Photography

Lessons learned on the sidelines by Steven Johnson

There are winners and losers.

It’s why I’ve always loved sports stories, because at the end of the day someone steps off the field victorious and the other with a new set of challenges ahead of them.

And no matter what the outcome, each team, player, coach and school learns something.

Sports is one of the most valuable place to learn as a visual storyteller.

You are constantly challenged to make something new out of a game that millions of people have already seen.

You have to stretch your storytelling muscles to the brink of failure to show people what is is like to have a 200 lb. safety knock you out cold and to get right back up and do it all over again.

You have to explain the complex stories on and off the field, because, like politics, nothing is what it seems — especially in the NCAA.

From a barely-experience high school kid to a teacher at the University of Florida, sports has been my common theme each step of my career.

It began when I emailed Bobby Bowden at 16 asking to shoot the Garnet and Gold spring practice (calm down Gator fans, UF was on a hot streak and there was no way I was getting into Ben Hill Griffin Stadium). He graciously allowed me to shoot two seasons of FSU football while I was still in high school, which got me my first job at The Orlando Sentinel and then, at 17, ESPN.

When I arrived at UF as a wide-eyed freshman, I quickly got word of GatorBait Magazine and had the opportunity to shoot for Marty Cohen. 

Five years later, more than 60 football games, 75 basketball, I forgot how many baseball games and countless other sports, tournaments, award ceremonies, press conferences and more than 200,000 images — this was as hands on as it gets.

All of this came with some hard lessons learned, and I want to share a few of them with you.

First, and most importantly, it happened does not make it a story.

Just because 90,000 fans gather in Gainesville a few times a year to watch players hit each other does not make that a story. The winner and loser is not the story. The game is not the story. It happened does not make it a story — it’s the people, the players, the fans, the atmosphere, the baby gator’s first home football game, the mom who gave up everything to watch her son, who’s worked his entire life, to play on Florida Field.

Those are the stories.

Second, produce on the field not in an office.

Time is always of the essence in sports. Even the time it takes to go from the sidelines to the photo work room is a lost opportunity. So even if I have to take an iPhone photo of the back of my camera to be able to tweet out a picture, the time saved is worth it.

The most viral photo I ever shot of Gator sports was not of a player at all. It was of a sign last season that said, “We want Bama LOL JK.”

It was tweeted and retweeted more than a half a million times — easily 10x more than anything else I’ve ever put online. Why? Because it was instant. It was in the middle of the Georgia Southern game and it told the story of the anguish that Gator fans were going through at that moment. Time is of the essence when you have instant replay and live-tweeting reporters, show them what happened in the moment and produce on the field.

Third, if there is a pack of photographers, stay away from them. 

In the third quarter of the UF/Kentucky game in 2009, Tim Tebow was knocked out as cold as you could get knocked out. He sat on the sidelines the rest of the game in a daze that made Keith Richards look like a clear thinker.

There were roving packs of photographers trying to get behind the bench to shoot Tebow, then they quickly moved onto the next hot topic — how would John Brantley hold up as quarterback. I quickly made three or four images of Brantley and then stayed away from the pack to focus on the Tebow story. During the fourth quarter, Tebow was throwing up and was quietly taken out of the stadium, and we didn’t miss a moment as he was carted away (one of the most somber moments I’ve ever shot on the sidelines).

Generally, if you can shoot something different and tell a story, you will come out a winner from a game, and this is a lesson that has stuck with me for ever — even though its a blast to hang out and chat with your fellow photographer buddies on the sidelines, that is what the local pub is for after a long night shooting.

The most rewarding aspect of being apart of shooting sports is not the access to players, coaches and teams, but the friends you make along the way. We are all in the whirlwind group of roadies, stadium junkies, adrenaline-seeking, deadline-bending addicts that love to tell stories. And when you’ve seen the guts of a stadium workroom, you’ve seen them all. So at the end of the long days when you're sore, smelly and sweaty, you can always look to a good editor and fellow photographer for a cold beer.

Sports has been and will always be the training ground for my career in storytelling and the lessons that I’ve learned I can proudly share with thousands of young journalists every year.

Even in my short time covering the Gators, I’ve had assistants go on to do work for ESPN, Sports Illustrated, The Miami Herald and countless other publications.

So even as the players graduate and the coaches change and the coverage looks a little different digitally than the way it used to be…

We will always been learning on the sidelines.

Don't mess with crossfit by Steven Johnson

Competitors move sleds and weights during the 2013 Swamp Challenge.

Competitors move sleds and weights during the 2013 Swamp Challenge.

I have the fortunate job of photographing some of the world's best athletes - from on the track to across the fields, inside stadiums and in the pool.

But sometimes you can be blown away by what is right next door. 

In this case, it was CrossFit Gainesville's fourth annual Swamp Challenge. 

Held at Santa Fe College, just a few miles away from the University of Florida, the challenge is designed to test your strength and endurance.

It was amazing to see the Gainesville community come out and support a healthier way of living. 

Not only from one gym, but multiple gyms from across the city had teams competing in the challenge. 

The top time was just over 31 minutes to complete the course. 

I thought carrying cameras on the sidelines for three hours was work, but clearly, I have some work to do. 

You can check out Crossfit Gainesville online, on Facebook and on Twitter

Happy workouts everyone. 

Swamp Challenge Obstacles

  1. Team 1k Row
  2. 200yd Sled Drag (M:135lb, W:90lb)
  3. Partner Wheel Barrow
  4. Team Tire Flip ~150-200lb
  5. Sandbag Zig Zag Sprint (M:60lb, Co-Ed:40lb, W:40lb)
  6. 400m Run
  7. 100 Team Burpees
  8. 400m Run
  9. 100 Team Box Jumps (20")
  10. 400m Run
  11. 100 Team KB Swings (M:44lb, W:26lb)
  12. Partner Fireman Carry to Finish Line
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Sideline Report: 10-minute drill by Steven Johnson

Fire up the grill. It's football season. 

As we enter the non-stop coverage that is college football, journalists are also put through their paces just as the players begin their first reps on a new team. 

This was the case in Gainesville, Fla. this week as the Gator Football Team held their first practice of the 2013 season. 

The assignment: shoot a football practice. Simple enough. 

The challenge: you have 10 minutes to shoot a gallery. Not a minute more.

This can be an issue. How do you shoot a gallery in 10 minutes? 

Bigger question: why? 

Well, the Gator Football program is one of the most restricted in the country when it comes to access. Practices are regularly closed to the media and public, and getting players for photo shoots and one-on-one interviews is more difficult than getting a politician to own up to sexting.

So, we work with what we are given: 10 minutes. 

Nikon D4

Nikon D4

Luckily, the Nikon D4 with Sony's new XQD S Series card came in just a few hours before practice. This allows me to shoot a 16 megapixel RAW files at 11 frames per second with read/write speeds of up to 168 megabytes per second. Translation: really fast camera with really fast memory to save all of those photos and allow me to keep shooting.

In 10 minutes I shot 472 pictures. That's more than 47 photos a minute and almost a photo every second of availability. In the end 80 shots made it onto the web gallery.

This was all while switching between three cameras, the Nikon D4 and two Nikon D3s bodies with a 600mm of the D4 and a 70-200mm f/2.8 and 24-70mm f/2.8 on each of the D3s bodies. 

The lesson: know your cameras well. They should be an extension of your body in a situation like this. 

Luckily, we have a full hour at the next practice to make a picture. Although, I do like finishing an entire shoot, editing and uploading to the web within 45 minutes.

 

Check out the full gallery at GatorBait.net. 

People Love Photojournalism by Steven Johnson

There has been a lot of talk about photojournalism in the past week - especially regarding the Chicago Sun Times laying off their entire photo staff.

The reasons for this layoff are beyond me, and I am in no way qualified to speak about the specifics of the Times' layoffs. 

What I want to share is my experience today at the World Press Photo exhibition in Amsterdam. 

People love photojournalism. 

Why? 

Because on a Sunday afternoon I watched hundreds of people line up to view the best photographs taken for the press in the last year.

Judged by the best in the business, including my friend Bill Frakes, this competition is now on tour showcasing the best of the best to thousands. 

People laughed, cried and gasped at the amazing pictures at this exhibit. 

They also paid for this exhibit - €8 to be exact. 

Not only did they wait in line, pay and share their experiences with others, they were moved by the work of photojournalism. 

So while I continue to travel through a city that should be underwater, maybe those newspapers that are financially drowning should take a look at the impact they are making on the public before they eliminate it.

See the winners of the 2013 World Press Photo contest online

Check to see if the tour will be stopping near you. 

Follow Bill Frakes online and on Twitter 

 

Sideline Report: End-of-season editing by Steven Johnson

So the collegiate sports year is basically over, right?

I mean, lets face it, the Gators aren’t booking any hotel rooms in Omaha for a baseball comeback anytime soon.

So what does that leave us photographers to do?

Cleaning cameras only takes a few hours and while I have been accused of being a little obsessive, I’m not breaking out the alcohol swabs every day to make sure my Nikon logo is spotless.

A lot of the offseason involves pecking away at a keyboard and mouse trolling through the tens of thousands of photos that hit the cutting room floor before they chosen ones make it to press.

Editing through the Florida / Texas A&M game.

That sounds easy, right? Just select all and delete. Sadly, no.

We keep every photo taken at every game - just in case.

Just in case that right guard from that highly competitive non-conference football game against the Norfolk State Scuba Diving team happens to get in trouble with Jeff Driskel. Or that second baseman who no one though would ever go pro happens to make it out of the farms leagues and wins a World Series within two years of leaving Gainesville, Fla.

All of these could happen and in some various scenario have happened before.

We saw a prime example of this during the investigation of the Boston Marathon bombings. I bet the photographer that took photos of that boxing competition thought to select all and delete after that season, too. Now his photos became one of the backstories to explaining such a horrific day in sports.

So as the season ends the scanning begins.

Florida / Texas A&M photos in my library.

Scanning through every game, tagging every location, best plays, importing rosters, tagging key players and writing descriptions.

I manage roughly 450,000 images in my photo library at any given time - sometimes I do delete photos once I am 100 percent sure no one would ever need an out of focus, over exposed, blurry photo of my shoe during a gymnastics meet.

All of these are broken down by year, publication, sport and date.

The system of folders and projects in my Aperture library.

I use Apple’s Aperture photo editing software to manage and backup every photo I have taken in my career.

It’s like a time machine for a photographer.

So many of us document what we do, from Instagramming our food to snapping an iPhone photo of that sunset that one time after dinner.

What’s nice is that our smartphones actually live up to their name in being smart. They embed GPS information so you can see your photos on a map. They keep time, dates and even the exposure. If you want to nerd out, just import some of your iPhone photos to Photoshop and view the metadata.

Well, our big DSLR cameras are pretty smart, too. Virtually every bit of information besides who is in the photo is recorded automatically by the camera as we shoot each photo.

But it still has to be managed. That’s where the human element comes in. Although, I feel like a cyborg by the end of each summer - combing through 40,000+ photos from the previous sports season and 80,000+ photos total each each year.

Even at the consumer level, some of these professional techniques may help you stay little more organized and not lose some memorable photos in the process.

So here are a few tips that keep our heads on straight and our editors happy.

  1. Date everything: I said everything, not everyone! Each time you go shoot something, create a project with the date as the beginning of the name. For example: “2013-02-23 UF vs. Arkansas”
  2. Create folders: Once you have the dates projects, organize them by sports. Most times this is intuitive. The Gators are probably only playing Arkansas in basketball on Feb. 23, 2013, but there could be something else going on the same time.
  3. Rate your photos: Come up with a rating system. This will save you a ton of time when you want to go back. Often we are so concerned with deadlines during a football game, we shoot, we edit, we send off the photos and then forget about them. Well, sometime you’ll have to go back, and starring the photos 1,2,3,4 or 5 starts will help you determine what to keep.

Rating system of photos after the Florida / Texas A&M game in 2012.

I rate one stars as friends at the game, two stars for video and special projects (like focusing on one player for a feature story), three starts are good photos, four stars means I should send it out ASAP and five stars is a portfolio-worthy photo.

Just a few of these steps to help you manage your photos can make the difference between a very good Mother’s Day gift just days before when you realize that you should make a photo album and a disastrous night pecking at your computer to try and find that perfect photo from that time you cant remember at that place you have no idea about.

So as we recap each season and you view those best-of galleries and feature stories leading up to next season - remember, some of us have bloodshot eyes making lemonade out of our lemons that are photographs on the cutting room floor.

Have a great summer and happy shooting.