I was extremely thankful again this year to be asked back by the NFL to photograph Super Bowl LI as a part of their photo team. The amount of talent and experience in the group is nothing short of phenomenal and it was extremely flattering to be asked to be a part of the team again.
Compared to shooting regular season games, Super Bowls are their own animal that are generally approached a little differently. Normally when I cover games I’m shooting with at most one other person and occasionally by myself and I’m totally comfortable with that. I follow the game up and down the field and try and put myself in the best position to capture impactful moments. Working with a larger group of eight other photographers at the Super Bowl, my task is different…stay in one spot (this time, a corner of the Falcons end zone) and make sure I have that area covered. Working with a team of other photographers is always something I enjoy. Everyone has each other’s backs and you know if something is out of your range, someone else has got you covered.
Sometimes you are lucky…yes, lucky enough to be in a spot where action comes your way. From experience, that doesn’t always happen. I was fortunate to be in a position to capture some pivotal plays of the game and when added to the amazing shots captured by the rest of the crew, we ended up with a body of work that we all can be proud of.
My post-game assignment was to follow the winning quarterback. Immediately I knew I was going to be in for a challenge as the post game scrums after the Super Bowl rival some of the actual rugby scrums I was in in college. Luckily the last play of the game, the winning touchdown scored by James White, happened right in front of me. I was able to make any image of the score then sprint over to Tom Brady and try my best to stick with him amongst the chaos and hopefully make some nice images. I’m always critical of my performance, so I’ll let my editors determine how successful I was, but I’m always up for a challenge and I think I made a few frames that captured the emotion of the moment.
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…
It’s no secret..the NFL is a business…a results driven business. Teams acquire coaches and players based on their ability to perform. They are paid millions of dollars to bring success to their teams. If they don’t perform, sometimes they are let go. If they perform really well, sometimes their value is so high that other teams offer them more money than their current teams can afford to keep them. Personnel decisions in the NFL don’t always make sense, but that’s just how it works sometimes.
As coaches and players move on to new opportunities, occasionally they play their former teams. Situations like this normally garner a lot of attention, billed as a chance for the player or coach to get “revenge” on their former team for letting them go. Most of the time these situations are more memorable for allowing old friends the chance to see each other and catch up. The bonds these guys form almost always outshine any business decisions that surround them and it’s always fun to see them reconnect.
In their home opener, the Ravens welcomed the Buffalo Bills to Baltimore. The Bills are a team with several former Ravens, most notably head coach Rex Ryan, assistant coach Ed Reed and quarterback Tyrod Taylor. It was great to see these old friends sharing smiles and hugs with current Ravens before and after the game. During the game, however, it was all business.
A few of my favorite images from the 2016 NFL preseason…