Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category
Basketball season for Alabama high schools is winding down. That alone is reason for celebration but it is tournament time and that is reason for double celebration. Regular season basketball can become tedious because we cover so many games. The pictures get a bit repetitive. There is usually not much emotion in a regular season game unless you happen to be covering a big rivalry and emotion is what makes the the games great and the pictures better. Tournament time is all about emotion and the action is better too because you have the best teams playing one another. Good stuff.
In recent years I have covered very little basketball. I probably did more this year than in the past two or three seasons combined. That is a good thing. I do love covering sports but basketball comes in third on my list behind baseball and football. Still, there is nothing like the regional and state tournaments. They are wonderful.
If you are a new shooter or haven’t shot much lately, here are a few tips for getting better stuff. First, let’s talk lenses. During the regular season I will most often shoot with the two mainstays in my bag, the 17-35 and the 80-200. We don’t often carry the 300 into a normal high school gym. Most of the time the gyms are bit dark and hauling the big glass in is cumbersome without much benefit. Tournament games are played in college gyms with much better lighting and the 300 becomes a great tool. Unfortunately, I have only one good camera body so I become proficient in the fine art of the lens juggle! The key thing is to shoot with all your lenses. I like putting that wide zoom right down on the floor and shooting up toward the basket. You get some interesting stuff. The 300 is good for opposite end of the floor stuff and the 80-200 gives you excellent half court coverage.
The shooting position you choose is a matter of comfort and taste. I like to shoot from right underneath the basket. I usually shoot from my knees or from a sitting position. It took some getting used to but once I felt comfortable there I have been able to make some very nice photos. One added benefit is that is the one place on the court the referee never stands. He will run past you from time to time but he never stops there. I can’t even tell you have many pictures have been ruined by the zebra’s back side! In some arenas you can move around. If you can, do. Especially move up high if that is possible. In the arena at Wallace State in Hanceville the seating is very vertical so you can climb high and get a nice view of the court.
Look for photos away from the floor. I got a shot this year of one of the coaches standing in the arena entryway completely oblivious to me as he watches the end of the game before his. The cheerleaders give a bit of framing and there is a cool, blue light coming from behind him. There is another shot of an older man giving a piece of gum and some good advice to the same coach’s little boy on the bench as the team is loosing. It is a nice moment. Editors always want to see photos of fans. I didn’t do enough of that this year but fan photos can be a bit repetitive as well. I think the best fan photos I have are of dejected fans. Not on the best seller list for reprint requests.
The primary thing with basketball is the emotion so pay attention to emotion. When I am shooting tournaments with back to back games I usually get some action in the first half, edit and transmit during halftime and the third period and then rejoin the action in the fourth making sure to get the emotion shots win or lose. I do hate to shoot photos of the kids crying on the bench but that is part of the story and that means it is part of the job. In a way, I am comforted the kids care enough to cry. Of course, jubilation after a victory is the best thing to shoot. I love seeing the kids get all ramped up about a big win. By the way, you can get in their face with your wide lens after a victory and nobody cares but do show some compassion and shoot the tears with a longer lens and don’t get in their face. They are not NBA pros. They are still just kids.
One final word, be cautious in the hospitality room. I have been covering the regional tournament at Wallace State for most of the twenty years I have worked in Decatur and for every single season they have had the same four types of cookies in the hospitality room. No joke. And usually there is cubed cheese. Even the serving containers are the same. Makes you wonder! Of course, in Birmingham, during the Final Four games, when they bring in actual food for a meal, don’t get in the way of the reporters. Those poor, half starved sports writers stampede the food tables as if they haven’t seen a meal in eons. It can be dangerous in there!
This is the twentieth, and final, post in the Twenty Moments Sports series for 2013.
We have finally arrived. Twenty Moments concludes today with a special picture. It is special because it is a photo of my son on his first day of baseball practice on the field. I kicked off a personal photo essay project with this image. Peter had never played baseball before and baseball is my favorite sport. I had seen a Sportsshooter post about photographer Brad Mangin doing an entire book of iPhone images processed through Instagram. He covers pro baseball but I thought I could try a more limited project with my town.
Hartselle is a baseball crazy little town and I had always wanted to do an essay going from the little leagues to the major leagues. I figured I may never get a chance to do pro baseball, at least not consistently enough to pull that off, but I could do a progression from the little kids up through high school. Hartselle has a really great high school program and this would turn into another magical year for them culminating in a state championship. As it happened, the day we published Baseball Town the high school team won the state baseball championship. It was the eighth title in school history. That fit like a hand in a glove!
I began shooting on Peter’s first day of outdoor practice. This image was not the first one I shot but it was certainly among the first. I had no experience shooting with the iPhone so both he and I would have a learning experience. I knew I would have almost no image of baseball action so I concentrated on the flavor of baseball rather than on peak action. I shot day games and night games and tried to have some fun and not be a slave to the project. My number one goal was to enjoy Peter’s first season.
I showed some images to my editor and he liked them and said to go ahead with a photo essay. I began negotiating with our advertising department to get an ad free double truck that was also in color. I was processing the images I was shooting in PhotoToaster using the Park Place filter. I had to tweak a number of images to adjust brightness and contrast levels. The filter doesn’t work the same on high contrast, low contrast or night or day images. I gave it a border too. I figured if I was going to do all that tweaking I may as well go all the way.
We published a beautiful double truck designed by Kristin Williams and I felt very happy about my little photo essay. I decided to send a link to an ESPN photo editor who I know in hopes he may like the images and keep me in mind for some future freelance assignments for the magazine. My submission coincided with an issue they were planning on youth sports. Before you know it I had an image from the essay published in ESPN The Magazine and I had a full photo gallery at ESPN.com. Talk about a project exceeding my expectations. Wow! I am still blown away by all that.
What a wonderful year it has been. I think this has been the best sports year of my career. This football season has been very memorable. I had more fun with baseball this season than I can remember. I can hope now, on January 1, 2014, that this year may somehow be better than last. And that is my wish for you all as we enter a new year full of pitfalls and promises. May your new year be blessed beyond measure and may at least some of your dreams be fulfilled. God be with you all.
This is the nineteenth post in the Twenty Moments Sports series for 2013.
We are still fairly close to Christmas and I figured an ‘eyes all aglow’ reference would not be lost on you. Auburn running back Tre Mason set the world on fire during the SEC Championship game against Missouri. He ran for 304 yards and the Auburn offense amassed almost 700 yards. I think Tre scored fourth touchdowns in the game. This photo was taken after he scored his final touchdown. Look at those eyes!
Some things are special. The look in this kids eyes is one of those things. He looks like he is having the time of his life. I guess if I had just burned a team for all the yards and scores he burned them for I would be glowing too. I think in the climate of big money athletics, even at the college level, has caused us to forget how much fun it is to play the games. I mean, Nick Saban just signed a contract extension with the University of Alabama for more than $7 million a year. Does anyone think he ever looks like he is having fun? I think I need to reexamine my career choice right now. Seven million dollars, in Alabama? Reckon there is still time for me to learn to coach some football?
Watching Tre Mason run the ball during that game against Missouri reminded me the game is fun. I think the last player I saw that made me remember that simple fact is Cam Newton. I know, there was all kind of controversy surrounding Cam, his recruitment and his dad but when that young man was on a football field it looked like he was having the time of his life. I saw him get hit so hard in a game that year I thought for sure he would be knocked out. He got right up with that big smile on his face and flipped the ball to an official and went right on playing.
Money has certainly changed the game. It has turned the sport into a huge industry that sometimes acts heartlessly to the players who are often treated as expendable assets especially at the professional level. That economic fountain of wealth has certainly flooded college football and some has even trickled down to the high school ranks. I think of Jadeveon Clowney at South Carolina who suffered extreme criticism through much of this season. He entertained the idea of sitting out a year to protect his body and his future earning potential then, when he decided to play, fell under criticism for appearing not to give his best effort in some games.
How can a young man have much joy when there is all that pressure? I don’t know but it certainly looks like Tre Mason figured out the riddle. We live in a world where so much can go wrong, so many people are overtly critical, even threatening. I find this photo extremely refreshing because it stands diametrically opposed the dark side of the game.
This is the eighteenth post in the Twenty Moments Sports series for 2013.
Three photos from the Iron Bowl make the Twenty Moments series this year. Three! Aside from BCS Championships, this is probably the biggest game I have ever covered and I have covered some really big games. The thing is, before the game, no one came up and said, “This is going to be the best Iron Bowl game ever and one of the best college football games ever.” Nope. No one does that for you. The talking heads and columnists were building this Iron Bowl up but that is not outside the norm. Everyone expected a big game because it was the first Iron Bowl where both teams were ranked in the top five but no one expected this kind of game.
Honestly, I never expected Auburn to win. I thought it would be a good game for a half, maybe for three quarters then I expected Alabama to pull away and win by a couple of touchdowns. Auburn clearly didn’t know about my expectations! Actually, there was a point in the game where that was about to happen. Alabama went up 21-7 and had the proverbial boot above the neck. Had Alabama stopped Auburn on that possession they would very likely have steamrolled the Tigers. Auburn refused to cooperate and pushed the ball down the field for a touchdown bringing the score back to 21-14.
Much has been said about the coaching, the kicking and the pair of dropped touchdown passes by Alabama receivers. You would think God was on the side of the Auburn Tigers! You would especially think that when you saw the last play of the game which unleashed this flood of Auburn humanity onto the field. Wow, a missed 57 yard field goal returned 109 yards for a touchdown! Who would have predicted that? That has to be the weirdest finish since at least the Cal-Stanford band on the field game and maybe it topped that since so much was at stake in this game.
Literally, the Crimson Tide had been the best team in the nation all year and nothing stood between them and a third BCS Championship game in three years but Auburn and the SEC Championship game. Most people considered the SEC Championship a mere formality as long as Bama didn’t trip in the Iron Bowl. They tripped. Auburn assumed the mantle of the SEC West, the SEC Championship and the trip to the BCS title game. What can you say but Wow!
The game ended and the stands emptied onto the field. All hope of post game photos was lost. The players were lost in a sea of orange and blue. I was lost in a sea of orange and blue. The only hope to get any kind of shot was to get into the now vacant stands. I fought my way toward the Auburn student section like a salmon swimming upstream. Sometimes it literally felt like swimming. My first goal was to get off the field without getting trampled or hurt. Then I would shoot some pictures. I did manage to climb into the student section and the sight of all those fans on the field was like nothing I had ever seen. It was like the stadium had been inverted. What a crazy mob scene.
In the aftermath, fans stripped the hedges in their enthusiasm to take home a memento of the night. Someone left the cremated remains of a loved one on the field. Such is life in the Southeastern Conference’s biggest rivalry game.
This is the seventeenth post in the Twenty Moments Sports series for 2013
The new joke is, “Hey Nick, got a second?” Auburn already has t-shirts with that printed on the back. As the whole football world knows by now, the game appeared to end when an Alabama ball carrier dashed out of bounds and the clock ticked to zero. Nick Saban asked referees to review the play to see if any time was left on the clock. Indeed, the replay clearly showed the Bama runner stepping out with one second on the clock. Alabama lined up for a 57 yard field goal to win the 28-28 ball game. Then Gus Malzahn called a time out.
This gave me a chance to sprint to the other end of the Alabama bench to get behind the kicker. I knew if he hit the kick he would turn back to the Bama sideline with his arms in the air and maybe teammates would swarm out and lift him on their shoulders. So I was ready. The ball is snapped, placed and kicked. I could tell from the body language he had missed the kick. Game over, right? Then I saw the Alabama players running toward the Auburn end and it took a moment for it to dawn on me what was happening. Malzahn used the timeout to set a return man in the end zone in case the kick was missed short.
The kick was short and Chris Davis caught the ball nine yards deep in the end zone and returned it. He had nothing to lose. The Crimson Tide parted and Davis outran the big, heavy linemen to the end zone to win the game with the most unlikely play I have ever seen. As soon as Davis cleared about the Auburn 40 yard line I could see him. There were no Alabama players in my frame and I thought he might score. He kept running and I knew he was going to score. And score he did.
I had a good, clean look at the run back with people on the sideline with hands raised. I sprinted toward the end zone where he was being dog piled by his teammates then I remembered, my job was to cover Alabama. I knew from experience there would be almost no reaction from the Alabama players and I started to run on over to the pile. I managed to reign myself in and get to the Alabama sideline in time to get one nice dejection photo before the players were gone or lost in the swarm of fans stampeding the field.
My colleague, Jeronimo Nisa, was covering the Auburn side and I had to stick to my assignment. The play actually came directly toward him and he had the player scoring literally right in front of him. My next mission was to get off the field before I was run down by the stampeding Auburn fans, but that is a post for another day. Now, as a peak action photo, this shot isn’t much. The player is all alone and the angle is not optimal; however, it is a historic moment in this rivalry and having any kind of frame of the biggest moments in the Iron Bowl rivalry automatically elevates this picture to an above average place and gives it a spot in this year’s Twenty Moments.
This is the sixteenth post in the Twenty Moments Sports series for 2013.
No one tells you before a game that you are about to photograph that it will go down as one of the all-time greats in college football history. You feel it coming as the game builds to its climax but even after it is over you are working too hard to take much notice. Only after you transmit that last image does it sink in and you think what a privilege it is to have the job you have. This game may also be the game with the most unlikely ending since the game between the Amorites and the Philistines was ended prematurely by a rain storm back in Noah’s day. (To be honest, I made that part up. I am not sure those two teams existed until after Noah!) My job in this Iron Bowl was to cover Alabama. I told people before the game Alabama should beat Auburn by two touchdowns. In all actuality, they probably should have and probably would have nine times out of ten. But not on this night.
The negative side of the game for Alabama was the kicking. Poor Cade Foster had an awful night. He missed three times. After the third miss, AJ McCarron who was holding for him, walked past him and patted him on the head. Cade, as you can see, has his head down in a classic pose of dejection. I am pretty sure Coach Saban saw that body language and, in a critical situation later in the fourth quarter, opted to go for it on fourth down, a decision that surely cost Alabama the game. A field goal in that situation would have iced the game for Bama but Coach Saban had this image in his mind. Auburn held on fourth down and managed a game tying touchdown leaving less than one minute on the clock.
You all know what happened after that. Yet another malfunction in the kicking game cost Alabama a near certain shot at another National Championship. This photo, from the Alabama perspective, becomes the photo of the game. Will this enter my a portfolio? Nope. But it has the storytelling quality you want in your sports images. When you get that frame that tells the story you know you have done your job.
Now, the story doesn’t stop here. Some Alabama fans actually texted death threats to Cade Foster after the game. Insanity! The young man missed some kicks. It is a game. People, grow up! And how in the world can anyone heap this on Cade’s shoulders. People don’t remember that Alabama receivers dropped two passes in the end zone that would have been touchdowns. Had either ball been caught the game never comes down to a field goal and, honestly, would not have even been a close game. I also have a nice frame of one of those would be touchdowns being dropped. For all of that, Auburn won the game on the most unlikely play ever to end a game.
Alabama attempted another field goal with one second on the clock. It was a very long attempt and the kick fell one yard short. Chris Davis returned said kick 109 yards for the game winning touchdown with no time left. Want to guess what tomorrow’s post will show?
This is the fifteenth post in the Twenty Moments Sports edition for 2013.
That scream you hear off in the distance is not Wesley in the Pit of Despair! It is my soul crying out in agony as I miss the shot of year! For those of you who don’t understand my movie reference, go immediately and rent The Princess Bride. You will thank me for the rest of your life. For those cultured among you, no further explanation is necessary.
Obviously this Twenty Moments moment is not a highlight of my year; rather, it is an object lesson. You can see this is one of the key moments of Auburn’s season. This is the Miraculous Deflection turned Miraculous Reception turned saving moment of the season. Of course, there was another play, even more unlikely that lifted Auburn in the Iron Bowl. Like I said yesterday, I wouldn’t bet a single penny on Florida State in the BCS Championship. Wow!
Here is what happened. Like everyone else in the stadium, I expected the last play to be a failed pass attempt that would seal the victory for Georgia. I was actually focused on the Auburn fans in the student section. I turned around just before the play to shoot, you know, just in case. When the Georgia players leaped into the air, I have them tack sharp, perfectly focused. I could see Auburn receiver Ricardo Louis lift his eyes and I knew the ball had been tipped up. I also knew my camera was refusing to focus on Louis. I banged on the AF button with my thumb, begging with my mind for the camera to focus. It refused. The ball floated into his hands with him coming right at me. I nailed the shot, only I didn’t.
I didn’t even bother to review the image. I knew it was out of focus. My only alternative was to turn back to the fans with my second body and a wide lens and shoot their reaction. They were, of course, going ape. It is a nice series of frames but it is not the catch, the defining moment. I missed it. I am still chagrined. Of all the shots to miss and I miss this one. There are no adjectives that my mom and dad can read without washing my mouth out with soap that would accurately express me feelings right now so use your imagination.
Here is the object lesson. I got greedy. Three games earlier, I think it was during the Alabama vs Tennessee game, I decided I wanted full speed on my motor drive. I moved the selector from ten frames per second to eleven frames per second. It seemed to work ok so I left it there and forgot about it. Then the problems started. I began noticing the camera was not following focus well, not even when the subject movement was minimal. It took me three weeks to figure it out which was about a week too long. I had changed every AF setting I could to eliminate the focus lock and focus tracking. I had the camera doing nothing but continuous autofocus. Still, it wasn’t working right. I finally remembered changing the motor selector. I switched it back and tried a high school basketball game. Nailed every shot.
I happened to speak with Bob Rosato about the problem and he told me the D4 does not play well at 11 fps. That was the tipping point for sure. Bob is the head of USA Today Sports and a former Sports Illustrated photographer. I spoke to him about it just before the Iron Bowl game and it confirmed my diagnosis. That is one of the really wonderful things about shooting with the big dogs. The big dogs turn out, as often as not, to be really nice people who are willing to share knowledge with you. That alone is worth showing up to shoot college football.
This is the fourteenth post in the Twenty Moments Sports editon for 2013.
When you are having a “miraculous” season, walking on air can’t be that big of a deal. I don’t know about miracles but Auburn surely has been on someone’s good side this year. They had no conference wins last year which cost the coach his job. Auburn hired former offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn and suddenly the team exploded. Add new quarterback Nick Marshall to the mix and there was definitely something magical, if not miraculous, about the 2013 season. I mostly covered the University of Alabama this year but I arrived just in time to photograph Auburn’s two most unlikely wins.
Auburn led Georgia comfortably going into the fourth quarter before blowing the lead and needing a miracle. On the last play, on a fourth down and long, quarterback Nick Marshall dropped back and threw a Hail Mary pass. Two Georgia defenders were waiting in perfect position. They jumped into the air and somehow, instead of simply batting it down and winning the game, they tipped the ball into the air and into the hands of Auburn receiver Ricardo Louis who waltzed into the end zone.
In the Iron Bowl game for the ages, Auburn trailed Alabama late and somehow the Alabama defense, one of the best in the nation all season, couldn’t put the brakes on Auburn. Nick Marshall rolled left and threw the single ugliest pass I have ever seen. Somehow that lame duck, and that is being too polite, fell into the arms of a wide receiver and there was not a single Alabama defender anywhere near him. He scored to tie the game. Then, as everyone knows, Alabama tried a field goal with one second left after a review of what appeared to be the final play put one second back on the clock. (Got a second Nick?) Chris Davis caught the errant field goal and somehow returned it 109 yards for a touchdown to win the game in what is the most unlikely ending to a football game I have ever seen.
You now know enough to know not to be against Auburn in the BCS Championship Game! The photo of Nick Marshall floating over a quartet of fallen Gerogia players seems to me to sum up the feel of the season pretty well. I won’t claim this is a great sports action photo; however, it is one of those photos that has an “it” quality. I can’t put my finger on it but there is some kind of metaphor for Auburn’s season in this image.
In the great scheme of sports photography I would always lean more towards the best metaphorical moment over the best peak action moment. Yes, action photos fill the photo galleries and lead sports pages but when you are telling the story of a game or a season, images like this one will live on while those standard action images will be forgotten.
This is the thirteenth post in the Twenty Moments Sports series for 2013.
There are only two teams in all of college football I can’t stand. One is Notre Dame and the other is Tennessee. At least Notre Dame has some cool looking uniforms. There is nothing, even in the uniform, to redeem Tennessee. For a person from the state of Alabama, aside from beating your instate rival, beating Tennessee is the sweetest. Auburn fans might say beating Georgia is a bit more to their taste but to a Bama fan there is nothing better than whooping on Tennessee.
I suppose it is unfair to take much joy in thumping the Volunteers since they are down and had to endure a tenure under Lane Kiffin. Never mind, I still don’t like them. I felt sorry for them once but it felt like I was feeling sorry for the devil. I did pull for them one time and one time only. When they played for the National Championship back when Tee Martin was the quarterback I did pull for them but that was an SEC thing. I guess the only redemptive thing about the Vols is that my favorite NFL quarterback, Peyton Manning, once played there. Of course, when he was at Tennessee I didn’t much care for him.
There now, got that off my chest. I do always enjoy shooting rivalry games so I love to shoot the Alabama vs Tennesse game even when it is one-sided. This year was one-sided. Alabama was far better than UT and showed it early and often. The game had little to no drama and then something special happened. AJ McCarron hit Kevin Norwood on a short crossing pattern and Norwood broke into the open field running toward the Tennessee sideline.
As he approached the sideline two UT defenders closed in. Norwood did this little twitch with his upper body and I thought to myself, “he is about to jump.” Sure enough, he leaped into the air and right over the shoulders of the two defenders. My only hope was he stayed in the frame and the camera maintained focus. He managed a few more yards after coming down before being tackled. I quickly chimped my image and saw it was in focus and he stayed in the frame. I had a big smile on my face.
By the way, chimping is a highly sophisticated term meaning a photographer looks at images on his camera’s screen immediately after shooting the picture. When you see this happen it looks for all the world like a chimpanzee looking at something in his hands. When several of us are all doing it at the same time it can be a very funny sight. I don’t believe in evolution but if chimps had cameras I am pretty sure it would lead to their extinction! I guess photographers had better be careful while doing stuff like chimping and walking or chimping and driving. It might lead to our extinction as well!
I shot this image with the Nikon D4 and a 300mm f2.8 with a 1.4 teleconverter. I like that combo. It is long, light and still fast enough to use at night games.
This is the twelfth post in the Twenty Moments Sports series for 2013.
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel has more than his fair share of magic; however, with his tumultuous off season after winning the Heisman Trophy, I thought his magic would run out during week two. Alabama made a trip to Manziel land to take vengeance on he and the Aggies for the team’s only loss in last year’s BCS Championship season. Someone forgot to tell Johnny Football he was supposed to quietly into the sunset for the Crimson Tide.
Manziel opened the game much as he did in Tuscaloosa last year. He guided the Aggies to two quick scores and a 14-0 lead. I thought, “oh boy, here we go again.” Then AJ McCarron led the Tide back and back and ahead and more ahead until Bama had asserted itself with a two touchdown lead and was driving for a three touchdown lead. Then Bama fumbled near the A&M goal line and Manziel did his thing.
I had my Canon EOS 5D with me as a second body. I had the 24-70 lens attached. With A&M down near the goal line and me right behind them, I thought this was a perfect chance to use it. Johnny dropped back and was under heavy pressure. He lofted a pass incomplete. I thought that Bama had him down and this would be the end of it. Johnny Football dropped back again and I shot again. This time his pass found a mark deep behind the Alabama secondary. Manziel had just connected for a 95 yard touchdown pass.
The Sports Illustrated photographer must have been right beside me. We have the identical angle on the play. My 5D’s 3 frames per second motor drive meant I didn’t get the same moment as he did. The SI photo has the ball on Manziel’s fingertips. Mine, being a split second later, shows the ball already in flight. My previous frame, the one on the incomplete pass, was actually better but it wasn’t the touchdown. Still, it is a nice frame from a big play.
I have photographed A&M twice over the past two seasons and each time I have been amazed by Johnny Manziel. He doesn’t look like he should be able to do what he does. He is not tall but he has more escape moves than Houdini. He reminds me of Fran Tarkenton, a quarterback from my childhood days who played for the Minnesota Vikings back in the day when they played in an outdoor stadium. Now that was a long time ago. But Manziel has that same annoying knack for getting out of trouble and making big plays. As a Cowboys fan growing up, I hated to see the Vikings because my Cowboys couldn’t catch that dude. I feel the same way watching Manziel.