this season, because the teams and games seem to all run together at some point, so I cannot truthfully separate the work into one Fall campaign. Football is a violent, punishing, and brutal sport on both sides of the ball, and at no matter what level. Talented players shine continuously and their abilities are a wonder to behold at times. But there are also quiet, game telling moments that I always try to be aware of as well. Whether it is a defeated defensive lineman (above: Army’s Mike Gann a few week’s ago after loosing to Rutgers in overtime at the New Meadowlands Stadium) or a father quietly comforting his high school MVP son off the field after their loss in the state championship game in Syracuse University’s Carrier Dome a few season’s ago (right).

The action will undoubtedly come and covering games in the varying stadiums and venues I frequent presents a whole new set of challenges. Weather becomes either an added bonus in covering games in early / mid – September, comfortably dressed in shorts and a polo shirt, or a major intimidating factor in how one goes about planning their overall workday on the field, particularly at this time of the year. Gloves (usually two pair), thermal underwear, lined work pants, Gortex ski hat, turtle neck shirt, work boots, and a few packets of hand warmers become just as important to me as any lens / camera combination and my shooting position on a sometimes wet or even frozen field. It becomes a mental battle at times in not allowing the elements to interfere with your main objective in covering games, especially as we’re now into HS playoff season, and those games are played at night, as well as the upcoming annual Army – Navy Game in mid-December. “Brrrr….!”

“Just Win, Baby.” – Al Davis. Oakland Raiders GM

Football keeps me awake nights. Makes me (figuratively) bite my nails while driving to the ballpark. Even the most routine game coverage presents opportunities for phenomenal images, but the preparation and the photographer’s mindset must be right on point – all the time. That’s one thing about football, good pictures can happen 80 yards away from your position (for a game winning field goal with a 600mm at left) or literally right in your lap, five yards away in the end zone (with a third camera around my neck with a short zoom at lower right. This camera is sometimes referred to as a “bailout” or “oh Sh*t!” camera, as all you have to do is aim and fire, because you’ve taped the focus ring in place, and it’s usually set at a smaller aperture to insure good depth of field on a wide angle or short zoom.) So in a sense, this third camera is like a remote – without actually being a remote, and on some days may never make an actual usable image on the field. Unlike basketball and baseball, where a high percentage of the pictures made in those sports are basically from a “station to station” viewpoint during a game. Meaning a photographer can anticipate where the action will take place; around either basket for basketball and along the base paths or home plate for baseball coverage. Players are photographed coming right at you; as in down the lane on a fast break or dunk in basketball, or running, diving, sliding into a base or a nasty collision at the plate in baseball. It is because of these familiarities with each sport and their playing fields that photographers can utilize remote camera(s), carefully aimed at one of these “stations” and literally just wait for the action to take place, and fire one or more remote cameras setup and pre-focused for that particular opportunity. Blog readers here know of my continual use of remotes, but I’m going to leave that topic for a later discussion, as I usually only install a remote camera in football for an overall view of a stadium, like this one (above) 3 hours prior to the annual Army – Navy game in Baltimore in 2007 – which incidentally means arriving up to 5 hours before game time to install that camera in a TV press box high above the crowd. This overall view is always a nice addition to the day’s take on the game and also serves as a file image of each particular stadium, so when images are needed for general stories in the future on a particular team / season / stadium & city, we have them “in the can” so to speak. I routinely mount a remote in West Point’s Michie Stadium; either on a rooftop of Kimsey Hall in the south end zone (below) to capture the pre-game parachute team arriving at midfield, and even mounted a remote a few weeks ago on their Jumbo-Tron scoreboard for a variation of this same view of the field from the north end zone.

Football also affords me the opportunity utilize a vast array of equipment. It is not uncommon for me to arrive at the ballpark with 4 digital camera bodies (remember the third one around my neck for anticipated plays right in front of you), and on occasion 5 camera bodies, as I’ve also begun shooting video clips for the paper’s website at most of the games this season. The Canon 5D – Mark II is ideal, as it’s 21MP chip delivers superb, broadcast quality video files, and I have the ability to also shoot it as a still camera even while rolling in video mode. Lens choice includes everything from my 10.5mm fisheye to a 600mm (actually a 300mm f/2.8AF with the 2X tele-extender attached). The fisheye is for the overhead views of the stadium (above), as well as using it for a neat huddle image with the camera mounted on a mono-pod where I actually extend the mono-pod or “stick” over the players, and fire the camera either by a hard-wire trigger or Pocket-Wizard radio transmitter & receiver combination.

*(to be continued.)

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