Back before I ever picked up a camera, I always enjoyed looking through the pages of Sports Illustrated. I was never the rabid sports fanatic many of my friends were growing up, but I definitely loved the close game, the epic play, the milestone achievement, and of course the human emotion that came with obtaining greatness. So when one of our readers, freelance sports photographer Tyler Kaufman, offered a chance to see how the photographers of Sports Illustrated covered the biggest game in college football, you know I happily obliged. It also didn't hurt that my college days were spent on the campus of Tuscaloosa!
Unlike other Fstoppers videos, I had to travel down to New Orleans for the BCS National Championship Game alone with no assistants. It's always tough knowing exactly what the story will be for each of our videos, but I had a pretty good idea. I wanted to know exactly what it takes to photograph football at the highest level through the eyes of a Sports Illustrated photographer. Lee and I had already featured fellow sports photographer David Bergman, so I knew how tough it was going to be tracking down a few of these guys since they like to travel...A LOT!
Luckily the staff photographers for Sports Illustrated are a genuine group of guys who enjoy sharing their knowledge as much as we do. I first met up with Simon Bruty at the Superdome the day before since he was photographing the Saints/Lions playoff game. Simon's plan was to shoot the entire game from the 250 foot high catwalk looking straight down on to the field. While the birds-eye location definitely gave a unique perspective unlike anything anyone else would be shooting, I can say for certain that I would not want to be up there longer than 15 minutes...let alone an entire football game.
Next I caught up with Al Tielemans back at the media and press hotel. Al has been shooting for Sports Illustrated for over 20 years, and the knowledge he shared with me for this video was unbelievable. It's always great when you can pick another photographer's brain a bit, but it's even better when you can talk candidly about your craft. Al held nothing back and shared both the highlights and the struggles with being a traveling photographer. We could only include a small bit of Al's interview which is a shame because he definitely has some interesting stories.
The next day hours before the big game, Sports Illustrated photographer Damian Strohmeyer checked into the media base camp. Like Al Tielemans, Damian was a lot of fun to interview. Being from Boston, Damian knows his sports and had a lot of great stories from his days shooting football, basketball, baseball, and hockey. Knowing very little about the sports photography world myself, Damian explained in detail what it takes to make a career out of shooting events and how you have to always raise the bar regardless of what tier you are competing. Make sure you check out Damian's image of perhaps one of the greatest catches ever in a Super Bowl...Eli Manning's miracle pass to David Tyree in Super Bowl XLII.
There was one name that came up unanimously when I mentioned photographing football: John Biever. John Biever is a true veteran of the sport and is in a very elite group of photographers who have photographed every single Super Bowl dating back to 1967. So I was really excited to finally meet John pregame and interview him before kickoff. John made it clear to me that as a sports photographer, your responsibility isn't to capture just the action on the field but also to tell the stories from the sidelines, the crowd, and the overall setting. Watching John do his thing on the LSU end zone was inspiring in an of itself. I can't thank him enough for taking me under his wing as I experienced my first football game from the sideline.
The main thing I learned while filming these four Sports Illustrated photographers work was that in order to get consistent results you have to have a lot of experience under your belt. Sports photographers are never guaranteed a play on their side of the field, but when the action does come your way, your gut instincts better kick in and allow you to produce a sharp, clean image. You also have to take calculated risks to produce a shot that stands out from everyone else. But the most exciting thing I learned from interviewing these guys and watching them work was that anyone can produce the standout photograph from the game at anytime. Of course you have to have the best gear to compete with everyone else on the sidelines, but once luck falls your way, your image could tell the story as well or better than those photographers at the highest level.
Since everyone is curious about the gear these guys use, I've included a simple list of both the Nikon and Canon gear needed to shoot football.
Nikon List (Al, John):
Nikon D3 DSLR Camera (soon to be Nikon D4)
Nikkor 14-24 2.8
Nikkor 24-70 2.8
Nikkor 70-200 2.8 VRII
Nikkor 300 2.8 VRII
Nikkor 400 2.8 VR
Nikkor 500 f4 VRII
Nikkor 600 f4 VR
Nikkor 200 - 400 f4
Various Nikkor Teleconvertors
Canon List (Simon, Damian):