I’ve always loved the challenge of shooting with a camera phone. For years my Instagram feed was “iPhone only” and I only followed users who abided by the same rule because of the appreciation I have for making quality, creative images under the limitations of a camera phone. I’ve since opened up my feed to my professional images because there are benefits of showing that type of work on Instagram, but I still shoot with my phone quite a bit and still enjoy trying to make creative images with it.
When I photograph NFL games I typically spend a little time early in the day and try to make some iPhone images before the real action gets started, but I’ve always thought about what it would be like to shoot an entire game with just my phone. For in-game action I shoot with a 400mm lens, so obviously my reach would be drastically cut short. The sidelines of an NFL game is one of the most busy, cluttered atmospheres you can possibly shoot in, so working with the large depth of field that a camera phone produces means I’d have to be very careful with my composition to make clean images. There are a laundry list of other factors that make shooting an NFL game with a phone seem like a questionable idea, but I’m always up for a good challenge.
You might not know that the Ravens have two team photographers. Myself and Phil Hoffmann, who has been shooting for the team since 1996. We both shoot home games, but we split up away game duties. Phil was scheduled to shoot the Giants game in New York and being that the game was so close I thought it may be a good opportunity to shoot with my phone, so I told the VP of New Media, Michelle about my idea and asked if she’d credential me. Luckily she said yes and I started planning. First, I bought a new phone! I was using the iPhone 6 and honestly hadn’t planned on upgrading, but I figured I could use an extra edge so I got the new iPhone 7. I considered the iPhone 7 Plus for it’s extra camera, but it’s way too big for me to carry around full time and they were on backorder until December when I made the decision anyway. I also new I’d need some extra battery power so I bought a Mophie Powerstation. I also new I wanted to be able to put my phone on the end of my monopod for a different perspective so I also bought a Gadgin bluetooth remote to trigger my phone’s camera.
I’m definitely not the first person to shoot an NFL game with a camera phone. Andrew Weber shot a game last year with the iPhone 6s Plus and more recently David E. Klutho shot a game this year for SI with the iPhone 7 Plus. I knew I would be limited on the in-game action I could capture, especially without the extra reach of the Plus lens. Unless I was lucky enough for a play to happen right in my lap (which I was not) I was hoping to make up for it by making a lot of feature images. I also have great access with the Ravens and I knew I had to use that to my advantage. The players and coaches are used to having me around and most of them are comfortable with me getting fairly close but I knew shooting with a phone meant having to push those boundaries a bit more than normal. I did get a few strange looks and questions about what I was doing, but I don’t think it affected things too much because I’ve spent years building trust with players and staff.
So, how’d it go? Pretty similar to what I expected. Game action was tough. I knew what I was getting myself into and was still a little surprised at how far away everything was. I tried not to use the in-camera zoom too much because it really degrades the quality and I knew I could always crop in post and get better results. Out in the sun the phone performed great. Images were sharp and clear. In low light areas like the tunnel and the locker room the quality drastically changed and I was fighting motion blur and overall image softness. In some cases I just worked with it and used image blur in a creative way to make a more unique image. For the most part I used the iPhone’s default camera app occasionally using an app called “Manual” for a bit more control. One of the biggest things I had to account for was timing. The DSLR’s I typically use react instantly when I push the shutter. The iPhone camera has a slight delay which made timing more challenging.
The best part? I had a lot of fun. It was a new challenge and new challenges always excite me. For the most part I’m pretty happy with the results and despite being a little surprised about how well some of the photos turned out, I don’t think I’ll be replacing my Canon gear with a camera phone just yet. Hopefully I didn’t make myself obsolete…