Backpack Journalism

Journo2Go is a blog focusing on multimedia reporting - specifically backpack journalism. Steve Johnson, the blog's creator, is a freelance journalist and adjunct lecturer at the University of Florida's College of Journalism and Communications.

Filtering by Category: Sideline Report

Getting Lucky - Unexpected Shots in Sports

Michael Sam

Michael Sam

There are many instances that you can plan for in sports photography. Wether it’s your position on the field, what lenses you pack or how you choose to expose a photo in difficult light, you can plan for almost any situation during a game.

Yet on the editing room floor (or digital trash bin), you can be pleasantly surprised with a “lucky” shot.

For instance, months after Florida played Missouri, Marty emailed me a photo Michael Sam, the first openly gay player in the NFL, from that game. It was of Sam running out of the tunnel surrounded in smoke. We had no idea at the time how important that photo might be. 

The same could be said about all of the photos of Johnny Manziel at Florida’s opening game of the 2012 season. Texas A&M was off to a rocky start, and Manziel was not the player he is known to be today. Yet, by not deleting anything, and by chance you can come across some pretty amazing moments.

These chance shots are not saved because we never delete a photo, or because the subject becomes more significant over time, they happen because we try to cover more than just the game during a game.

I tell me students at UF over and over again, “it happened doesn’t make it a story.”

The fact that 22 testosterone-filled dudes are hitting each other on a field in front of 90,000 fans is not a story. You have to find the story. And in this case, find it through showing the reader in pictures.

It’s not until you can sit down and see the day in pictures after a game once context has been established. In most cases, that context is who won or lost or any significant event that happened during the game (see Tim Tebow concussion of 2011).

In an age where one-man-band journalists are the norm, we must find ways to take our workflow to another level and keep those extra pairs of eyes handy.

I can be 1,000 miles away from Marty shooting a game, but he can still see every frame that comes across my screen. It is this level of detail in the editing process that keeps photos like Michael Sam from getting lost forever.

So how do we get those shots?

Is it luck?

Often not.

Most of those shots are “discovered” in the thousands of action photos that are produced every game, but they are intentionally sought out while shooting.

Often times, you’ll see me with my eyes closed during a game. I know what you’re thinking, that probably isn’t the best way to take photographs. Often, we need to hear whats going on to find out what to shoot. Maybe it’s a fan yelling or the band playing or a coach chewing out a player on the bench. Sometimes it’s just a needed break from staring down the barrel of a 400mm lens for hours at a time.

Another “lucky” way to find these shots is by always shooting with both eyes open. Contrary to every mime and charades player in the world who ever acted out being a photographer, keeping both eyes open allows you to keep your peripheral vision during the game. This can not only save you from getting tackled, but it can allow you to scan the field while still focusing on the play.

Lastly, stay away from everyone else. I know, we’re all photographers and most of us are good friends, but during a game, we need to get different photos (why else would our editors pay us to be there?). Breaking away from the pack can allow a shooter to discover something different about the game. Going up to the top of the stands to shoot a few minutes of a game or just getting a different angle can be the difference in a game-winning action photo and if you will discover the next moment that can tell the story of a game.

So yes, even the most unexpected photos have their preparation involved, but at the end of the day, week or season, you can still find those gems on the cutting room floor that just might make a great story in the offseason.

When in doubt... Less is more

Each spring every major college football program hails their spring scrimmage as a pre-season-like game for fans to get a taste of the upcoming season.

At the University of Florida the Gators have their "Orange and Blue Debut" to showcase their football talent to fans who are jonesing for some gridiron.

Normally, a sports photographer would bring at least four cameras and a slew of lenses to cover the scale of a football game.

Instead, I chose to bring two camera bodies and two lenses. No gear bag, no utility belt to hold extra lenses. 

Many times at a game you can get weighed down by your own gear. I often shoot with five bodies, 400mm and 600mm lenses and find myself juggling while shooting.

My gear for this shoot included:

  • Nikon D4
  • Nikon D800
  • Nikkor 400mm f/2.8
  • Nikkor 35mm f/1.4
  • Sunscreen

This limited gear set actually worked!

I didn't miss any major action because I was fumbling for a different camera or lens and I certainly enjoyed being 40 pounds lighter than a typical game.

Primes are quickly taking over my camera bag that used to be dominated by a 70-200mm f/2.8 and a 14-24mm f/1.4.

So far, it is paying off.