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.