Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category
Due to the kindness of a coworker, Jeronimo Nisa, I was able to go and shoot the baseball and softball championships in Montgomery last week. In my 19 years at The Daily, I had never been to the state championships in these sports. I have covered championships in nearly everything else, but somehow, as much as I love baseball, I had never been able to shoot the state championships. I loved it! Two of my teams won which makes it doubly good. Hartselle High won the school’s 8th baseball championship and Hatton High won the school’s 4th consecutive softball championship.
Now, what do you look for and how do you get it? That is the question for today. First of all, what you can do has a great deal to do with the structure of the fields you are shooting on. Lagoon Park where the softball games are played is a great place to play ball and a terrible place to photograph it. The sight lines are almost as bad as they could be. The photo boxes inside the fence have no clear sight lines to home plate and you are too far back to get very many decent infield shots. Moving around and shooting through the fences is difficult because so many fans are there you normally can’t get to a good spot without blocking a bunch of folks from seeing the game.
What I try to do every game, and especially when you have bad sight lines, is move around as much as possible. I might spend an inning or two in the photo boxes but I also try to shoot from behind the backstop. In softball games, I love shooting directly up the third baseline from behind home plate. You get good stuff on the third baseman who is usually very close and gets a bunch of balls hit her way. You can also cover action on the left side of the field from there.
I tried climbing to the tops of the bleachers and overlook the fences. That never produced a photo but it certainly looked like it would. I tried walking out the lines on right field and left field where you could shoot over the fences. There was just no spot where I felt like I could get reliable photos from so I made movement my method of choice.
The baseball was played at Paterson Field and Riverwalk Stadium, two wonderful baseball fields in Montgomery. Paterson is an old stadium. It still has some bleachers made from wood but the field is gorgeous. You can move freely in the stands and you could even shoot from the on-field photo boxes which I never actually did.
Riverwalk Stadium is a minor league facility for the Montgomery Biscuits and it is a phenomenal baseball facility. The stadium is very new and it has some amazing sight lines, just amazing. I was crawling all over that place shooting from anywhere I could. You can literally walk a path around the top of the outfield wall all the way around the stadium. From over the left field wall, you are looking back at the Montgomery skyline rising above the stadium. I used every square inch of that place and shot from anywhere I could shoot.
Some may ask, “aren’t you worried you are going to miss a photo if you are on the outfield wall?” No, not really. I know the game of baseball pretty well. I usually can tell when a play is going to have a chance of developing and I move to get in position. I have no aversion to running. I found myself on the back of the left field wall when Hartselle player Brett Blackwood reached second base. I sprinted all the way to the back of home plate so I could look up the third baseline just in case he might score. Sure enough, I got a very nice photo of him sliding home on a wild pitch. The key for me is movement. If you always shoot from behind first base, or wherever you favorite spot is, all your photos will look the same. Move around and get some diversity.
In fact, as you look at the rather extensive photo gallery with this post, pay attention to all the shooting positions you see. I think I have a shot in there representing all the angles I shot from. You will see traditional angles but you will also see angles where I took a chance. The lead photo in this post is a perfect example of looking around and trying something out of the ordinary. As I walked to get to a shooting position I saw these great windows. Nothing much happened on my first pass as Hartselle was making their last out in the first inning. When the second inning started, I ran back up to the windows and shot a couple of batters and came away with a photo I was very pleased with even knowing there was slim chance it would run in the paper.
Finally, and most importantly, you have to get the emotion of the event. This is the state championship and some of these players are playing their final games for their high schools. For some it will be the final games of their baseball and softball lives. There will be emotion win or lose. I love to get the joy. There is nothing like seeing these kids celebrate. On the other hand, I watched a boy come to bat for Spanish Fort with two out and two runners on base in the last at bat of the last inning. As he approached the plate I saw him lift his eyes toward heaven and mutter a quick prayer. I wanted Hartselle to the end the game right there but I also wanted that kid to do something good. I wish I had a photo of that moment but it is one that got away. The kid did make the last out but he did it hitting the ball.
Knowing the team is important. It is important to note the key players but also keep an eye on the coaches. Hartselle coach William Booth has the most wins in state history, now at 907, and now has 8 state titles. He is rather stoic but he was pulling for his kids. This team had early injuries and just barely made it into the playoffs. They were not the top ranked team in the state. In fact, Spanish Fort was number one and the reigning state champions. When Hartselle won, Coach Booth was as expressive and jubilant as the players so there were some great emotion shots.
Now you know how to get it done. Go have some fun covering the greatest game in the world.
I think I wrote some time ago about starting a photo essay shot completely with my iPhone. I have always wanted to do a sports story that takes you from the little leagues to the major leagues. This isn’t really it because I don’t have a major league team handy. I settled for working the great youth baseball in my town, Hartselle, Alabama. We live and breath baseball here. And we start early. Five year olds are hitting off a pitching machine in their league. The 9&10 years old kids start live pitching and they are remarkably good.
By the time the kids reach the high school level they have climbed this metaphorical ladder and look to add to the baseball glory of Hartselle High School, the eight time state champion. Conveniently, they won the 8th on the day the photo essay published. Talk about great timing.
So how does one conceive of shooting a sports story on the iPhone and how does one find the time to pursue it. First, I was inspired by a story I read about pro sports photographer Brad Mangin producing a book on the San Francisco Giants season shot on the iPhone and processed with Instagram. He talked about how the project refreshed his vision. I liked the sound of that. My vision is always needing refreshing.
I don’t like square frames all that much and Instagram only does squares so I began searching for an app that would allow me to do rectangles. I settled on the Photo Toaster Pro app and I love it. Most of the processing is a one touch process that created the feel I wanted, a kind of washed color look that would render a nostalgic feel to the images. Mr. Mangin then was my inspiration. My motivation I found a little closer to home.
My ten year old son decided to play baseball for the first time in his life. I love baseball and was a decent high school player but I promised I would not push my kids to play just so I could relive my baseball dreams. I never want to be that parent. When Peter told us he wanted to play, I decided this would be a good time to try my hand at the baseball photo essay. Plus, it would keep me from getting over involved in coaching him. I want him to enjoy the game and not have his over eager Dad over coaching him! The photo project helped me stay balanced.
I decided to do it solely on the iPhone because I liked the idea of a special challenge. Obviously, I would not be shooting game action. I wanted my essay to be more about the journey, the game, the atmosphere than about the action between the lines. I started shooting at Peter’s practices. I experimented with several different filters in Photo Toaster until I found the one I liked. I shot some around the games and shot fans and kids playing and just tried to get the feel of the game in the images. Then, I almost screwed up.
I was doing this all on my own time so I didn’t have any set plan or agenda for publishing it. In fact, I didn’t even know for sure I would offer it to the newspaper. It was simply a personal project. When I realized I actually wanted to publish it I looked at the high school schedule and they were down to the their very last game of the season and the playoffs were in the balance. I had to wait with fingers crossed to see if they made the playoffs so I would have a chance to shoot a high school game. Without that, the essay was dead.
Fortunately, the high school team pulled through and made the playoffs and I got up there and shot exactly one and half innings of one game with a few minutes of pregame. Like I said, the action was not important. It was the atmosphere I was after.
I probably only shot about 200 images total for the whole project. I would probably shoot more frames than that on a normal news assignment. Narrowing down the take wasn’t difficult because I had been doing that as I shot. I brought 40 images to the table, the 40 I included in the online gallery. I marked about twenty of them and gave them to page designer Kristin Williams. This is the point where it is tough. It is like taking your kids to school for the first day of class. You just don’t know how things will turn out but Kristin did a great job with the layout. I tried to keep my nose out of it and let her do her magic but I did offer a suggestion or two.
The problem with working on your own time is you will never get paid for it. I didn’t try to charge my newspaper. That wouldn’t have worked anyway. I have showed the photos to some other folks who may publish some of it down the line and they will pay. The thing is, I don’t guess any of us photojournalists do this for the pay. I don’t know any photojournalists getting rich. Don’t ever fall into the trap of only shooting what you know you will get paid for or what you know someone will publish. This project is mine. It has lived in my mind for years and years. I was always going to do it and now I have done it and I am pleased with it and seeing it published is very satisfying. Of course, I don’t mind if someone else pays me to publish it! That would be icing on the cake.
Using the iPhone means you have limits. The in-phone camera is a sweet little 8 megapixel deal. It is sweet as long as you don’t zoom it! Once you start to zoom you doom image quality. This limits you to one “lens.” Not a problem. In fact, that was part of the charm and the challenge. Additionally, the iPhone 5 has a panorama option. I love it and have used it several times. The dugout shot is a pano. The challenge is in turning off the traditional sports photographer that wants to do peak action and instead being a feature photographer looking for moments. Of course, the iPhone has a serious shutter lag so timing is more difficult. You get used to it but it does take practice. The other limiting factor is the thing can be hard to hold still. Camera shake afflicted a few images. Dim light means you have to seriously support the camera because you are touching the screen to fire the shutter which can easily cause camera shake.
All in all, like any photographic tool, the iPhone has a place “in the bag.” The apps are not something you can use on everyday photos but on a feature project like this one they are great. I tried to recreate the look in Aperture and threw in the towel after about a half hour. Photo Toaster created the look in about one, maybe two touches. Use the appropriate tool for the appropriate job and you will love shooting the iPhone. Try and make it do something it isn’t designed to do and you will get a headache. But I guess that is a pretty accurate description of anything in life.
Below is an image of the layout produced for The Decatur Daily by editor Kristin Williams. If you have not seen the full gallery, visit: http://garycosbyjr.photoshelter.com/gallery/Baseball-Town/G0000mj0pJ8aoM7s/
I didn’t find out about a baseball assignment until the game was already in the second inning and there was about a 45 minute drive to the field. No matter, it is playoff time in high school baseball and I would at least get there in time for an inning or two. Honestly, getting much out of an inning or two of high school baseball is an indefinite proposition. Sometimes you can shoot a whole game and get nothing. Other times you can shoot an inning and come away very happy.
To make sure you get something, start with the pitcher, always. He throws the ball to start every play. On the opposite end, shoot some of the hitters. They are attempting to hit the ball on every play. Now you have two guaranteed photos. At least you won’t leave the game empty handed. Now, you have a couple of photos in the bag, get into your favorite shooting position, the place where you are most comfortable, and look for action.
My comfort zone is along the first baseline just a few feet beyond the base. I like shooting from this position for several reasons. You get the best angle on first and second base and you usually have an unobstructed view of home plate. A 400mm lens will reach most of the field from here and it gives you the best access to shortstop, a place where many balls will be hit in high school baseball. You can also get shots of pick off attempts at first base. You get a great angle on at least two outfielders. From the first baseline you give yourself the maximum opportunity to get shots in a reasonably short period.
That being said, if I have time, I love to move around. The wonderful thing about shooting baseball is you get the opportunity to set up and frame photos in ways you don’t get with baseball or basketball. I love to move around and find a shooting spot looking directly up the third baseline from behind home plate and I equally enjoy going out behind the outfield fences and shooting, especially from behind right field and shooting straight down the first baseline. You can get a different point of view on plays at second by shooting from behind left centerfield and looking down the line between first and second. The only places I don’t enjoy shooting from are along the third baseline. I can’t seem to get comfortable on that side of the field. Not sure why but it doesn’t work well for me. I will also climb anything I can to get a higher angle but that is rare at a high school field.
I have the bottom of the fifth to the top of the seventh to shoot – the home team is obviously going to win so there will be no bottom of the seventh. As I am walking in the field, down the left field side or course, a kid hits a short fly ball into centerfield. I whip the camera up and start banging away. I got a shot but didn’t even look at my settings. I think its was shooting at 1/60th at f16. Not ideal sports settings. I fixed that. Before I got to the home dugout by third base, I got another photo of the pitcher picking off that kid who got the single on my first set of frames. Now, before I have even arrived at my shooting position, I have two photos in the bag. They will not be great but they will help fill the gallery.
I go to the press box steps and shoot my pitcher. Got that. Two decent frames and I now move on to the first baseline. My team comes to bat and I am banging away furiously. I get the star player being beaned by a pitch. The ball hit his helmet and bounced straight up. Ball in the frame! Nice. Now there is a kid on first diving back in on a snap throw. Nice dirt in the face kind of frame. My team is back in the field and a ball hit to second, second baseman charges and makes an off balance throw. Nice frames but a bad throw. Now the kid is on first. Ground ball up the middle. Double play attempt. Bang! Another decent frame.
Our sports writer says our team hasn’t been to the playoffs in forever so there will be a potential celebration photo. I moved back to the press box steps and sure enough, big dog pile on the pitchers mound. Got that. Two innings turns into a little slice of baseball heaven. Have I mentioned before how much I love baseball!
There is a wonderful part of the Lord’s prayer that goes like this; “give us this day our daily bread…” Oh no, he is preaching again! Run away, run away! Not really a sermon. Don’t panic. I probably won’t say the “J” word more than once or twice. Settle down. Now, where was I? Oh, yes, daily bread. Which brings me to the idea of keeping it fresh. That prayer that Jesus taught his disciples was actually born out of the old covenant where the priests put fresh bread out daily in the holy place in the tabernacle and the temple. Now, history/theology lesson over.
What this has to do with photojournalism is obvious, isn’t it? Okay, maybe some of y’all don’t think like I do so I will explain. After all, when I do the dishes after dinner I plot the overthrow of small nations so some might not quite follow my logic. Keeping fresh daily in the photojournalism world is one of the greatest challenges you will face as you plough through your career. Think about it. You will do the same kinds of assignments over and over and over again and you will shoot the same events over and over and over again. It can get a little boring. We had an editor once who used to say, “We need a good murder today.” I never want that to happen but there are days when I would sure enough like for something to happen.
Staying fresh is tough. So how do you do it? I am so glad you asked. Please turn in your Bibles with me to… oh, sorry, I forgot. This isn’t a sermon but a photo lesson. I will try to stay on point. But like a good southern preacher, I do like to run down rabbit trails every now and then. (If you don’t know what that means, GO TO CHURCH EVERY NOW AND THEN FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!) Okay, enough, enough. I know.
There is nothing like giving yourself assignments to help you stay fresh. That or getting a new piece of photo gear but the photo gear tends to be expensive. However, when you combine a new piece of photo gear with a self-assigned project you have pure freshness gold! I am not joking. I purchased an iPhone 5 earlier this year. I am easing into its amazing photo capabilities and much of what I am doing is not for publication; however, there is this cool project I am shooting all on my iPhone and it was inspired by a guy named Brad Mangin who is a big time sports photographer. He covers the San Francisco Giants and he recently published a photo book shot using the Instagram app. That didn’t click for me. I played with Instagram and like it but I wouldn’t use it for the paper, or would I?
My ten-year old decided to play baseball this year and we live in one of the baseball craziest towns I have ever seen. These folks are serious! I thought, “No way I can do a Brad Mangin book on major league baseball, but what about a photo project on my little baseball town?” At about the same time, I found a really nice app for my iPhone that lets me do the cool toning stuff that Instagram does but without having to make everything square. A project was born. I am calling it, innovatively enough, Baseball Town. I am shooting it all on my iPhone and processing the images using Photo Toaster. And I am having a blast!
Each time to the ball field I am collecting a new image or two and I am having fun. THE KEY TO STAYING FRESH IS TO HAVE FUN!!! Okay, did anyone miss that because if you did I can always crack open the Bible to where Jesus said we are to all have fun. Gotcha there didn’t I. Some of you are running to get your Bibles to see if Jesus actually said that. Others of you are so stunned that Christians are allowed to have fun that you need a resurrection because your hearts just stopped.
Now you know the secret to fresh photojournalism and you know how to scare Christians to death. Just have fun! Keep a project or two working. Make them something you are interested in because you will do best at projects that interest you. I happen to love baseball. I am learning how to shoot with the iPhone so there is magic there for me. It will be something else for you. Find it and enjoy it and have a ton of fun and surprise your boss with a really cool photo essay.
Enjoy this sample of my project which is just now getting started. By the way, keep an eye out throughout this year. I have another set of special projects I am working on that are going to be phenomenal. I can’t wait to share them with you but I can only hint now. This is a project I have dreamed of doing for many years, for most of my career even, and it is actually under way. If I may paraphrase the Black Eye Peas, this is gonna be a good, good year! (That good looking kid in the catching gear is my son!)
After 24 years as a newspaper photographer it is pretty rare to have an assignment I have never before shot. I went to Huntsville this week to shoot the state finals in wrestling. I don’t think I have ever shot a wrestling meet before. If I have, it was so long ago it was back in the film era. I was so unfamiliar with the sport I was slightly concerned about how to shoot the event.
I decided to go a little early and shoot some matches that were completely irrelevant to our readers. I quickly found there was nothing to worry about. No matter what the sport, there are some universal truths that apply to pretty nearly all of them. There will be periods of action. There will be periods of reaction. There will be moments around the edges that make great pictures.
I approached the first match with the intention to simply shoot some frames of the action to get used to what was going on. It wasn’t all the difficult. They have a ring to work in and most of the time the action is more in straining, pulling and twisting than in running like you would find in a field sport. The second thing I noticed is the coaches are very entertaining. By the end of the first match I already had some nice action, an excellent coach photo and a very nice reaction shot. Wow, this ain’t so bad!
Quickly, I scored a good prematch photo of a kid praying before his event. Then that same kid gave me a great action moment and an even better celebration moment after he won. I hadn’t even gotten to a match I was supposed to cover.
By the time the four matches I was assigned to shoot rolled around, I was totally comfortable and was looking for the best angles and shooting positions. One of my four assigned matches gave up great action shots but I was in the wrong spot for reaction. He faced away from me toward where his school’s fans were sitting. Lesson learned; find the fans and put them at your back because your kid is going to react in their direction.
The final match was also the heaviest weight class I was going to shoot. I got a nice psych shot of one of the wrestlers before the match. I decided to start wide and then shoot tight action. I did a few wide frames of the match and suddenly the ref is signalling a pin. Whoaa! The kid won in 21 seconds and all I had was a few wide shots. Of course, this was the most important of the matches I was to shoot. The young man was so psyched up he really didn’t even celebrate much. The match was over so fast he didn’t have time to burn off his pre-match psych up. He left the mat looking mean. I was only hoping he wasn’t about to take me down!
I found out wrestling is pretty fun. Not as much fun as covering a rodeo, but pretty fun none the less! I have still never shot ice hockey or Australian Rules Football or Cricket. Now there is a weird game. Doubt they bring any Cricket matches to Decatur but you just never know.
I had my first basketball assignment of the season yesterday and it came at season’s ending. For the first time in my career I did not shoot a single regular season basketball game. I shot regional tournament games yesterday, four in a row, and all four teams lost. I think I see why I didn’t shoot hoops all year. Perhaps any teams remaining will pay the boss to keep me at home!
Basketball is both an easy sport to shoot and a numbing sport to shoot. There is no prep sport that has more games over a longer period of time. Baseball, by comparison, seems over in three weeks. Basketball drags over four months beginning in November and finishing in February. And that is only because we don’t cover college hoops which extend into March and sometimes even April and pro hoops which never actually end. I am personally very ready for baseball and I hope I get some games. I love baseball. I wish I could go shoot spring training but, alas, that is rather a long shot unless I do so on vacation.
Still, basketball in the autofocus era is fairly easy game to shoot. There is certainly no shortage of movement and collisions and the emotion at tournament time is very high. Now that we are not tied to strobe lighting, you can crank up the motor drive and really rock and roll. This moves basketball from a one shot and wait for the strobes sport into a sport like any outdoor game where you can just shoot. Gotta love that.
As in all sports assignments, don’t tie yourself to a single shooting position. I try to move around and get some angles and, when possible, climb up into the stands and shoot some frames from up high. The catch with tournaments is you may be shooting several games in a row and you have to be constantly moving pictures back for web updates so you have a little less freedom of movement because of the tight deadlines.
Let’s talk about getting stuff and moving it quickly since in this age we have a continual deadline. First tip is obvious; don’t overshoot the games. I generally shoot most of the first half of the first game then edit and transmit which usually takes the half-time and the third quarter. I then shoot the fourth quarter and any reaction/emotion photos that come at the end of the game. I then edit and move those photos which takes me into the first half of the next game. I keep up the process and by the end of the day, especially if I am shooting multiple games back to back, I will end up just shooting during the second half and at the end of games.
That may seem like a problem but it really isn’t. You want to get your action shots done as quickly as possible and then focus on reaction shots during the tournament. The season will be on the line and you can usually, not always, but usually get some good emotion win or lose. The sports pages which have been running action photos all year will eat up the reaction and emotion shots and the action shots will fill the online galleries.
Don’t forget the fans. As much as fans are not part of the event, they are part of the event. Let me explain. The fans are not playing the game so they are not nearly as important as those who are; however, the fans are really invested in their teams, especially the students who come to the games. Yesterday, East Limestone was getting blown out by Wenonah and the East fans were totally engaged all the way to the end. For some odd reason, with the team down by something like 30 points, they began singing the ABC song we all learned in kindergarten. My neighbor teaches at East so I am going to have to ask exactly what those high school kids are learning these days!
Did I mention that editors love fan photos. I have no idea why they are so fixated on the fans, like I said, they don’t play the game, but editors love seeing fan photos. Shoot a few from your games and you will be the photo hero, at least for five minutes or so!
One final thing, over the years I have migrated from shooting basketball exclusively with telephoto lenses to shooting now more frequently with a wide lens, often times from floor level. I admit, I saw other people doing this and didn’t think much of it until I started to really look at the photos. I really liked the players flying through the air with a sense of context. There are tons of great basketball images done with wide lenses. I decided to add this to my shooting and I think it has really improved my basketball work. This gallery is a selection of some of my favorites from the Northwest Regional games I shot Tuesday. Hope y’all enjoy.
Focus on the process, that is Coach Nick Saban’s key phrase and I think it would be cool to hear him say it at least one more time. Okay, I am being a little facetious. I am sure he has said it about as many times as he cares to and I have heard it about as many times as I care to. But now it is game day. It is time to focus on results.
I got Nick Saban on one side of my brain all calm and talking about process and then there is the other side of my brain where Ray Lewis lives. He is rocking my brain, pumping me up with his pre-game pep talk. I may take the field tonight like Ray does, with all dance move stuff yelling like a madman. Yeah Baby! I am ready. Let’s go kick some butt!!! Oh, wait, I am not actually playing in the game. Okay, yeah baby, let’s go kick some visual butt!
So I am all keyed up and it is still hours before game time. When I go out on the field, and especially during the first quarter, I have to make myself calm down. My heart will be pumping, my blood pressure will be up, the adrenaline will be flowing. Sometimes I get so keyed up I have to reel myself in. It is possible to get too pumped up and actually miss shots. That is where Nick Saban takes back over: focus on the process.
There really is a lot of wisdom in that statement. There is always the danger of losing focus when shooting a big game. I mean, I don’t care who wins. I am not there to win or lose a football game. I am there to shoot and do an excellent job covering the football game regardless of who wins. My problem is not worrying about the winning team or losing team, my problem is not getting too hyped and then not doing my job well.
Perhaps you have seen players who get so energized they are almost playing the game too fast, or they are too tight and the game gets away from them. That happens to me sometimes too. I will shoot and shoot and have nothing. I realize I am pressing too hard trying to make something happen. I have to relax and let the game literally come to me. That is a challenge. I want every picture, I mean, every single one. There is no way that is going to happen. All the big papers and magazines and media organizations will have a bunch of guys out there tonight. I am shooting against teams of photographers and they are going to get pictures I am physically incapable of getting.
I have to focus on the process, focus on doing my job. Man, I sound like Nick Saban now! I have to avoid letting my adrenaline run wild and then wear out too quick. It is a four quarter game plus a post game and I need to be stable and level through the whole process. I can’t burn out after the first quarter. Ray and Nick have to stay in balance in my mind and, all things being equal, I probably shouldn’t do the Ray Lewis dance when I take the field, well, probably not.
I will be testing myself against all these amazing photographers from places like the Miami Herald and the big magazines in Sun LIfe Stadium tonight. I hope I rise to the occasion. I hope I kick some visual butt. I hope I shoot better tonight than I have ever shot before. I hope I am able to use the opportunity to climb to new heights. In a few hours I will know. In a few hours I will have either done well or not. To be honest, there is nowhere else I would rather be than out there shooting next to these guys.
And yes, I will be checking the Miami Herald website along with the AP and as many others as I can think of including those from our state to see whose booty got kicked and who did the kicking. I do hope I remembered to bring my boots!
It has become something of a tradition over the last four years to start the year with a trip to cover the BCS National Championship game. This year it is Miami. I now have a nice collection of luggage courtesy of the BCS, kind of a grand slam of luggage. It all started four years ago on the west coast with the Rose Bowl, moved to Arizona for the Fiesta Bowl, then to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl and now in Miami for the Orange Bowl.
To compensate for all the glamor and glitz, the BCS folks stack your day with press conferences which are a tad repetitive. I was joking around today saying we could just past new faces on old photos and have about the same thing. Hard to make a unique photo from a press conference. Today was only round one, maybe round two if you count the arrival at the airport press conference.
The schedules are pretty well managed but everything takes a long time. Want to go to shoot practice? Nice, it takes 30 0r 40 minutes to get there, you wait around for 45 minutes or an hour, shoot for 15 minutes and then ride the bus again for 30 or 40 minutes. I had 15 free minutes today and managed to cram down a sandwich. Did I mention the scenery wasn’t bad. I pounded that sandwich from the back deck of the media hotel overlooking the beach and the Atlantic Ocean.
I know what to expect now but I had forgotten all about the stress. I had to make a run to Walgreen’s for ibuprophen to handle the headache/neck ache/back ache combo. I know my colleagues back in Decatur think I am on vacation. It is only a vacation in the sense that I am not in Decatur. In every other sense it is a jam packed, non-stop, never ending press event that finally culminates in a game. Is it game day yet?
Oh yeah, the fan features haven’t started yet. Most of them will be arriving Friday and Saturday so then we will add fan events to the schedule. Lots of fun but nothing will be worse than New Orleans last year. I am pretty sure part of me is still down there trying to chase assignments down in the French Quarter. To this point, I have worked for two days down here, shot four assignments and moved over a hundred pictures. Each assignment gets its own photo gallery and each photo gallery goes on two different web sites; although, I have had a little help with the web galleries. Each set of photos gets uploaded to three different ftp sites and all that takes time. Below is a sample of some of the work I have moved. If you want to see all the galleries you may visit decaturdaily.com.
Now you have a tiny look behind the scenes from the photo point of view. I know some of y’all are already thinking you would gladly trade places. Nahhh, I will struggle through since it is 80 degrees here and about half that back home so don’t cry for me, I will probably survive. Now where is my drink with the little umbrella in it?
This year’s version of the SEC Championship in Atlanta was among the best games I have ever covered. I think there is some consensus this was the greatest SEC Championship game every played. The SEC started the whole idea of the post season conference championship and the art was undoubtedly at its highest form Saturday in the clash between Alabama and Georgia.
I do have to say, after seeing the top teams in the SEC this season, there is not much that separates them. You could take Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina and line those guys up against one another in a last-man-standing cage match and there is no way to predict how it might come out. The teams are all that good and very little separates one from another.
Georgia was literally one play from beating Alabama just as Alabama made one play to beat LSU and failed to make one play to beat Texas A&M. The top of the SEC this season has been amazingly good. I believe you could line any one of those top squads up against Notre Dame in the finale and any one would acquit themselves very well.
Now, on to the coverage. There were a bunch of media there and my normal shooting positions were frequently unavailable. I shot much more from the sides of the end zone than from the end line like normal. Honestly, you wouldn’t think this would matter much but it actually does change your comfort level and the way you see the game. I like shooting beside the goal line pylon but I am not comfortable there. I am very comfortable shooting from behind the end zone. As a result, my first quarter was abysmal. I finally settled in during the second quarter and started making some pictures but it came slowly.
By the third and fourth quarters I had zeroed myself and I was feeling comfortable again. Fortunately, I had the time because I was not on a tight deadline. The game action was fine but I have yet to do a post game where I am happy. I look around and see what my fellow shooters produced and I get very frustrated. (I am talking about you Michelle Carter with your photo of the Kouandjiobrothers praying!) Working alone means you have to make some kind of choice and if you make the wrong choice you miss the good stuff. I made a choice and it cost me a bunch of pictures.
As the game came to a conclusion, Dee Milliner appeared to make an interception. I moved toward the Alabama bench to get in position to shoot the jubilation. Then the refs overturned the interception. I had to snap on the long glass again and retreat to the end zone since Georgia was definitely making a push to score. I had to be there in case they won the game in that end zone. As it turned out, Bama held and the game ended and I was dramatically out of position and literally missed that first, very critical, 30 seconds. After about 30 or 40 seconds the TV people are all in the way stopping the jube to get interviews. That nearly makes me want to cuss out loud! Just let the kids have fun for a couple of minutes, would ya!
Be that as it may, I made the choice to station myself right up front for the trophy presentation. I had a good shooting position but I missed a lot of good, spontaneous moments. I have tried this many ways and there is just no right answer. The trophy presentation was anti-climatic and then I was scrambling for any remaining jube from players. There was very little left to be had. Alabama is simply the most unemotional team you can imagine. Well, they act like their coach. He is very reserved in victory or defeat. It is a big deal to get a photo of him smiling so the players kind of pick up on that vibe and are very reserved. Plus, Alabama has been there and done that so this is not new to them.
The game action was not the most exciting stuff for a still photographer. There were heavy, heavy doses of the Alabama ground game with both Eddie Lacy and TJ Yeldon gashing the Georgia defense. Both backs garnered more than 100 yards rushing with Lacy punishing the Georgia defense for 181 yards and Yeldon for 153 yards. They combined for 45 rushes. That is a lot of pictures of dudes running the ball. Passing plays are usually more acrobatic and more visually interesting. I had a few nice frames of pass plays so the action turned out ok.
On the defensive side, Alabama got a decent pass rush on Georgia’s explosive quarterback sacking him a few times and pressuring him out of the pocket many others. In spite of this he still managed a number of big completions and almost, almost won the game as the time ticked off the clock. Who knows what would have happened if Georgia had one more play.
Now it is time to get ready for the big game in Miami. I have to confess to some pure hatred for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. I am sure it is a school of great repute and full of excellent people. Still, there is something in my DNA as a son of the south that the mere mention of their name is like screeching fingernails on a chalkboard. I usually refrain from any partisanship when I write the blog. After all, I pull for both Alabama and Auburn. That said, I hope the Tide goes down to Miami and crushes the Domers!
On a final note, going to big games like this is always a treat on a personal level. I renewed an acquaintance with an old friend, Brant Sanderlin who works for the Atlanta Journal Constitution. He was a kid in high school back when I worked in Elizabeth City, N.C., the town where he grew up. I also met long-time blog reader Richard Hamm who works for the Athens Banner-Herald, home of the Georgia Bulldogs. I met a new friend, Sara Caldwell, who works for the Augusta Chronicle as well as renewing friendships with lots of long-time Alabama friends. You may think, “Why is this dude writing this here?” With the way things are changing in the newspaper world right now, one never knows when the last time you might see another shooter will be. So many are losing jobs now, and who knows that I won’t be next, it is good to cherish the relationships built while covering football.
Back in January, a week or two after returning from the BCS National Championship Game in New Orleans, I got an unexpected email from Jim Surber, the deputy photo editor at ESPN The Magazine. He asked could I be available to shoot assignments for The Magazine. You know, there are some emails you simply can’t answer fast enough. However fast I could type without tying my fingers in a knot is how fast I said YES!!!
I don’t know how Jim found me but I have online presence on Sportsshooter.com, through this blog and through my website at garycosbyjr.photoshelter.com. so I can only assumed he saw stuff on one of those three places. How ever he found me, I am very thankful. I didn’t get an assignment right away. In fact, I waited until the end of October before hearing from him. I did drop an email to him every now and then hoping to keep my name out there without annoying the heck out of him. Finally, the email arrived asking if I could shoot a behind the scenes piece at the University of Alabama for the issue centered on the Alabama versus LSU rivalry. It didn’t take long to say yes.
My assignment was to hang out with the Alabama equipment managers while they packed the truck for the trip to LSU. This was supposed to be the look behind closed doors at Alabama. I am not sure, but I have heard coach Nick Saban keeps a pretty tight lid on things in Bama Land. I hooked up with Jeff Springer, Alabama’s head equipment manager. It is a logistics masterpiece to move a football program several hundred miles, making a visiting locker room and sideline in a hostile stadium feel as normal as possible. Jeff does that for every road game. Like he told me, they did it over and over and over again during the BCS Championship back in January because practice locations changed and the in-stadium practices had to be disassembled and then reassembled repeatedly. Hat is off to Jeff and his mostly student crew.
Now this part is really, really cool and so special to me it is beyond words. If you have been reading the site for a long time you will remember my little boy, Reece, who had Down syndrome. He passed away three years ago but during his short life he, his mom and I, had the great pleasure of meeting Gene Stallings, former Alabama coach and the parent of a child with Down syndrome. John Mark Stallings died a few months before we met Coach Stallings at a dedication for a special needs playground in our town. Coach and Reece formed an instant bond and many tears were shed in that brief encounter. When Reece died, Coach Stallings called our house and spoke to my wife with his condolences. I love the man, not for his affiliation with Alabama, but for his love of children with special needs. My photo assignment at Alabama was in the John Mark Stallings equipment room!
I don’t know if y’all believe in God or not. I do, emphatically. Situations like this make me think God is just showing off. There isn’t any way that Jim Surber at ESPN in Bristol, CT knew my story, much less knew the connection with the Stallings family and probably had no idea the equipment room was named for Johnny. Until I got down there, I didn’t know it either. All I could say was, “Wow!”
Driving down to Tuscaloosa, I had a serious case of butterflies. I mean, first job for ESPN, my stomach was fluttering. It felt like it always did when I would come to bat for the first time in a baseball game. I couldn’t even eat a meal before the shoot. This was technically a simple assignment. All I had to do was hang out with the equipment managers and shoot until they loaded out. (The process took about six hours.) Still, this is not a job you want to muck up. I have been a photojournalist for a long time so I knew I could handle any job they threw at me and this was a relatively simple one but still, I didn’t want to muck it up.
The actual shoot went great. Jeff and his staff were wonderful. The student managers were a good crew to hang out with and we had a wonderful day. Jack Vickers, the guy who drives the Alabama truck to the road games, was a wonderful guy to spend time with. Let me tell you, he is proud of that truck and particularly of the elephant hood ornament with the glow in the dark eyes. My instructions from ESPN were to be nosy and shoot everything I could. I did my shoot, edited and transmitted 51 images and crossed my fingers. Mr. Surber posted three images to the gallery the next day and then I waited for the magazine.
I got a pdf of the page layouts the day before The Magazine was usually delivered and there was only one of my photos there. Now I was wondering if I really screwed up. The Magazine arrived and it was great and I was delighted I had photo published but doubt nagged my mind. I had been told I was shooting for a whole photo essay for a story behind the scenes at Alabama. There was no story so I was worried now I had screwed up so badly they just dropped the whole thing. I finally broke down and emailed Jim Surber and was relieved to find out the plan had changed and I did fine.
Now I am waiting again for that email asking if I can shoot a job for ESPN. My fingers are poised over the Y – E – S keys on the keyboard!
Here is a link to the complete photo gallery on ESPN’s site which includes the work of all the photographers on the project. http://espn.go.com/espn/photos/gallery/_/id/8583691/image/2/game-week-prep-1day1game-alabama-vs-lsu-one-day-one-game