The Life of a Super Bowl Sports Photographer

The Life of a Super Bowl Sports Photographer

For sports photographers everywhere, tonight is the night that you someday hope to be working. Super Bowl Sunday has basically became a national holiday for Americans. Whether you’re watching for the commercials, or the game, photographers everywhere want to see that lineup of camera bodies and lenses on the sidelines.

Recently, The Verge had the opportunity to interview Peter Read Miller, a Sports Illustrated photographer who has had the luxury of shooting the Super Bowl, 38 times over. And Miller is good too, so good in fact that he has had his photos on the Sports Illustrated cover over 100 times. But he isn't the only one shooting the big game for Sports Illustrated.

Along with Miller, will be 10 other SI photographers, at different positions on the field, ensuring that no big play will be missed. There are also, what Verge calls ‘a remote army’ of cameras, capturing the game at different angles that’d be virtually impossible to get with a camera man.


As for equipment, Miller uses four Canon EOS-1D X bodies, with lenses ranging from the Canon EF 600mm f/4L to the new Canon EF 24-70 f/2.8L II. Usually with two cameras strapped to him, and two on monopods, carrying the equipment can become a daunting task. So photographers often have an assistant with them, to help move and hold cameras, and make sure all the lens caps are in order.

Along with assistants, Miller and other photographers have a team of people swapping out memory cards called runners. These runners, put the photos into a system called Opus, which ingests the photos and send small JPEGs to editors in New York. The editors then select the photos, and the system sends them the RAW images automatically. This allows photos to be in articles and print mere moments after the photo was taken, as oppose to days with film.

In a single game, Miller says he usually takes about 2000 photos, and that other photographers often take many more than him. With over half a million photos in his career, many of them were shot on film. Miller hopes to someday be able to compile them into a book, giving a look into his long career taking those iconic photos.

Read the full article from The Verge here, and look for Peter Read Miller on the sidelines tonight, snapping away.

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Is there info on the photo-ingesting system mentioned "Opus"?

Zach Sutton's picture

The main article is here. Apparently its a system owned by SI, and there isnt really much info out about it.

How do they know who shot which pictures? ok, I know they could put their names on their cards but is there another system that they use?  Do they leave the shots on the cards so that the photographers have access to them later?  Also, do they have usage rights settled before they go on the field and start shooting or are they just work for hire photographers getting paid a flat rate?  Do they ever get back an empty card and say wtf?

Patrick Hall's picture

It's all with Metadata.  The Photographers have specific runners who take the cards from their cameras back to the workstation under the stadium.  I'm sure each camera has copyright info embedded directly into the files or at least the name of the file is unique to the photographer and his camera.  

Mark Kauzlarich's picture

For what its worth, I'm pretty sure a lot of the 1DXs and D4's will be run straight cable to the editing station, or a router to the editing station. They did that for the National Conventions for Getty/AP/Reuters/AFP, the debates, the acceptance party, and the inaugural. Its too easy not to.

The shooters in question are Sports Illustrated employees, so their cards go to the SI system. They use their metadata from their camera systems to label their images, and they have access to the uploader system, so they can pull images if need be. The point of the runner to uploader setup is to keep the photographer shooting, without having to worry about all the rest. Think of it like a relay race: photog shoots, runner unloads, rinse and repeat.

As far as the AP/Gettys/Reuters people, I don't know, but I would assume they're freelanced, and have a way of submitting images as well.

Major wires bring their staffers for major events like this, they wouldn't use stringers. I'm sure they use a pretty similar system. Maybe instead of runners using the Canon wireless transmitter (my newspaper uses one sometimes too) and having a couple (or a few) photo editors working on selecting and captioning the images. Like mentioned in the original interview, the OIympics is like 16 days of the Super Bowl, so this is easier as a whole to the big wires and papers.

I know at least with the 1D series, name and copyright/source data can be embedded into the camera so it appears looking at a shot's metadata. I'm sure they leave the shots on the card or have individual ftp folders or some sort of server folders for access later. 

I'd say 90% of photographers on that field, if not more (including SI, major wires, newspapers etc) are all staff photographers that have signed their copyright away, but that is the staff standard. 

"insuring that no big play will be missed" - ensuring

"I am the Roman Emperor, and am above grammar." 
Emperor Sigismund 

lol i thought the same. Grammar Nazis everywhere!

lol i thought the same. Grammar Nazis everywhere!

Zach Sutton's picture

I fixed it. I let you down, and for that, I'm sorry.

The thought that popped into my mind during the trophy presentation last night was how I have no desire to be a sports photographer at that type of event. They were all spraying and praying. The sideline guys are a different story entirely, but the guys holding their cameras over there head crowding around the players and coaches during the post-game left a bad taste in my mouth. 

 These spray and pray guys you speak of are mostly the same sideline guys you also speak of.  They usually leave the monopod mounted rigs behind with these assistants/runners and hit the field with the handheld setups mentioned in the article.  They way it packs in during the post-game, you pretty much have to get the camera in the air unless you have the front row view of the crying Ray Lewis (unless you think the shot of the back of the photog's head in front of you will make the cover).

It's actually not that bad. I get to shoot a few NCAA football games, and at the end, it's a paparazzi kind of vibe. Shooting sideline is a nice change of pace to shooting portraits and less chaotic events. Plus, if your camera has a good AF system, then you get quiote a few usable shots.

Tony Carter's picture

ONLY 2,000 pics? LOL

can you PLEASE please please write something more than GEAR-centric stuff? it looks like we're all in this industry for the gadgets, not for the stories. 
where are you fstoppers talking about pictures like these?
NOWHERE. well done.

Zach Sutton's picture

Duly noted :-)

I'll be sure to focus my attention more on the photos next time. The article I read and got most of my info from though, was centered around the gear and process....and SI doesn't give out their photos to just anyone, even with a photo credit.

don't take it too personally, I'm not blaming anyone, I'm just noting way too geartalk than storytelling. I landed on that article yesterday morning and it looked just like a great insight of what happened, I wish I could have seen it here. anyway what you wrote about the shooting is certainly very interesting, but no more than 10 lines as kind of side note or consequence to an article as that one linked in my previous post.
apologies for the hating ; )