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State Football Championships

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Daily Photo by Gary Cosby Jr. Coach Bob Godsey gets his Gatorade bath following Hartselle's State Final victory over Vigor 13-3 in Bryant Denny Stadium Thursday.

I spent two days last week on my knees.  Even though praying for two days would have probably been more profitable for me, this two days was spent on my knees along the sidelines in Bryant Denny Stadium covering two state high school football championship games.  Hartselle High won the 5A championship while Tanner High lost the 2A championship.

This has been an unusual fall for me.  I only shot two regular season high school games.  I love covering high school football and hated missing so much of the season.  I was only dispatched to shoot these games because both of our staffers who covered most of the season could not go.  It was a boon for me.  The only problem is my knees are not quite what they used to be and, even with the running I do now, my knees are still sore from the hours spent kneeling.

Now that I have made such a fuss over kneeling you may be asking yourself the question, “Why didn’t the knucklehead just stand up?”  Quite an astute question on your part.  There is a good reason.  I like the point of view from my knees better than I like the point of view standing.  That small difference changes the background on plays that happen in near proximity to you and helps clean up the background.  Additionally, most sports looks better when you are looking up at the players rather than looking eye level.

I trade aching knees for slightly better pictures.  I shot all the action with the Nikon D3s using a 300 f2.8 with a 1.4 converter I “borrowed” from my friend David Higginbotham.  I kind of borrowed it a month ago and it has not yet found its way back home!  When then action moves too close I pull the converter off and go with the 300 straight up.  If the action gets too close again I switch down to the 80-200.  That is a good formula I use for any level of football and it has worked well for me.

I live in Hartselle so I had something of a rooting interest in the Hartselle team.  The team won the 5A crown with a 13-3 win over Vigor High in a defensive struggle not decided until a late field goal lifted the Tigers to a 6-3 lead.  Hartselle scored a late touchdown after Vigor had to go for it on fourth down on their own ten yard line and failed.  Hartselle took the next play into the end zone for an icing touchdown.

Things did not go so well for our friends from Tanner High.   The Rattlers fell 34-14 in their final to a very, very fast Elba High football team.  The game was tied 14-14 at the half but you could tell Elba was a bit like a volcano waiting to erupt.

I really love covering high school sports.  It is still a fairly pure sport.  The very eager parents from the Little League/Pop Warner years have mostly toned it down by the high school years and there are few high school athletes that will move on to big time college programs.  The majority of players will graduate high school having played their last down of organized football.  The emotions are real and the sense of community surrounding high school sports is awesome.  Friday nights tend to shut down small towns in Alabama and the communities turn out to support their boys.  Folks in Hartselle even set up and tailgate.  In fact, I am surprised there hasn’t been a ticker tape parade down Main Street yet.  Folks in my town are a bit passionate about their sports.

All that leads to a rewarding experience for me as a photojournalist.  Passion, emotion, thrill of victory and agony of defeat all add up to great pictures, great memories and the privilege of documenting a chapter in the local history books.  Its great to be a Hartselle Tiger or a Tanner Rattler this year.

Written by Gary Cosby Jr.

December 8th, 2011 at 3:11 pm

Auburn Earns A Shot

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The SEC Championship game in Atlanta Saturday turned into a victory parade for the Auburn Tigers very early.  After Auburn and South Carolina exchanged opening drive touchdowns, Auburn took over the game and completely dominated SC.  Cam Newton played his usual awesome game but with a twist.  Cam threw the ball like a seasoned pocket passer and accounted for six touchdowns, four by air and two by land, err, ground.   Auburn punched the ticket to the BCS Championship Game with their 56-17 win.  They will face Oregon, the team with the funkiest uniforms in the nation.

Lots of people ask me who I am for, Bama or Auburn.  Growing up I was a bit of both.  I was telling Mark Edwards and Michael Cassagrande on our ride back last night how, as a little kid, my baby sitter always made sure we had Auburn gear to wear.  My brother and I were at her house during the infamous “Punt Bama Punt” game and I remember she had my brother and I up dancing with her in the living room during the climatic moment of the game.

I also remember watching an Alabama game with my dad when Bama played the hated Notre Dame Fighting Irish.  Notre Dame had the upper hand that day and I was so upset watching the game my dad said he would send me to be if I didn’t settle down. I think Joe Theisman was the quarterback.  Not sure because I was just a kid and it was a long time ago.  I have no problem rooting for Alabama or Auburn.  If I were to be sitting in my living room watching an Iron Bowl on TV I guess I would probably pull for Alabama, unless it was a year like this one where Auburn had the best shot at a national title.  Then I would pull for Auburn.

As a photographer, I always lay my loyalties aside and am a fan of the photos.  I want to make great images at a game no matter who wins or who looses.  Obviously, at an SEC Championship I am pulling hard for the team from the State of Alabama prior to the game.  Once the game is on I get into my role and work hard.  This year could be absolutely awesome.  Assuming Cam Newton wins the Heisman, and who else is even in the race, and Auburn wins the National Championship then the State of Alabama would have back to back Heisman winners and back to back National Champions from two different universities.  I doubt that has ever happened before.  And the best thing from my very personal point of view is I would have photographed them both.  Now that is just awesome.

To the game at hand.  I felt God blessed me shooting the game because it seemed most of the big plays were happening right in front of me.  It is a great feeling to be in the right place at the right time and get the picture.  That was the action part of the game.  I can usually do pretty well with action but wow, I seem to have an awful time shooting the post game jube.  I was just a little too late or just a little out of place during the entire post game.  I got good images but I missed some really excellent stuff like Cam Newton making snow angels in the confetti.  Arrrrrrgghhh!!!!!  I was about ten seconds too late.

And just so you guys know that pros screw up, I somehow blew my exposure in most of the post game ceremony and was over by almost a full stop.  That is tough to save in a jpg image.  I checked my exposure before the post game started and it looked fine.  I am not sure if I bumped my controls and changed the exposure or if I was just brain dead but my stuff of the awards and anything out in the field area was blown out.  The photos made around the edges of the stadium were okay.  There is a good stop of fall off from the middle of the field to the edge of the stands so I was saved.  Maybe that was my mistake.  Maybe I set my exposure for the sidelines without thinking it through and then was blown out in the middle.  In fact, that is probably exactly what happened.

Another part of the problem with covering the post game is you can’t be in every place all the time.  Post game has so much going on it is really hard to get to all of it, or even the best part of it.  You just try and pick out the players you want and stick with them.  Obviously Cam Newton, but he is not the only guy on the team so you try and nail down other key players and the coach. I decided it would be great to go to the South Carolina side of the field and shoot back at the Auburn bench to get the players running onto the field to celebrate.  That just didn’t happen.  And then I was 50 yards away when the players lifted Cam Newton onto their shoulders.  I shot it with the 300 and got an interesting perspective on the thing, over exposed of course but we used it for the cover of our special section.

Since the game was pretty much over in the early part of the third quarter I just stopped shooting action on the field and turned my attention to the bench area during the entire fourth quarter.  I was in the right place at the right time then because I got a picture that will certainly be a classic.  Bo Jackson, Auburn’s living legend, was in the team area all game and during the fourth quarter I got a nice shot of he and Cam Newton together.  It is one of those legend and future legend moments that any Auburn fan will appreciate.

I am pretty thrilled for Auburn.  This opportunity has been a long time coming.  Auburn won the National Championship in 1957.  The quarterback of that team lives in Decatur.  I imagine we will be paying him a visit sometime in the next couple of weeks.  Die hard Bama fans are not very happy right now.  That is a shame.  Auburn fans like to say Alabama fans are classless.  Alabama fans say the same of Auburn fans.  Fact is, fans from both teams can wear you out and most of the time it is a pot calling the kettle black kind of situation.  The one thing Auburn fans do have is a pretty serious inferiority complex.  A National Championship would go a long way toward helping put that to bed.  Bammers will still point to the scoreboard and tell the Barners, “We have 13.  Come back when you hit double digits.”  But it will go a long way toward making things a bit more level in the great state of Alabama.

So here you go, this one is for you Katie, WAR EAGLE!!!!!!

Photos copyright Gary Cosby Jr., The Decatur Daily.  The opinions expressed in this blog are my own and do not necessarily represent those of my employer.

Written by Gary Cosby Jr.

December 5th, 2010 at 7:37 pm

Friday Nights

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Friday night high school football has been very good to me this year.  There is so much liberty in having a camera that performs great in poor light.  Take a bow Nikon D3s, you have earned it.  In years past I have been bound to a strobe which gives you one or two pops before tuckering out.  With the nicer camera I can shoot high school under the lights in much the same way I shoot college football.

Here is the old way, and there was never a good old way, but I would get a strobe on camera or in a flash bracket and set it manually to about 1/8th to 1/4 power and hope for the best.  At 1/8th power I could sometimes shoot three frames at 5fps setting and get usable pictures before the flash couldn’t keep up.  At 1/4 power it was more like two frames.  I could shoot at ISO 800 but not higher because any higher and the ambient stadium light would cause ghosting.  It was a very frustrating process that yielded mixed results.  I tried TTL modes a few times but the TTL was always fooled by the dark backgrounds and you ended up with ghosts playing football.

I really hated those days.  I used to love shooting high school football back in the early days of my career.  Pop a roll of TMax 3200 in the camera and you were ready to roll.  Then color came along and demanded strobe.  Digital was impossible, at least for us in the Nikon camp, without the strobe and digital and automatic strobe were never very good friends in sports photos.

Now I can dial up ISO 10,000 and just rock and roll.  I usually don’t shoot above 5 fps though.  You have to deal with too much color shifting as the stadium lights go through their pulse cycles.  The pulse cycles not only change the quality and color of the light but the quantity of light as well.  There is no science here but 5fps seems to agree with the light cycles better than 8 fps.  I don’t know why but it probably has something to do with the frequency and wavelength of the stadium light fluctuations.

I can also shoot with a 300 f2.8 again which was nearly impossible when shooting with hot shoe strobes.  I never liked the way that looked and you got those demon, red eyes far too often.  Glad to be free.  Shooting the 300 lets me move more like I would at a college game and shoot from the back of the end zones more often.  I love doing that.  In high school you can really get clean backgrounds shooting from the back of the end zone.

The other cool thing with high school is I can get really close to the players on the bench.  In fact, many times I can walk back there and mingle with them for a minute or two and work a wide lens.  You will never have that happen covering Alabama or Auburn.  The bench areas are strictly off limits.  Then there is the sideline crowding which doesn’t really exist in our high school stadiums.  Covering a college game you might have to deal with more than a hundred other media members and the countless hangers on who seem to need to be on the sideline, if for no other reason than to get in my way!  Plus the TV crews are always there for the broadcast.  Thankfully, there is none of that right now in high school.  My fingers are crossed.

I have never been accosted by a PR guy while covering a high school game and, sadly, the same cannot be said for covering college football.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love covering college football.  The athleticism alone is worth going to shoot.  There is a great deal more at stake in college and the fanaticism of the fans makes college football a truly memorable experience.  I have often said the two largest houses of worship in the state are Bryant Denny Stadium and Jordan Hare Stadium.  The fans are crazy.  But high school still retains the innocence of amateur athletics in most cases and that is refreshing.   Most of the kids are delighted to get in the paper and the coaches are accessible and easy to get along with compared to the collegiate level.

The only real challenge is approaching high school games with the same attitude, drive and determination as I do when going to a college game.  Not difficult to get pumped up to cover an Iron Bowl game.  Maybe a little tougher to cover homecoming at the local high school.  Don’t fall into that trap.  Work high school just as hard as you do college and the results will make Friday nights every bit as good as Saturday afternoon.

Photos copyright Gary Cosby Jr., The Decatur Daily.  The opinions expressed in this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.


Written by Gary Cosby Jr.

November 6th, 2010 at 5:22 pm

Football Through The Ages

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Hartselle players run through a fog produced by a fog machine as as they take the field to play Hayden High Friday night at J.P. Cain Stadium in Hartselle.

I don’t say much about shooting sports on the various levels, youth, high school, college and pros simply because it had not really crossed my mind.  Fact is, good sports photography is good sports photography and it doesn’t really matter what level of competition you are shooting.  The techniques used in shooting youth football can be translated right up the line just as the techniques used in shooting pro football can be translated back down the line.

The biggest difference is the access you get to the players and the field.  You get very little access to players in pro, only slightly more in college, considerably more in high school and you can practically ride home with the kids in youth league.  It all comes down to money.  Little kids play the game for the fun of it while men are playing for money, really, really big money.  The money guys can’t afford the distraction while the kids really love the attention.

I remember standing on the field with Houston Astros first baseman Lance Berkman a couple of springs ago and asking him if he ever got tired of messing with the media.  The answer is self-evident in the fact the question was being asked.  If I were standing on the diamond next to a ten year old he would be clowning for the camera hoping to get in the paper.  They are playing in two entirely different worlds.

For you as a photographer the primary difference is access.  I can go almost anywhere I want to shoot a high school football game.  The coach will even let me in the locker room from time to time before the game.  If I were to ask Nick Saban to let me in the locker room pre-game I am quite certain they would be taking me out of his office in a straight jacket because coach would have thought I was crazy.

Little kids sports may not seem as glamorous as pro or major college sports and that is probably true.  But what is this really all about?  Isn’t it about making pictures?  I can shoot wonderful photos on any level of competition if my focus is correct.  If I am standing there on the sidelines of a Pop Warner game with the attitude, “this stinks, I wish I were anywhere but here,” a kid would practically have to run me over for me to make a picture.  But if I take the same scenario and apply myself the way I would in a pro game or a college game then I am going to make some pictures.

A great deal of what we accomplish with the camera in hand is due to the attitude between the ears.  If I approach kids and high school sports with the same attitude I approach college and pro sports with my photos will be better across the board.  If you have been a long time reader of the blog you know that I preach a hard earned lesson.  You can only go as far as your attitude will allow.  Bosses know the Biblical saying is true that whoever is faithful in a small thing can be trusted with anything.  The converse is also true, if a man is unfaithful in a small task who would ever trust him with more.  Work every assignment as if it is the best assignment in the world and you will see pictures coming out of those Pee Wee football games that will look like you are shooting the pros.

Obviously, the competition is very different at the various levels of the games.  You have no control over that.  You only have control over you and your approach.  Maybe there won’t be a Julio Jones, diving, one-hand catch for a touchdown in that high school game.  BUT, maybe there will be.  If you position yourself as if you were shooting a big time game you will be ready for it to happen.  Believe me, being ready for a picture is the best way to get it.  Try and use the same imagination at the high school game you would use at a pro game.  Guess what, the strategy isn’t all that different.  It is certainly more complex but a flag route is still a flag route and it doesn’t matter if Randy Moss is running it or Joe Prep is running it.  Be ready and you will get the shot.

Photos copyright Gary Cosby Jr., The Decatur Daily.  The opinions expressed in this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.

Written by Gary Cosby Jr.

September 20th, 2010 at 6:10 pm

Prayer And Alabama Football

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Julio Jones makes a one hand, diving catch for a touchdown against San Jose State in Bryant Denny Stadium Saturday during Alabama's 48-3 win. Photo by Gary Cosby jr.

Alabama kicked off their college football schedule with a cake walk game against Western Athletic Conference opponent San Jose State.  It wasn’t much of a contest.  Bama won 48-3 in a game that was never closer than 7-3.  It went downhill for San Jose State after that.  I was right there with San Jose.  My first quarter was awful.  I was kneeling in the back of the end zone thinking it was the worst quarter of football I had ever shot.  As the first quarter ended I mumbled a prayer which went something like this.

“What have I done?  What do I need to repent of?”  Immediately I knew the answer.  A little later another thing came up.  So what kind of began as a whine, God actually answered.  After that I just asked for help because I was really not doing well.  I walked to the other end of the field with the quarter change and knelt down at the back of that end zone.  (You have to kneel in the South end zone because you block the view of fans.  I like shooting from my knees anyway.)  Before you know it, Julio Jones is laying out for a long pass right in front of me and even before he hit the ground I was praying again.  It went something like this.

“Oh please God, please God, please God!”  I chimped it and then I had another prayer.  It went something like this.  “Oh thank you God, thank you God, thank you God!”  It may sound like I am joking but I promise you that is exactly how it happened.

Now for the rest of the story.  When you are shooting a football team on offense it can be really tough knowing where to look for pictures.  I learned a long time ago there is a trick defensive backs use that I could use too.  As a defensive back back pedals in coverage he is reading the receiver and the quarterback.  He watches the quarterback’s eyes and tries to decide where the ball is going.  This works really well in high school and in college, especially with an inexperienced quarterback.  A wiley old veteran knows that DBs are reading his eyes and will try and throw them off but a young QB doesn’t do this well.

Alabama’s back up quarterback, A.J. McCarron, was in the game because Alabama was already leading 21-3.  I noticed him and was watching him to see if a photo might develop we could use for file art later on.  When he dropped back I saw him looking to the offensive left side.  About the time he let go of the ball I picked up a Bama receiver streaking to the post right up the middle of the field.  I whipped my camera around to that blob of red and squeezed the shutter just as the ball touched Jones’ hand.  At this point I had no idea what just happened.  It was literally a blur.  I didn’t even know if I had Julio in the frame or not.  It happened really quick.  That is when I chimped and had my little fit of thanksgiving down in the back of the end zone.

I knew the play would be reviewed to see if he maintained possession of the ball and this triggered another prayer.  “Oh please let it stand, please let it stand!”  If the play was ruled an incomplete pass the picture would be irrelevant.  Finally the officials declared it a touchdown and I almost did my own end zone dance.  Prayer really is a part of what makes me an effective photographer and, more importantly, an effective human.  I don’t pray all the time on every assignment but now and again I pray specifically about a job.  Not all prayers are answered like this but they are all answered.

Below are a few more images from the pre-game and game action.  Hope y’all enjoy and remember to pray.


Photos copyright Gary Cosby Jr., The Decatur Daily.  The opinions expressed in this blog are my own and do not necessarily represent those of my employer.  All images are copyright Gary Cosby Jr., The Decatur Daily and may not be reused in any way without the permission of The Decatur Daily, Gary Cosby Jr., and in some cases, the NCAA and its member institution.

Written by Gary Cosby Jr.

September 5th, 2010 at 11:48 am

Questions Answered

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This is me on the sidelines. I have no idea what I am smiling about. But it had to be a TV timeout if I am this relaxed. Photo by Deangelo McDaniel.

I had no idea there would be questions from the behind the scenes post.  Since there were several I decided the easiest way to answer them would be to just write another post so here we go.

First question related to the use of a motor drive?  The answer was absolutely I used the motor drive.  I was firing as fast as the camera could accurately focus track which is about 8 fps.  Which leads to the second question.  Was I manual focusing or using continuous auto-focus?  I almost had to laugh here.  I was using AF in continuous mode.  I was never good at follow focus at f2.8 and I am very grateful for the accurate AF on the D3 especially with 46 year old eyes.  Another related question was what equipment was I using?  I shot with the D3 and the D2h bodies but almost totally with the D3.  There is such a huge difference in image quality between the two that shooting them side by side can yield jarringly different results.  Rounding out the technical questions, what was the exposure settings?  I had to look back at my EXIF data here but the ISO was 5000 on the game action with a shutter speed of 1600 at f2.8 with no converter and 1/800 at f4 with the 1.4 converter.  That was for the D3.  The D2h settings were ISO 1000 with a shutter speed of 1/500 at f2.8.

There were a bunch of photographers on the sidelines but I don’t know how many.  I saw about 10 from Alabama.  I don’t know for sure how many were from Texas, California news papers and agencies and all the national and international news agencies plus magazines and others who I have no idea who they were shooting for.  The good thing about it was the video folks were kept off the sidelines and had to accept a network feed which there were heavy restrictions on use for.  The video folks came out at the end of the game and were there for the post game stuff. We were not restricted as far as movement along the sidelines and backs of end zones went.  The area between the 25 yard lines is restricted for the teams and no media is allowed in this area.  Other than that we could move freely.

The Rose Bowl set up two shooting lines, one for kneeling and one for standing.  This worked out great.  It ensured you could always get a place to shoot from.  When you have a 300mm lens this is really important because you have to move a lot more to follow the action than if you were shooting with a 400mm lens.  I try to spend as much time in the back of the end zone as possible because it gives you the cleanest view and it allows more action to be coming right at you.  I probably spent 60-70 percent of my time in the back of the end zone and the rest running up and down the sidelines.

There was a pre-game meeting among photographers to go over the ground rules for shooting the game.  At this meeting, select news organizations which were determined by the universities were issued a special arm band that allowed close up access to the post-game presentation ensuring no one would be between them and the presentation.  Unfortunately, The Decatur Daily was not among those selected for this access.  I chose to go back and shoot with long glass.  It made sense at the time but turned out to be not so good a choice.  Really, that is what photography comes down to.  It is a product of the choices you make in terms of position, lens, movement and moment.  When you have most of them going for you you have a successful night.  When you have most of them going against you you struggle mightily.

Photos copyright Gary Cosby Jr. and Deangelo McDaniel.  The opinions expressed in this blog are my own and do not necessarily represent those of my employer.

Written by Gary Cosby Jr.

January 13th, 2010 at 9:11 pm

20 Moments – Football Portrait

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Jacob Holt anchors the line for the Clements Colts.   Photo by Gary Cosby Jr.   8/3/09

Jacob Holt anchors the line for the Clements Colts. Photo by Gary Cosby Jr. 8/3/09

The portrait is always something I enjoy.  Really, a portrait is about capturing the nature or essence of a person in a single frame.  I find that challenging and not a little bit cool.  I think the portrait is one of the most expressive forms of photography practiced by a photojournalist.  The portrait also gives me an opportunity to create something that would probably have never happened and use that creation to represent an idea or an aspect of the person’s character whom I am photographing.

That was what I did in this portrait of Clements High School football player Jacob Holt.  I was just day-dreaming the shot on my way to the school.  It was a 30-40 minute drive and I had plenty of time to think.  I dreamed up this portrait with the kid chomping a football but never thought for a minute the coach would go along with it or give me the time to do it.  Low and behold, I arrived at the school and the coach told me to take all the time I needed.  I explained my idea and he produced a deflated football.  The young man loved the idea and I had my dream picture.

Now that almost never happens.  It is so rare that the picture I pre-visualize actually happens the way I had dreamed it up that I could probably count them on one hand.  Normally, you have to amend your plan heavily and sometimes just scrap your plan completely and start over.  This photo is that rare picture that happened just like I dreamed it up.  That is just cool.

This photo was shot with a Nikon D2Hs and a 17-35mm lens.  The light is coming from two Lumedyne strobes fired through umbrellas left and right of the subject.  There is some fairly heavy processing in Adobe Photoshop to create the high contrast, grainy appearance.

Photo copyright Gary Cosby Jr., The Decatur Daily.  The opinions expressed in this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.

Written by Gary Cosby Jr.

December 23rd, 2009 at 12:30 pm

Turkey Bowl 09

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091120_TurkeyBowlGC6732Thanksgiving is always the season for football.  You all know about the annual NFL games featuring the Lions in one game and the Cowboys in the other.  I think I am safe in saying that you have never heard of the teams in the Turkey Bowl.  Well, most of you have never heard of them.  The annual games involve students at Leon Sheffield Elementary, a magnate school in the Decatur City School system.  I won’t say it is as highly anticipated as the Iron Bowl but I can tell you it is a whole lot easier to shoot.

Kids in each grade face off against their classmates each year during the last week before the Thanksgiving holiday break.  A rousing series of games of touch football follow with the ball flying everywhere and, as often as not, a few kids flying around as well.  This is just huge fun and it is wonderful to shoot.  The kids are intense.  The crowds, and yes there are crowds, cheer loudly.  And the boys and the girls play the game together.  It is a wonderful thing to see.

The school moves the games to Rhodes Ferry Park and even erect goal posts which is entirely fitting because an old high school football field once sat upon that very spot.  Each grade plays a tournament between the home rooms and each grade crowns a champion.  The competition is intense but at the end of the day everyone wins because, regardless of the score, it was a day out of class.  When I was a kid in school that was the ultimate goal and what better way to accomplish it than with a great game of football.

There are not many things I like to shoot more than football.  This game is certainly not on the level with the Iron Bowl last weekend or the SEC Championship this weekend but this game holds a special place in my heart.  There is just something so, well, American about the whole thing.  The only possible way to make it better is to play it in the mud!

All these shots were done on the D3 and the 80-200mm lens.  Once in a while I used the crop mode but it was mostly just shot on full frame.  We always publish a selection of photos in the paper and online from the Turkey Bowl.  Hope you enjoy it.  Football is winding down.  I am already missing it.

Photos copyright Gary Cosby Jr., The Decatur Daily.  The opinions expressed in this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.

Written by Gary Cosby Jr.

December 2nd, 2009 at 7:37 pm

Rain, Rain Go Away

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Austin's Jamael Johnson leaves the field during one of the periods of heavy rain as Austin battled Cullman Friday night in Ogle Stadium.  Photo by Gary Cosby Jr.  10/30/09

Austin's Jamael Johnson leaves the field during one of the periods of heavy rain as Austin battled Cullman Friday night in Ogle Stadium. Photo by Gary Cosby Jr. 10/30/09

The little kids rhyme, “Rain, rain go away, come again another day,” seems to be the thing that Alabamians are saying these days.  There have been few weeks this fall without rain and I mean a lot of rain.  That has made Friday night football a bit damp this year and has caused my kids soccer schedules to be shredded.  I know, soccer usually doesn’t care about the weather but the city of Hartselle is really fond of their new soccer fields and they are very protective.

What this means for photographers on the sidelines is we have to continually fight the moisture wars.  At the big venues like the college games I get to cover from time to time I see the big boys from Sports Illustrated and other fine organizations rolling out with those high tech rain covers with eye pieces that fit their cameras precisely.  Yeah, that would be nice.  Since The Daily has not seen fit to spend a few hundred dollars on rain covers my approach is decidedly low tech.  Lets just say that my rain covers would do the Beverly Hillbillies proud.

091030_AHScullmanGC8747I usually pay a visit to the local Wal-Mart or grocery store and pick a box of trash bags.  Yep, you heard me right.  I am covering a $5,000 camera and $5,000 lens with a bag that can’t possibly cost even 50 cents.  I know what you are thinking so stow it!  (GRIN)  Really, the everyday trash bag has some decided advantages over the hundred dollar high tech fabric weather shield.

First of all, it is downright cheap.  Secondly, but more importantly, the things are completely impervious to water.  For those of you who don’t have a dictionary handy that means they keep the water out.  Thirdly, they can be easily manipulated to fit whatever lens-camera combo you are using, kind of the ultimate in one size fits all.  Fourthly, (is that even a word) they are cheap so if I lose one I don’t have to worry about going back to the boss and trying to explain how I lost a hundred dollar rain coat for the camera.  Fifthly, (now I am pretty sure I have gone beyond the bounds of English) MacGyver is my hero and I want to do him proud so a trash bag and a roll of gaffers tape would get a thumbs up.  Heck, he would probably fashion a parachute out of that much hardware!  Or a hang glider.  Finally, did I mention they come in black and white, and sometimes brown?  Fashionable and cheap, now there is a dynamic duo.

Cullman's Connor Adams evades a diving Austin kick off team player as Austin battled Cullman Friday night during a heavy rain storm in Ogle Stadium.  Photo by Gary Cosby Jr.  10/30/09

Cullman's Connor Adams evades a diving Austin kick off team player as Austin battled Cullman Friday night during a heavy rain storm in Ogle Stadium. Photo by Gary Cosby Jr. 10/30/09

Now there are some problems with the trash bag turned rain coat.  First of all you kind of look like a hick.  Secondly, you get a bit of an inferiority complex standing next to someone with that nice Aquatech with fitted eyepiece.  Thirdly, the thing flaps around a lot in a high wind.  Fourthly, (here I go again) it can be a little difficult to keep the little opening you have to tear for the eye piece actually over the camera’s eyepiece.  Fifthly, (did you know that when doing point and counter point that if you have a fifthly in your points you need a fifthly in your counter points even if you are not sure that fifthly is an actual word?) if water does get inside your bag it can really make a mess.  Finally, did I mention that you look a bit like a hick?

For you big spenders, there is an alternative to the garbage bag if that is just a little to ghetto for you.  You can buy a really cheap rain suit and then cut off the leg to the appropriate length using the gathered end over the lens and the open end over the camera.  I think you can buy those near disposable suits for a couple of bucks and they actually raise your status from ghetto to simply wrong side of the tracks.  You might even fool the unsuspecting newbie into asking where you got your slick rain cover.  Then you will really make MacGyver happy.

Photos copyright Gary Cosby Jr., The Decatur Daily.  The opinions expressed in this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.

Written by Gary Cosby Jr.

November 2nd, 2009 at 8:16 pm

Ready For Some NFL

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The NFL season is nearly upon us.  However, for a photographer like me the 2009 season started about four weeks ago – if not longer.

I work as one of four staff photographers at the Green Bay Press-Gazette in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  Yes, one of the most frigid cities in America.  And if you can survive the treacherous shooting conditions at Lambeau Field you can survive anything – literally.  But that’s a story for another day.

The Green Bay Packers, the city of Green Bay and the Green Bay Press-Gazette all need each other to survive.  My newspaper once bailed out the Packers franchise – financially – many years ago.  The Packers are what we consider our ‘franchise topic.’  That means that anything Packers-related is consumed by the public and readers across the nation at a nearly insatiable rate.

So although I cover Packers stories all year long, things really heat up around the end of July or the first week of August each year when training camp begins.

I am a Packers beat photographer at the newspaper along with my friend and co-worker Evan Siegle.  We cover all the home games together and then we rotate the road game duties.  For the away games within driving distance – like Chicago or Minneapolis – we both go.

But our entire staff takes a turn covering training camp.  And man do we cover it.  Sometimes there are two-a-days.  Sometimes there are evening practices.  Press conferences.  Autographs.  Bicycle riding.  Preseason games and anything else your mind can imagine.  If there is a player wearing green and gold – we’re covering it.

Long two and three-hour practices can get quite monotonous.  I constantly photograph the same players on the same team over and over and over.  But with each day comes a new opportunity to try to capture a different photograph.  This is my challenge everyday.  Maybe the light is different today than it was yesterday.  Maybe I focus on artsy shots more than action today.  Maybe I focus on ultra-close face shots of players without their helmets on.  Maybe today’s the day I get a shot of players goofing off or dancing around.  Maybe a superstar player (as opposed to rookies and linemen) is riding a bicycle with a kid from the stadium to practice at Ray Nitschke Field.  (This is a long standing Green Bay Packers tradition that some of you may be familiar with.)

During any typical training camp practice I may shoot around 400-600 photographs.  With newspapers now shrinking in size – maybe two pictures make it in the next day’s paper.  However, online web photo galleries are what people go crazy for.  I’ll edit for a couple of hours after practice and assemble a photo gallery of maybe 50-60 pictures.  This generates anywhere from 10,000 to 80,000 web ‘clicks’ for us on our website on any given day.  That’s a lot of online activity and that seems to be what it’s all about these days.

I had the discussion with one of my fellow photographers this summer about why people are so infatuated with viewing dozens of pictures of players practicing everyday.  Often times the players are just standing around without their helmets on – pictures that photojournalists consider boring.  But the thought hit me that if the internet was around (and it wasn’t) when I was a kid growing up in Central Kentucky, wouldn’t I have loved to look at zillions of pictures of Cincinnati Reds stars Barry Larkin, Eric Davis, Pete Rose, Tom Browning and Chris Sabo?  You bet I would!  And I wouldn’t have cared if they were pictures of them in action or on the sidelines.

So each day I keep that thought in mind as well – the public doesn’t get to see their favorite players with the close-up access I am afforded.  That, in part, is what makes my job covering the Green Bay Packers so special.  I get to bring people from 2,500 miles away, or just down the street a front row view.

Covering a professional sports franchise is what I always wanted to do from the time I first picked up a camera.  For that reason I may never leave Green Bay.  After all, jobs in the newspaper industry have dried up faster than a glass of water in the Sahara desert.  Photography jobs are nearly non-existent.  And what if I did find another job in an NFL or Major League Baseball city?  There would likely already be an established photographer covering those teams.  Where else, at age 34, can I possibly work that covers a team in a monopoly market like Green Bay?  Not too many places.

So believe it or not – I often have those thoughts racing through my head as I’m covering training camp and preseason games where rookies and third-stringers play far more snaps than the starters.  I’ve developed a thankful appreciation for the job I hold and the opportunity I have.

You can follow Corey’s coverage of the Packers year round at his blog, Tundra Exposure.

Photos copyright Corey Wilson, The Green Bay Press-GazetteThe opinions in this blog are my own or the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Decatur Daily, the Green Bay Press-Gazette, the Green Bay Packers or the National Football League.

Written by Gary Cosby Jr.

September 7th, 2009 at 5:12 am