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|| News Item: Posted 2010-08-25

Sports Shooter Q & A: Let's Get Ready For Football!
Robert Hanashiro asked many of his friends to share their insight into covering football.

By Robert Hanashiro, Sports Shooter

Photo by David Eulitt / The Kansas City Star

Photo by David Eulitt / The Kansas City Star

Players with the Kansas City Chiefs prepare to take the field before their game against the Buffalo Bills on November 23, 2008 at Arrowhead Stadium.
While the temps in many areas across the country are still approaching triple digits, on the athletic fields from Fresno to Freeport, teams are holding two-a-days. Players are sweating in pads and shorts, getting ready for the kick-off of another season of the nation's favorite sport --- football.

(Baseball is the nation's pastime --- football is the nation's favorite sport. Just check the ratings.)

While the players are getting ready, photographers certainly can do the same. While I have run many stories on covering football in Sports Shooter in the past, I felt a Q & A with some good friends that shoot football, might be a good way to kick off a new season here at Sports Shooter.

I asked Robert Beck and John McDonough from Sports Illustrated, plus assistant Jordan Murph; my USA TODAY colleague Robert Deutsch; Appleton Post-Crescent staffer Dan Powers and David Eulitt from the Kansas City Star to share some of their insight into covering football and stories about the teams and players they've covered.

As the saying goes: ALL players put their uniform pants on one-leg-at-a-time. Covering football, whether it's pee-wee leagues, colleges or the NFL, it's still football.

These interviews were all done by email and are informal, interesting and fun. I hope you enjoy this Q & A as much as I did in compiling it.

* * *

Talk about the importance of preparing to cover a game; the importance of knowing the team and players both your home team and the visiting team. How do you prepare?

ROBERT BECK: I don't do much to prepare for a game other than to make travel arrangements and make sure I have the gear I want to take with me. I probably know who the bigger players are on a team but I don't study plays or analyze game plans or watch reruns of Sports Center. If we are focusing on one player then he is all I watch. If we are shooting general game action then I just go at it. I am often the second shooter at a game. So I know I have help. I watch where the other shooter is and try to stay out of their way. I often start with shooting a QB... Keeping an eye on the offensive line. You can read the big boys to figure out if the play is a run or pass and go from there. If they flash out...probably a run. If they step back and show hands...probably a pass.

Photo by Dan Powers / Appleton Post-Crescent

Photo by Dan Powers / Appleton Post-Crescent

Green Bay Packers Brett Favre (4) jumps into the arms of teamate Kevin Barry to celebrate a 40-yard touchdown run by Najeh Davenport against the St. Louis Rams during the fourth quarter Monday, Nov. 29, 2004, at Lambeau Field.
ROBERT DEUTSCH: First, get there early! Use the time to focus on the teams --- not literally. Think about what you are trying to accomplish: Is it a file shoot or are you looking for the game winning play? I recheck my gear, download and edit code replacement files, prepare my Photo Mechanic captions ahead. And for me the best time to get the tight filers of quarterbacks and coaches is pre-game.

DAVID EULITT: Covering one team, like the Kansas City Chiefs for me, during the season really does help your photo coverage...not necessarily the photography per se, but knowing which photos will be the most important to the stories of the game, including injuries, position battles and such. I read everything about the Chiefs in the Star and online throughout the year. Being at training camp for three weeks is pretty dull and repetitive but it's where I get a lot of information on individual players, along with memorizing the roster of players and all the assistant coaches. Once the season starts, I only really need a roster for the visiting team. I watch the NFL Network and ESPN a lot during the season, which helps me catch up on the visiting teams I'll need to shoot during the season. Having information in your head lets you, more often than not, be in a better position to anticipate rather than guess.

JORDAN MURPH: Preparation is very important before covering a game. When the assignment comes down, usually on Mondays, John finds out what the story is and who the editors want us to cover and if we will need special access or to do something out of the ordinary. I am in charge of the equipment but early on in the season before things get really busy there isn't too much I need to do to the gear besides manage the batteries and CF cards as we try to keep the football travel kit ready to go. Later in the fall when there are more playoff baseball assignments and hoops starts up, the equipment has to be constantly repacked to accommodate the different types of assignment. If we have to travel or have more than one game to cover in a weekend, John and I research for air, cars, and hotels with Travel to figure out how to get to and from where we need to go on a timely basis and not break the bank. You might get stuck in a city for a night since red-eyes are pretty much a thing of the past unless you're in international hub. For example, we probably couldn't make it out of Utah on a Saturday night even if a BYU game down in Provo starts at 4 PM. It happened last season, which means waking up at 4 AM to make the first flight out Sunday morning to get to an NFL game in another state.

DAN POWERS: I find it very helpful to research a visiting team before they come to Lambeau to play the Green Bay Packers. It helps me keep an eye on things to look for. Some teams rely more on the passing game or some are known for winning games by the efforts of their defense. The more you know about a team the better chance you have at making story/game-telling photographs. So, if Green Bay plays the Bears next week, I will keep my eye on ESPN to see how the Bears played the week before. I will also go online and read about what is being said about the team, it's stars and it's tendencies.

Is there really a workable strategy in shooting a game?

Beck: I use my 400 and 600 often. Anytime a team is from the 0 -10 yard line I like to use my 70-200. The short zoom allows for the "whole story" look. If I start in the end zone with a team going the other way, I'll shoot from there with the 400 then 600 until they get to around midfield. Then I'll head to the other end and reverse the order.

JOHN McDONOUGH: There's always a workable strategy for photographing a game, but they don't always work. If you're covering a running back, staying downfield helps but is not always necessary. Sometimes, you can be a few yards downfield and work with the running back coming towards the sidelines, vertical or horizontal. If you're covering a quarterback, you can work right at the line of scrimmage and hope that the QB turns your way. Again, framing can vertical of horizontal. Most importantly, you have to go with the flow of the game. See what works on one series, then try another angle, longer lens, slightly elevated, and keep working towards whatever the story angle is, or whatever player you're working on. And, don't forget about the bench it's always good for portraits and detail shots. Also, take a chance and try something different, something risky. If it doesn't work out, learn from it and take that knowledge to the next game. If you can, get in the habit of calling the play and then position yourself. Get to know the teams you're covering.

Photo by

Robert Deutsch survived this post-game scrum after Super Bowl XXXIII to make a nice frame of John Elway from the ground (see below).
ROBERT DEUTSCH: My strategy depends on several factors: Am I alone? If so, I have the whole field to "defend" and will shooting from the side of the end zone, for example, rather than from the back, so I don't have the goal posts blocking the far corner "fade" shot. If we are two, we can do one in front of play, one behind. If alone, I try to predict a bit... offense (in front of play) if I expect that team to win, behind other team for sacks and defense. But since that changes so much, it's only a start. And I try to get my quarterback action in early, so I can react to the game later.

EULITT: Last season, the Chiefs quarterback, Matt Cassel, was really getting pounded in preseason, sacked multiple times a game. Since he was the team's big acquisition, I spent the first half of last season behind the line of scrimmage more than in front (also because the Chiefs had very few productive receivers to catch passes) simply because an injury to the quarterback was going to be bigger news than anything else the Chiefs did. At mid season, the team switched running backs and within two games, the running game became the identity of the offense, so I spent more time downfield waiting for long running plays, which worked out pretty well with pictures to match the game stories. One of the things I concentrate on is to provide feature photos of the team, not just game action. I have to provide something more to the Star than just straight action to justify the cost of my going to road games. A lot of those feature photos run during the week as a preview to the next weekend's game. The photographers at Getty have been an influence of me to see more of the game than just between the whistles.

POWERS: Green Bay is always the home team for me because my paper is located 25 minutes away in Appleton. Generally speaking, I will stay ahead of Green Bay while there is no score, they are winning or if they are only losing by less than a touchdown. If they are losing by more than one touchdown, I will shoot from behind to show that they are struggling. Basically I'm looking for sacks, fumbles or interceptions from the other team. As soon as they put themselves in a position to tie or go ahead on points, I'm back in front. That way, win or lose, I should have photos that reflect the outcome of the game. Oh...I shoot a lot from the end zones but will move along the sidelines at times depending on the situation

What's your "around-the-neck" lens of choice?

Photo by Robert Deutsch / USA TODAY

Photo by Robert Deutsch / USA TODAY

Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway celebrates after winning Super Bowl XXXIII against the Atlanta Falcons on January 31, 1999.
MURPH: For day games, John's around-the-neck-lens is a Nikkor 70-300mm f/4-5.6 VR lens. It's Nikon's best-kept secret. Incredibly sharp, light weigh, great range, and it's like $600 bucks. For night games, he'll use the new Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II lens. This lens is a night and day improvement over the previous model. Sharpness, contrast, and mostly the focusing speed and accuracy are fantastic.

BECK: My "grab camera" has either a 50 or 35.

DEUTSCH: A small 50mm is best, lightweight ... the camera is heavy enough.
I often have the 24-70, taped for 50mm but loose so I can zoom if needed. But it weighs a ton on a D3.

EULITT: My Canon 70-200mm is my bailout lens, it works OK. I haven't really tried other lenses. I don't see enough catches on the sidelines right in front of me to have a third camera with a wide angle. Plus, I don't have a third camera, so there's that.

POWERS: I like to use a 70-200 around my neck. It's a great lens when you are shooting from the back of the end zone because you can cover half of it with one lens. I also keep a camera with a 16-35 on my shoulder in case things land right on top of me like a Lambeau Leap or celebration after the touchdown.

Are there any tips or tricks of the trade you learned or was told that has been a "keeper" all of these years?

BECK: My trick of the trade is to not get caught up in what I don't get. I will miss shots. Everybody does. I try not to fret about it too much and keep on shooting. There will be more plays.

Deutsch: Watch the clock near the end of the quarter. It helps avoid the 100-yard dash to the other end, only to have the whistle blow and have to run all the way back.

McDONOUGH: There are no tricks that I'm aware of. Just hard work, from the moment that you arrive in the parking lot of the stadium until the last player leaves the locker room. "Being there" is your responsibility and experience to share.

EULITT: I love pictures of the team in the tunnel before the game and I've found traveling on the road, security guards hassle me (and anyone around the visiting team) significantly less on the road than at Arrowhead, so I have a lot more success getting feature pictures on the road. I can get up to the players closer for a few minutes before the game because, having spent three weeks at training camp, the team's security guards know me personally and know I'm not going to cause a scene. They sort of turn a blind eye for a minute or two since they see me there every game. It's something I really enjoy doing. I also have a great relationship with the team photographer, who is a great guy and has lobbied for me to get access to a few things.

POWERS: Years ago I think it was Tom Lynn or maybe Mark Hoffman from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel who told me that "tight is right" in regards to using my telephoto lens. I had a tendency to sit back and shoot kind of loose and then crop later. But, going with his/their advice I started holding my ground and sticking with the longer lens as the action got closer. It was unsettling at first and I missed a lot, but after keeping at it I was making better images that were much cleaner because I wasn't cropping so much. I still shoot that way today as much as possible.

Photo by Robert Beck / Sports Illustrated

Photo by Robert Beck / Sports Illustrated

Beck's picture of Vince Young in the BCS title game shot horizontally with a 35mm lens became a great cover.
Sidelines are so crowded these days and the area that photographers are allowed to work in keeps shrinking, how do you manage working on the sidelines? And is there a sort of "sideline etiquette"?

BECK: Sidelines are impossible now. That is why I play the end zones so much. It is our last piece of real estate. My pet peeve is the pecks that move out over a line to get "the shot." The ten shooters behind that guy get his rear end.

DEUTSCH: Don't stand next to TV cameras, they will always lean out and block you. Same for weenies with amateur cameras and fans with sideline passes. Oh, avoid the big dude with the steadicam, he will block 20 shooters on every play when he runs down the sideline. In stadiums where the shooters can stand, I always kneel. It usually gives me more room and a better angle, at least till my knees give up.

MCDONOUGH: Hustle to your position and watch out for the other guy. Show respect towards each other. Ask if you might be blocking some else's shot. If you think you're over the line, you are. Apologize if you get in the way. Act like a professional. Can't we all just get along? TV has to do their thing. Get to know them by name. Become friends and you'll find they'll respect you and work with you. It's very difficult these days especially college sidelines. Just do the best you can and constantly plan ahead.

EULITT: I try to make room for everyone and I hope the same is true for other photographers. We're a pretty friendly group in Kansas City and no one is so competitive that they would intentionally block anyone out. I've always thought you make your own pictures, not preventing someone from making theirs. Plus, that's just bad karma.

POWERS: Actually, it seems in the last couple of years the sidelines have been less crowded. I think the NFL is giving out less passes. That being said, I like being able to pick the exact spot I want to be in regardless if it's in the end zone or on the sidelines, so I'm hustling a lot. It's funny because on occasion I can hear Morry Gash teasing me to "stop running" when I switch ends at the end of a quarter. I tried it for a while, but it's just not me. When I'm on the sidelines, I always try to treat others like I would like to be treated so I try to be aware of what I'm doing so that I'm not messing anything up for the guy next to me...that means not leaning way out over the yellow hash an example. Everyone gets excited at times, but I think that for the most part photographers really try to work with and respect each other.

Any fun, interesting, educational story about a play or a game or an incident about football?

BECK: My kookiest play was in the BCS title game a few years ago. Texas and USC. I was heading to one end zone and Texas ran a play.... Vince Young running to my side of the field. I was ten yards from the end zone. He was a bit further out. I realized he might score. I did a little double step and leaned towards the play with my 35. He dives, I shoot, he scores and the magazine turns my horizontal into a cover. That wasn't so hard!

DEUTSCH: The Super Bowl scrum at the end of the game is always a separate event, none more so than Super Bowl XXXIII. One photographer, Jeff Haynes, was tripped up by a camera cable, and fell on top of me in front of John Elway, the victorious QB. While the scrum stopped, and the security guards screamed to get out of the way (how?), my friend started shooting photos from the ground, and I figured well, if he can, so can I, and both of us made a nice frame while Elway stood there laughing at us. USA TODAY even ran one of those frames....

EULITT: Two seasons ago at Arrowhead, I had been trying to make this silhouette photo in the players' tunnel of a quick pre-game prayer huddle before warm-ups. The issue was I couldn't get a clean tunnel without fans and cheerleaders walking through the shot, so I camped out and the top of the tunnel and saw the photo starting to happen. I heard a crowd walking down the stairs behind me and I shouted "hold up everyone, for just a few seconds" and had my left arm out to stop the foot traffic. After a few frames, the guy who I'm holding back said impatiently "Do you have it now?" I looked over at turned out to be the general manager and president of the Chiefs. So that was embarrassing, but I got the shot I wanted.

Photo by John W. McDonough / Sports Illustrated

Photo by John W. McDonough / Sports Illustrated

McDonough always loved shooting the 49ers with Joe Montana and Steve Young, and Jerry Rice at Candlestick in November and December. Beautiful light, red uniforms, and film!
POWERS: About four years ago, the Packers were hosting the Bears in December. I was in the end zone shooting with a 400mm lens on a Packers passing play. My runner Jason was next to me holding my 600mm lens and my good friend Mark Hoffman was on the other side. Well, Brett Favre launched a long pass to the back of the end zone and I was determined to get the shot. I held my ground until I realized that it was overthrown right in my direction. The players were barreling down on me, Jason scrambled to the left, Mark scrambled to the right and I just tried to back peddle. The next thing I know, I feel myself losing me balance and I can see a Packer and a Bear flying by me and I landed on my butt...gear intact. As I'm getting up I notice that Mark is all over it making pictures of me and the two players laid out on the ground trying to get up. A few days later he sends me a network clip showing my lack of gracefulness up and close...gotta love your buddies!

Who was the player that was the most fun to shoot or what team was the best or most fun you've ever covered?

BECK: I don't think I've had a favorite player to shoot but I love college football. Any college game...Mmmmmmm, maybe not in Boise. That field is too funky, impossible to color balance.

DEUTSCH: I love covering flashy players like "T.O." and "Ocho Cinco", and back in the day, Lawrence Taylor.

MCDONOUGH: There have been many great players to photograph such as Marcus Allen, LaDanian Tomlinson, Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Eric Dickerson, Kellen Winslow, Lyle Alzado, Lester Hayes, Antonio Gates, Howie Long, and on and on. So many wonderful players, especially lineman, who were and are a lot of fun to hang out with. And, photographing football with Michael Zagaris, always good for a great laugh and great stories. The 49ers were the most fun, with Joe Montana and Steve Young, and Jerry Rice at Candlestick in November and December --- beautiful light, red uniforms, and film!

EULITT: My favorite player to photograph was Jared Allen when he played for the Chiefs at the beginning of his career. Allen, a fun-loving, mullet-wearing prankster, was always good for at least two photos a game...a sack of the opposing quarterback and his celebrations afterwards. My photo loss is now a gain for the Vikings photographers. The best team I've covered was the 2003 Kansas City Chiefs, who finished the season with a 13-3 record and home field throughout the playoffs. The Chiefs lost in the AFC Divisional Playoffs to Indianapolis, 38-31, in a game that featured no punts, only scores.

POWERS: Hands down the player that was the most fun to photograph was Brett Favre. He just loves the game and you never know what he will do. The best team I covered was Green Bay the year they beat the Patriots at the Super Bowl in New Orleans.

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