Football

When in doubt... Less is more by Steven Johnson

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.

Google Glass on the Sidelines by Steven Johnson

Shooting at the Univeristy of Florida with Google Glass. Photo by Tim Casey.

Shooting at the Univeristy of Florida with Google Glass. Photo by Tim Casey.

We see a lot of interesting things during football games, we often take pictures of them and share them with our readers both in print and online. But sometimes we forget we shot them in the first place – forever to be lost in a pile is misfit photos in our libraries after a game.

We tag, we star, we rate, we post, we tweet.

But in the mix of all of this, we often forget.

This is one of the best parts about having a dual role in Gainesville.

Monday through Friday I am the visual coordinator and adjunct lecturer at the UF College of Journalism and Communications.

You can usually find me in my office working on projects and meeting with students or in a classroom lecturing about my weekend.

My weekends are often spent on the sidelines and almost always on the road.

It is the most rewarding thing in the world to take what you experience on a Saturday and bring it into a classroom on a Monday.

This gets back to our problem - losing content (photos in this case) during a game and when they are most important to our readers.

We’ve made some amazing advancements in workflow during football games. We can edit thousands of photos in mere minutes at halftime to send out before Coach finished his pep talk to the team.

Heck, I haven’t seen a darkroom since high school. Nor have I ever had to use one professionally.

What used to take hours now takes seconds.

Yet, we still miss the point of all of this technology – storytelling.

And, sometimes, parts of the story need to be told immediately.

This is where technology and storytelling meet at a critical point

Google Glass can both be a very useful tool and, at times, very distracting.

Google Glass can both be a very useful tool and, at times, very distracting.

Shooting a football game requires an immense amount of skill, focus and sheer effort.

So picking up an iPhone to tweet a photo can be the same moment you miss the most important play of a game.

But, looking back at a game routine, we are often standing around for minutes at a time waiting for a TV timeout, injury or a delay of game – these are critical moments to bring the story to our audience.

Equipped with a Verizon Mifi (allowing me to have a personal wifi hotspot) and a pair of Google Glass, I was able to keep fans up to date this season and offer a unique perspective of how I see a football game.

The Mifi allowed me to take photos of the back of my camera and tweet them out from my phone when there was a spare moment during the game. This proved to be a viral combination after one particular tweet of a sign in the stands saying “We Want Bama LOL JK” was re-tweeted more than 15,000 times. This would not have happened if I waited until after the game.

A close up view of the "glass" part of Google Glass.

A close up view of the "glass" part of Google Glass.

Google Glass brings its own technological storytelling weapons. First, it can offer a much unseen point of view perspective to what we do on the sidelines.

We even put it on the drum major of the Gator Marching Band to show everyone what it was like to take the field with the Pride of the Sunshine.

It also has the power to take photos, video and share them via Twitter without me having to take my hands off the camera. By gesturing my head I can turn it on, then I can tell it to take a photo or video through voice activation and share it on Twitter with a caption.

This starts to cut down the time it takes to share content and becomes less of a distraction during a game.

While Google Glass is certainly very useful and a cool tool to have on the sidelines, the technology is not perfect. Often I would have to repeat a gesture or say a caption multiple times before it would get it right. You have to remember that we are trying to talk to computers in a stadium with thousands of screaming fans.

While the technology is not perfect, it is moving in a direction that will allow us to share more content, faster and build a place for us to interact during a game.

Just like our writers respond on message boards, twitter and emails during a game, photographers need to join this conversation as well.

I believe tools like Google Glass will help us not only bring you to where the action is in real time, but allow you to interact with the content as well.

In just a few short years of covering Gator sports, we’ve gone from photo galleries, to post-game videos, live tweeting, Google Glass perspective and live photo galleries.
Like all new technology, it is driven by a demand. Sometimes the demand is not even known until it catches on.

As the Gators are resting and rebuilding during the offseason and coaches are drawing up new plays to bring to the field next season, I can assure you there are coders and developers working on new apps to bring you the latest content in exciting new ways.

Having some fun with Google Glass and the Gator Band by Steven Johnson

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For the past week I have had the opportunity to test Google's newest toy, Glass. 

The UF College of Journalism and Communications' Innovation News Center has had it for about a month now and I've been working with the director, Matt Sheehan, on finding a professional use for Google Glass - that blog post will come soon.

But in the meantime, you have to have a little fun with new toys.

So I put a pair on Freddy Master, the drum major for the UF Gator Marching Band, before the big rivalry game against The Florida State University.

Here's what it looks like to be a drum major in one of the largest marching bands in the country: 

Dirty Football - looking beyond a single frame by Steven Johnson

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This past weekend, I shot the Florida Gators playing Georgia Southern in Gainesville, Fla. It was supposed to be the usual FBS blowout game for a big division one program. Instead, it turned into one of the most embarrassing losses in Gator Football history.

By the looks of the photographs, the Gators were not too happy they were losing to what was intended to be an easy win.

I tweeted a single photo of a Florida defensive back, Marcus Maye, in what looks like an intentional gouging of a Georgia Southern player's eyes.

Now, it is not fair to say this was an intentional act. That is for readers to decide, but the role of a sideline photographer is to tell the story of the game, and, in this case, bring the viewers content that they might not see on television.

Georgia Southern fullback, William Banks, was not happy with the officials after no foul play was called.

Georgia Southern fullback, William Banks, was not happy with the officials after no foul play was called.

Now, gouging can be both intentional and unintentional in football - especially when a helmet is removed during a play.

After going back to do another edit, I noted that the player, Maye, was getting up, looked around and then went back down and put his hands on the face of the Georgia Southern player.

The Georgia Southern player, William Banks, was not happy with the result of the play and brought it to the attention of an official.

No foul play was called.

This is a prime example of how speculation from just one photo can be further explained in a series of pictures and how a single picture can often mislead.

As always, it is our job to document the event, but we often think of single pictures to describe an incident or play. In this case, it took three (and there are more, but they get redundant) to tell the story.

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Shooting More Than ‘Just a Game’ by Steven Johnson

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It’s mid-November and the football gods have all but decided who are the chosen ones. BCS, AP and USA TODAY Coaches Polls are burning holes in sports sections across the country and bouncing from social network to social network millions of times faster than any paper boy could imagine.

Each organization is experiencing their own set of triumphs and troubles – particularly the have-nots of the bigger conferences.

But when the hundreds of photographers dawn on a college town to cover some of the most impressive and sometimes least impressive games of the season, what exactly is going to tell the story.

I tell my journalism classes time and time again that a good story goes far beyond “it happened.” In this case, these stories are far greater than “just a game.”

In the case of the Florida Gators, no one expected that the Vanderbilt game could be the defining moment of the season, but much to the Gators’ dismay, it was.

Going into the Florida-Vandy game there were a number of storylines making the rounds – head coach Will Muschamp’s job status being the loudest with offensive coordinator Brent Pease’s job being the second-loudest.

This goes into the first lesson of shooting mid-season or any game for that matter: Homework.

Researching each team prior to kickoff fundamentally changes how you tell the story of the game in pictures. In this case, the storylines were loud and clear on the Florida side of the ball, but for Vanderbilt it was a chance to finally prove themselves worthy in the Southeastern Conference – particularly with their passing game and a versatile quarterback (see fourth-down conversions).

In this case, grabbing photos of Pease was a must; along with shooting the ever-shrinking fan base that Florida has been attracting this season.

What wasn’t expected was just how far Vanderbilt was going to pull away in the first half of the game. Multiple times, I found myself running to the opposite endzone to grab a touchdown photo because it was suddenly a critical moment of the game.

Florida could not score in the first half, and every potentially blocked kick could have turned the game around.

This makes for a lot more work to tell a story of the game.

Sometimes, blowouts are just easier. This was not the case.

Other times, you just get lucky.

That takes us to the second lesson: Get Lucky.

See Florida-Georgia for example.

After suffering one of the most embarrassing losses of the season, Muschamp was headed back to the locker room at EverBank Field in Jacksonville.

I prepared myself to shoot him walking into the tunnel. I got on the ground and framed a shot.

As I began to shoot the series of pictures, Muschamp began replying to a disgruntled Gator fan – this became one of the top stories of the game. A multi-millionaire football coach arguing with a (probably) intoxicated fan is just comedic. Walk away was the lesson not learned here, and it made for a fairly iconic moment in the season.

It was a lucky shot. I had to crop heavily since I was focused on the tunnel shot, not yet Muschamp, who was to the far left of the frame.

While you get lucky once in a while, Planning Ahead always ensures a better story by the end of the game.

Simple things like where the sun will be and what shadow will be cast during the game can help you position yourself for success.

The story of a game is never set at kickoff or even as the clock strikes 00:00, but it does develop.

This was the case as Florida showed it could not fight back to catch Vanderbilt in the second half, and, like clockwork, athletic director Jeremy Foley, came onto the field in the fourth quarter to watch the last moments of the game up close at his designated spot, leaning against the goal post in the South Endzone.

He was not happy.

Position myself in the right spot, with the sun to my back, and enough light to get Foley to “pop” as a shadowy stadium in the background – help set him apart was my goal.

This is exactly what happened with just a few minutes left in the Homecoming game and proved to tell a large part of the story. Foley, one of the most successful athletic directors to have ever worked in college football, walking into a half-empty stadium with a shadow over his head.

These are the stories we write with pictures.

You can run hundreds, even thousands, of yards covering a football game, but it is important to shoot smart. It’s not always needed to run to get the kick just in case it is blocked unless it could change the momentum of the game.

Knowledge of the game is key. If you can referee the game, you cannot tell the full story through pictures. Being able to know when to quit shooting action and focusing on the details – people leaving, athletic directors, injured quarterbacks watching the scoreboard – are all skills that come with years of covering athletic events.
It is much more than “just a game,” it is a complex story that experts tackle to tell each and every week.

I have the utmost respect for my friends who write game recaps and analysis – this is something I would struggle with, even with years of experience working in stadiums. They have a craft that often goes unappreciated, because it is expected to compile a recap/analysis almost instantly after the game ends.

So as the haves and have-nots continue to fight it out for the rest of the season, take a close look at those articles, photo stories and galleries that flood the Internet, sports pages and Twitterverse, and think about the bigger picture.

I can assure you the story will be more than just a won-loss record for Will Muschamp.