Super Bowl XLV: How To Photograph Football Sports Illustrated Style

Our friend Tyler Kaufman from New Orleans is a young sports photographer who had the opportunity to go and photograph Super Bowl XLV. Understandably, he was so busy shooting that he didn't have time to create a proper behind the scenes video on what it must be like shooting one of the largest sporting event in the world. Luckily for us, Max Morse was able to make a video showcasing many of the Sport Illustrated photographers in attendance. During our own interview with David Bergman, an SI photographer also in attendance of the big game, I learned that sports photographers do not simply show up and try to frantically track each player and each play for the perfect shot. Instead they are stationed in strategic spots which allows each photographer to cover their section of the field and specific players....assuming the play does come in their direction. I've always thought shooting sports at this level must be extremely difficult, and that might be why I have such respect for great sports images. Enjoy :)

Sports Illustrated Photography at Super Bowl XLV from Max Morse on Vimeo.

Tyler Kaufman's silent tour of Super Bowl XLV:

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I just can't see the magic in the frames I guess...feels like the concept is quantity and not quality. 11 000 pictures an hour, wow.

Cool article thank you! The Super Bowl is not the largest sporting even in the world though as you stated.

Nice post, this gives you a different view of what you normally see in the media.

Very cool. Glad to see the work by all the guys on the sideline of the BIG game.

I'm a sports photographer shooting major college and professional sports. And I believe there I a bit of exaggeration going on with the editors involved in this piece. With 11 photographers shooting, you would have to bee shooting over 16 frames per second continuously to achieve 11,000 images per hour. I don't know of a camera that can provide that frame rate. Most cameras used in sports shoot around 10 frames per second. There are events where a publication such as SI saturated the field with photographers to create the highest opportunity for capturing that "moment" we are all looking for. With the experience and talent if the photographers interviewed, they'd better get one!

Alas, Ihave to do it all myself. And I do ;)

Scott, I just rewatched the video and I think you misunderstood what they were saying. I think they said their workstation can handle 11,000 images an hour where normal systems can only do 1,000 an hour. He said they anticipate 30,000-40,000 images total. Even if they were shooting 11,000 an hour, I think the math would be this: 11,000 divided by 11 photographers = 1,000 frames an hour. Or 16 frames per minute Or .27 frames per second. I'm not sure how long the super bowl is but 5 hours of coverage would be about 8,000 images per hour. Even at .27 fps, that still seems like a lot of images considering there isn't THAT much action going on every second.

40,000 shots is, what, an average of 2 shots per second over the full 4 hour(?) event. This is the lamest kind of photography - cover all the angles and machine-gun it. It won't be long before they're pulling stills from high resolution video. I'm sure that goes on already.

I know these guys are all professionals with decades of experience behind the lens, and they've all paid their dues, but they're reduced to nothing but robots in a production line. It's no wonder Sports Illustrated has some of the best shots if they're working like this - they thrown enough shit at the wall and inevitably some of it sticks.

Patrick Hall's picture

@LJ, I understand where you are coming from but I think I ultimately disagree with the 'throw enough shit and something will stick' mentality. First off, this is the largest event in the US and a big money maker. In these sorts of situations you would be foolish to do anything but have all the bases covered.

Second, I don't think it would even possible to get the MVP game changing shot if you had to cover every player as each play unfolded. It would be impossible to understand the play, frame up that player, autofocus, and then snap a photo at the peak of the action. My camera struggles with AF sometimes even when I'm already perfectly framed up. You have to cover the bases with sports photography.

Third, all of these photographers are extremely talented and they probably all take amazing photos that just don't showcase the absolute star player or key play in the game. Sure, 5% of the total shots taken are keepers but probably .001% of them are ever even published...but that doesn't mean the other shots aren't great in their own right. I know a lot of wedding photographers that follow the "take enough frames and one will be good" but guess what, many times they aren't capable of taking 1 good frame so "throwing a lot of shit" sometimes still results in the keeper being....well shit :)

All in all, I'm not a sports photographer so I can't say for certain but I can't imagine I would run my photo department any differently if I was head of Sport Illustrated and if I was on the field I too would be following a single player each snap and firing at 10 fps as well.

I know its much much after this was posted but I just wanted to say that this is a fantastic example of what happens at big sporting events, and on the biggest scale you'll see in the US. As a sports photographer trying to make a living out of this after graduating college, its great to see the level of talent here. Its not just throwing enough shit. Say that to Heinz Kluetmeier or John Biever and see what their reactions would be. Heinz would sock you straight in the mouth. Its difficult to read plays, have the coverage, get in front or behind the shot. Running the sidelines is terrible but it get great pass shots if you're around the line of scrimmage. 

Its so very hard but the teamwork here is incredible and it makes me hopeful that maybe someday I can shoot a game like this with a group like this. But the thing is, these photographers are the best of their time, and we may have passed the golden age of such great shooters, with the number of people shooting now. The skill cap is so high, but not many people break through.