It has been a long time since I could really get excited to walk on to the field in The Swamp. Not because I dislike the Gators, but because I have been jaded by so many SEC stadiums with (as each school claims) the best fans in college football.
I’ve been spoiled by sold out crowds packing the streets of Knoxville to watch the Vol Walk - a very impressive sight to see. It reminded me of the days of Tim Tebow at Florida - except this was a regular occurrence.
I’ve been in awe of the power of the Crimson Tide in Bryant-Denny Stadium (though it is less of a stadium and more of a memorial to all things college football).
And I’ve lost my hearing in Death Valley as a recovering Tebow and the Gator defense held off LSU for a 13-3 classic SEC win - a similar sight to their 2012 matchup in The Swamp.
But I am thrilled to have all of those sights and sounds back home in The Swamp. Being a photojournalist, I get to see a lot of exciting moments in time from a very exciting perspective - this includes some of the most thrilling moments in sports.
Unfortunately, (and most Gator fans will agree) there have not been a lot of these moments in Gator Football history lately.
Even in the days of Tebow, there were blowout performances by the Gators, but as far as nail-biting, teeth-gritting, white-knuckle football - we didn’t see much of that. We didn’t hear much of it in The Swamp and we certainly didn’t feel much of it in The Swamp.
The pessimist inside of me always said, I’d rather be at LSU or Tennessee or Alabama each weekend, because the games were louder, the fans stayed until the very end and the crowd made a difference in the game.
Will Muschamp said it best after the truly dramatic win over LSU, “It was alive in there tonight," he said. "There's no question our fans made a difference in our football game, and they energized our football team."
The Beginnings of a Shakespearian Play
Last month, I wrote about the Shakespearian characters we used to know covering Gator Football. I think it is safe to say that Muschamp is beginning to develop these characters as they climb his mountain that he calls a season in the Southeastern Conference.
Jeff Driskel is no Tebow, though the comparisons will ultimately be made, but he is his own character. While his wins are a little less dynamic than the defensive-line-smashing victories that we knew so well with Tebow, Driskel is giving fans (and photographers) a show that is worth staying until the very end.
We’ve barely reached intermission of this season of Gator Football, but as the Gators take on worthy opponents in Georgia, South Carolina and, the ultimate villain, FSU, shooting from the sidelines is going to provide a much better story to capture.
A Busy (and Packed) Day at the Office
So what does all of this excitement around Gator Football again mean for you? Well, it means a packed sideline, which means less room to make pictures.
We bring a slew of gear to football games to make sure Gator Bait never misses a shot. For example – from the South Endzone, we can shoot play-by-play action from the 20-yard line on the North side of the field with a Nikon 600mm f/4 lens. This is about 50 percent longer than most lenses sports photographers bring to Gator games. The majority of the big lenses you see on the sidelines are 400mm f/2.8 lenses – don’t worry we have one of those, too.
On average, we are walking on to the field with five to six cameras and eight lenses ranging from 14mm to 600mm. This gives us the variety of focal lengths to create a picture in any situation – even when there are 20 other photographers crowded around Muschamp and LSU counterpart Les Miles all trying to get the same photo of a post-game handshake.
This most recent game against LSU proved to be one of the busiest games since Tebow departed The Swamp after his final match against FSU in 2009.
While it is always good to see my friends from every newspaper and media outlet in the state, it becomes increasingly difficult to maneuver a game.
A few weeks ago, during the dramatic victory over Tennessee, I don’t remember staying in one spot for more than three or four plays.
This week against LSU, I sat comfortably in the endzone for the majority of the game. This is why you’ll see more “dead on” angled photos this week as opposed to variety of angles you saw in the Tennessee gallery.
No one technique is better than the other. Many photographers say to “let the action come to you,” which is always good advice. I chose this method because going into this game, we knew it was going to be a defensive battle. I wanted to focus on the line of scrimmage. Often, I’d be lying down on the field to get an even lower angle than just kneeling to get under the helmets of the linemen.
If the game started to turn into an offensive battle with big plays (like we saw in the second half when the Gators scored 27 of their 37 points against Tennessee) then I’ll get off my butt and start hustling for different angles because there is a larger variety of plays.
Research Equals Great Pictures
All of this planning goes into making the pictures you see on the pages of Gator Bait Magazine every month and GatorBait.net every day. Each game is carefully calculated, and I rely on the expertise of Editor Marty Cohen and Staff Writer Thomas Goldkamp to break down each opponent to help me decide how I am going to cover a game. I’ll study game film just like a team prepares for an opponent so I know what story I am going to tell and what is the best way to tell it.
But in the end, like every football coach will preach, it is the adjustments you make during the game, which will get you the “W,” or (in my case) the best pictures.