Journo2Go

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 Tag: Sideline Report

Sideline Report: End-of-season editing

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.

Ides of March

March Madness certainly earns its name even before Selection Sunday. College basketball proves itself time and time again each spring when the Cinderella team goes up against a champion and wins, or when an obscure group of five athletes comes out of nowhere and lands on the front page of SI.com.

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We all remember the Gators’ two national championships vividly. We remember the “Year of the Gator” issue of Sports Illustrated. We remember the chest-beating screams of Joakim Noah. We remember the pictures of dunks, steals, fouls and net cutting.

The journey is madness.

And in recent years, the Gators have come close to that madness again.

Clearly, this year’s team is special. Despite a few unexpected losses, the Gators are primed and ready to go into the ides of March.

This means, we must prepare to go with them. Not just packing our bags and showing up, but stepping up our coverage.

For photographers, this means documenting a team that could make a significant dent in Gator history. Remote camera, warm ups, team practices, traveling and, of course, March Madness coverage.

It is a crapshoot trying to plan how far a team can go in March, and it always conflicts with every plan, or every shred of a social life, you thought you had in spring. But the reward, much like for the players and fans, is always worth it.

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Photographing basketball in March is like taking a bowl game and multiplying it by eight. The crowds are better, the stakes are higher and the players show more on the court than they ever have at the sold-out home game.

And once you’re in, you’re in for the long haul. The NCAA requires that you cover every game in the tournament if you plan to be at the Final Four – meaning you can’t just wait it out and see if the Gators make it to Atlanta and then suddenly plan a trip.

So what do you bring to March Madness? Well, pretty much everything you’d bring to a regular-season game and then some.

We cover basketball with multiple cameras, from behind and under the basket to inches above the wooden court to those behemoth lenses you see at football games – all of these make a difference in how you see the game online and in print.

I’m a Nikon guy, as many of you know, and Nikon has some amazing glass (lenses) that allows us to cover the games in very special ways.

One piece of glass that makes your feel like you’re in the middle of a packed home crowd or in the midst of madness is the 14-24mm f/2.8 lens. The 14mm is an ultra-wide lens that is pretty much like a fisheye lens, but without the bowing (fisheye) look to the edges of the frame.

This lens makes you feel like you’re sitting on the court, under the basket or in the rafters of the O’Connell Center.

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It has a unique purpose in not bringing the action close to you, like a longer 200mm or 400mm lens, but bringing you into the scene that we are covering. This lens makes for fantastic full-page spreads in the magazine and galleries online.

The heart of covering basketball is a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. With its wide aperture (f/2.8), which allows more light to get into the camera and gives you that nice blurry background causing your subject to really stand out, it gives you the versatility to cover almost anything on your side of the court. Long enough at 200mm to zoom to mid-court and short enough at 70mm to cover a layup or dunk, this lens is used for majority of what you see online and in the magazine.

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Now when you want to get crazy (as I often do), you bring longer glass to cover the defensive game – especially when you have a guy like Patrick Young who likes to make dramatic blocks. You can’t be on both sides of the court at once. So why not bring the glass that allows you to be in two places at once?

A 400mm f/2.8 is what you often see on the sidelines at a Gator football game. It is the bread-and-butter lens of all field sports photography. 

But it also allows you to get some tack-sharp photos of details in basketball that most photographers don’t bother with because of the shear size and weight of this lens (roughly 10 pounds).

All of this complete with remote triggers to hang cameras under the basket and a slew of memory cards and your trusty MacBook Pro, and you are ready to dive into March.

Now, you just have to find the best way to pack all of this and get it safely to each venue. We’ll save that for another time.

So as you enjoy March Madness both online and in print, at the big game or at home on your couch – make sure you check out the galleries and take a look at all of what we do to bring you closer to the action and tell a complete story through photos.

I’ll be in the bottom corner of your television set.

Sideline Report - A Winning Season

A winning season in Gainesville is a win for more than just the Florida Gators. It is a win for the hotdog vendor in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. It is a win for the newspapers who sell more copies of their Sunday edition. It is a win for a website like 247Sports who gain more subscribers.

It is a win for you.

And, of course, it is a win for the athletic association – whose job it is to keep the team afloat when a home loss to South Carolina might feel like a regular occurrence.

But is a winning season a win for photographers?

Put simply, yes.

In the ever-restrictive world of college athletics, the sidelines have quickly gone from an open field to a tightly controlled photo op that you might see while covering a politician – designed to represent events in the most favorable light for the Gators.

At the UF College of Journalism and Communications, I am often asked if you can lie through photographs; not the ones you see manipulated on Photoshop. Just plain photographs - right off the camera.

My answer is always yes.

Because at a Gator game, I take thousands of photographs for Gator Bait but only show you, the reader, a handful in galleries and in this magazine.

The photographs are carefully chosen to represent the entire game - both the winning touchdown and the missed catch or bad snap.

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So why is a winning season good for the subscribers and fans of the Florida Gators?

Because when there is a winning season, we get more access - more practices become open, more athletes are up for national awards and are profiled because of the success.

You get to find out what video games the Pouncey twins play in their dorm room on campus and what type of scooter they ride to practice. You become more connected to a team that plays for more than a ring at the end of the season - they play for the fans that feel like they know the quarterback just as well as the linemen protecting him.

Media opportunities are rare these days; besides the usual weekly meetings in a conference room that is as about as visually exciting as watching paint dry.

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We can reminisce about the days of Tim Tebow until he finally becomes a starting quarterback in the NFL because you got to know him off the field - thanks to ESPN following his every move since high school.

Is this a bad thing for college athletics?

Yes and no.

Yes, because as a photographer the pressure is on to get the perfect shot to tell the best story possible of an athlete’s career. This might not be during a snap of a football but helping a fellow player out a practice or working with a local charity.

No, because these opportunities are often limited for fear that an image might get out that is not flattering toward this week’s hot player, or because the risk of NCAA violations becomes greater, or because it could simply impact the work of the athletes due to the distraction from 20 photographers fighting over the best shot (think of a Black Friday sale at Walmart - just with heavy tripods).

It is a delicate balance covering a football team like the Gators in recent years. For the fans, I’m sure it has been a rollercoaster ride of arguments at your local sports bar - especially last season and even as we get into this year’s bowl season.

When a team goes 0-4 in October, press conferences become more tense and putting a camera in a player’s face after a loss to a rival can be a risky move.

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But when a team is 11-1 and in national championship talks - this all becomes a little easier.

As we enter bowl season (‘tis the sea- son to reap the rewards of a long, hardfought

fall), we get the best opportunity to show you the progress of the team you follow. Season wrap-ups are written, players become ineligible, (and often more available to talk) yearbooks and best-of galleries are compiled.

The Sugar Bowl will always be an exciting trip for the Gators and Gator fans.

Not only because it is in the Big Easy, but because it represents a purpose for post-season play.

I’ve covered many bowl games - from the less exciting matchups in the Champs Sports Bowl to the top BCS games fans love to see the Gators play in. 

And in those years of eventful and joyless seasons you can see a direct correlation between the record of the team and the excitement covering them.

I can imagine how it must feel to be on the Vanderbilt beat - but I can assure you, when the Commodores toppled Good Ole’ Rocky Top this season it must have been pretty exciting to be at Dudley Field.

So what can we expect next season?

Well, it’s too early to write that story. 

But what we can say is to appreciate the good times in The Swamp - even when the student section sits half empty. Because all programs have an unpredictable cycle and right now we (the fans and the media) are about to enjoy a pretty good ride east on I-10 to New Orleans for New Year’s Eve.

The Sideline Report is the newest feature in GatorBait Magazine - a publication dedicated to covering Florida Gator Athletics.

Sideline Report - The Swamp is Back

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.

"Vol Walk," in Knoxville, Tenn. in September before the Florida game.

"Vol Walk," in Knoxville, Tenn. in September before the Florida game.

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.

Florida's quarterback, Tim Tebow, leaves Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fla. for the last time in his NCAA career in 2009.

Florida's quarterback, Tim Tebow, leaves Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fla. for the last time in his NCAA career in 2009.

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

It was a sold-out crown and a packed sidelines for the LSU game in The Swamp.

It was a sold-out crown and a packed sidelines for the LSU game in The Swamp.

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.

Florida runningback Mike Gillislee runs for a touchdown against LSU in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Florida runningback Mike Gillislee runs for a touchdown against LSU in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

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.

Sideline Report - The Start of College Football

Florida defensive back, Marcus Roberson, is lifted in the team huddle before the Gators' season opener against Bowling Green on Sept. 1, 2012. 

Florida defensive back, Marcus Roberson, is lifted in the team huddle before the Gators' season opener against Bowling Green on Sept. 1, 2012. 

“Don’t Get Hit.”  

Those were the words of my mother when I was preparing to photograph my first NCAA football game at (sorry Gator fans) Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee. Now, six years later, my mother is a little less worried but still is vocal about her boy on the sidelines.
My office does not have carpet, it is a type of Bermuda grass, with no air conditioning, just the Florida sun and the occasional breeze like when Mike Gillislee breaks through the defensive line - luckily that happened quite a few times against Bowling Green during the season opener which began with a scorching hot 3:30 p.m. kickoff.
The work day starts roughly three hours before kickoff and ends about four hours after the clock hits 00:00. I shoot roughly 1,500 photos per game, video of the post-game press conferences and a post-game video of Gator Bait’s Instant Analysis. Then it is time to edit all of this content as quickly as my MacBook Pro can process it and get it to you.

The Heroes and the Villains 

This is my fourth season covering the Gators from the unique perspective of the sidelines and each year is like a Shakespeare play with its heroes (Tim Tebow, Urban Meyer at times, Trey Burton) and villains (Steve Addazio, Nick Saban and many others in the SEC).
What is noticeable about this season is there aren’t the stars like there was in seasons past. We all know that Tebow is the proverbial master of all things college football, but there used to be a cast to go along with boy wonder. We used to have characters like the Pouncey twins, protagonists like Percy Harvin to make the impossible possible and even the feel-good story like Gary Beemer’s touchdown in 2010.
From my perspective, this has been lost, and I hope it will return soon.
To regain this galaxy of stars does not require two national championships or a beatdown on Alabama.
Tebow never used a Twitter account when he played at Florida to reach his status - neither did Harvin or the Pouncey twins. The players gained their reputations the good ole fashioned way – through the press. Through feature stories, profiles and goofy photo shoots, they were given a voice and an identity long before social media could provide an avenue.
There were professional writers and photographers that are trained journalists to tell their story.
And even from the sidelines you can see it changing.

Working the Game 

Working a game from the sidelines is entirely about perspective. You, the fans, like the sportswriters and TV talent, sit high atop Ben Hill Griffin Stadium breaking down every play as if it was your call. That is what is special about actually going to a football game in The Swamp – you can feel the game. No 90” Sharp LED TV can replace the feeling of being at a game and no matter how many speakers you can fit in your living room, they won’t give you the feeling of fourth-and-1 with 20 seconds left in the game.
It’s about perspective. It’s about feeling the game.
On the sidelines, everything changes. You are shorter than the players (even at 6-4). You see the formation just a few seconds before the snap and make your best judgment to read the quarterback and figure out the play with enough time to make a picture, all while simultaneously adjusting all of that complicated camera stuff and trying not to get run over.
Luckily, I have an assistant this season, Christine Casey (@C_MCasey) who shoots with me and helps lug around the 50-plus pounds of gear that it takes to cover a game.
Every game has a story, much like you read in the countless articles that break down the performance of the team. But this story is not about yards gained or lost, it is rarely about the score, it is sometimes about who wins and who lose – this story is about the fact that 90,000 people can get together and for a rare moment in our society cheer for one team, one party, one organization.
The visuals tell this story. The perspective tells this story and sometimes you need to climb to the last row or hang off the side of a building to capture it.

The Season Ahead

Florida quarterback, Jeff Driskel, scrambles during a play against Texas A&M on Sept. 7, 2012.

Florida quarterback, Jeff Driskel, scrambles during a play against Texas A&M on Sept. 7, 2012.

I am optimistic about this season, like I am about every season. I am young, naive and probably need a few more hits on the sidelines to correct this blind faith.
I have planned my trips to College Station, Knoxville, Jacksonville, Nashville and back to where I got my start, Tallahassee. Hotel rooms have been booked and routes have been planned.
No matter what the Gators’ record is this season there is a story to be told and to be captured, and I am thrilled to be one of the few who will be there the whole way to tell it.
I am a young photojournalist, but in the short career I have had covering stories from the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill to the 2012 London Olympics, I have learned one valuable lesson about perspective - take a step back, a step away from the frenzy, from the popular story and try to look at things in a different way.
It is why I often shoot with an ultra-wide 14mm lens. It allows me to take you a step back and see the whole picture.
I will do my best to bring you on the sidelines with me this season, and I will do my best to keep my mother’s blood pressure at a minimum.
“Just don’t get hit.”