(Above: Bucs wide receiver Michael Williams takes the field before last Monday night’s win against the Colts. However, I rather not discuss last night’s game against the 49ers. Uggh!).

Shooting Monday Night Football is always a blast, but getting to shoot in my own backyard (at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium) makes it that much sweeter! I even got one shot I actually like — the one you see above, which I posted on Google+ after the game, and as it turned out, it got featured on the site PhotoExtract.com as one of their “27 Top G+ Photos” daily photo picks. I’ve been checking out their daily list for a while now so I was totally psyched!

Above: To be able to show the top banner of their site, and my featured photo (which actually appeared much further down the page) all on the screen of my 15″ laptop screen took a bit of Photoshop magic, but I did get it done (as seen above). Thanks to the folks at PhotoExtract.com for including my image—I am truly honored!

However, the shoot wasn’t without its lowlights as I had a blunder or two that left me shaking my head at some simple mistakes that made me miss a few key moments. I was not a happy camper.

Mistakes Were Made
Every time I see the shot above, I cringe. I was in the perfect position—in the end zone right in front of Bucs Wide Receiver Preston Parker as he stretches across the goal line for the score. A clear, unobstructed view. No refs or video cameras in front of me. I had already switched to my 70-200mm lens. I was right on him—It was perfect!

Only one problem: At some point my thumb must have hit my front dial (or it hit my leg while running down the sidelines) which changed my f/stop from f/2.8 (where I leave it all night) and it changed to f/3.2. This lowered my shutter speed from 1/1000 of a second or higher (which freezes the action for tack sharp images) to 1/500 of a second, which doesn’t (and this photo above isn’t). You should be able to read the words “NFL Equipment” on his glove, and you can’t. I missed nailing it because I didn’t keep an eye on my f/stop while looking through the viewfinder. I ‘assumed’ it was still at f/2.8. Uggh. There’s no excuse for that.

(Above: I thought I’d share a few of my favorites from the shoot, mostly shot with my 400mm at f/2.8 so they’re pretty sharp, before I get back to my epic fail #2).

(Above: I liked this one because of the way they’re on the far left of the frame, but his arm is extending out, and I like the tape on his hands. Just something about it).

(Above: He doesn’t have the ball, and there’s no action on the field, but this one has meaning for me personally — he’s my favorite player, Buc’s Cornerback Ronde Barber, about the last guy left from our 2001 Super Bowl winning team. A very classy guy, future Hall of Famer, and twin brother of Tiki Barber. I like the way he’s framed between the goal posts. The pink compression gear and gloves are to honor Breast Cancer Survivors).

Epic Fail #2
I was in perfect position once again, late in the game (this is when most folks saw me on TV. It’s when LaGarrett Blount caught a short screen pass, then broke down the sideline for the score that eventually won the game for the Bucs. I was at about the 7-yard line, and they were back at about the 30 or so. I was still shooting my 400mm (I like to get in really, really tight), but when he came running right toward me, I should have immediately switched to my 70-200mm lens, but I didn’t. I don’t know why. I just kept shooting the 400mm, and he ran right in front of me, and there’s no way that 400mm could possibly focus that close.

(Above: here’s what it looks like when you try and shoot something two feet in front of you with a 400mm lens. Yup, that’s him running right in front of me for the big score. Nice job!)

Once I’ve safely missed “the shot of the game,” LaGarrett is finally far enough away from me that I can at least capture a celebration shot. Of course, I still hadn’t switched to the 70-200mm, so even my celebration shot is ho-hum (as seen below).

(Above: I’m not going to win the “best post-score celebration dance” shot with this one. I won’t even win Mr. Sideline Congeniality).

It gets worse
S
o I missed the score, muffed the celebration, but for reasons I don’t deserve they are going to give me a third chance — his teammates run into the end zone for more celebrating, and it looks like they are going run straight up the sidelines toward me, celebrating as they go. I quickly switch to my 2nd body, the one with the 70-200mm attached (finally!) as they stop literally right in front of me as they are getting totally pumped up and hitting each other on the shoulder pads and helmets and there’s all this raw emotion unfolding right in front of me, and I finally have a chance of capturing it. I can’t miss this one, right? Right?

(Above: Of course, my 70-200mm was extended out to 200mm, so if I had thought enough retract back to 70mm, I would have had some really great shots. Instead I got this. Sigh.)

I just stood there on the sidelines laughing and shaking my head at my triple-play of blunders. I had to laugh because at that moment I was considering taking all my gear and throwing it on the field in a heaping mess and setting fire to it. I should know better. These are silly mistakes to be making, but I made ‘em and they are what they are.

Worse yet: lots of people saw me on TV (EPSN broadcasts Monday Night Football live) and they saw I had the perfect angle on the shot (see below). People were texting me just seconds later saying “Tell me you got that shot! You had to get that shot!” and so on. I just stood there still shaking my head while contemplating changing my cell number. I didn’t text anyone back.

Experience is the best teacher
I’m going to take my mistakes, learn from them, and move on.  I’ll be much faster to switch bodies next time, and I’ll keep a better eye on my f/stop throughout the game. Better yet….I could use the settings LOCK on my camera, so I don’t accidentally change them as I’m running up and down the sidelines, where my 2nd body is banging against my leg as I run. Now there’s an idea! ;-)

Here’s a few more of my favorite shots from the game, just so I don’t end on a low note. :)

(Above: That’s Buc’s Wide Receiver Arrelious Benn taking it in for the score. What I like most about this shot is the fan on the sidelines signaling the imminent touchdown. What I like least is–the play was called back because he stepped out of bounds before catching the pass and was the first player to touch the ball).

(Above: The Colts Score!!!! I was a bit back on this one, so I had to crop in a bit).

(Above: I caught this one as the Bucs were coming out of the tunnel to start the game).

(Above: One of my favorites because there’s a much bigger story here — a Colts Defensive Lineman is seriously injured and lying on the field just beyond the ref. His ankle is turned in a position you never want see anyone’s ankle, and it’s the kind of gruesome injury that can be career-ending. These Bucs players take a knee to pray for the fallen player, even though he’s on the opposing team. It was silent in the stadium).

(Above: That’s not the only time you see players praying at the game [and not just when they're behind in scoring]. Right after the game, at about every football game I’ve ever shot, a group of players from both teams gather at center field; take a knee, join hands, and a player or coach leads them in prayer, thanking God for their safety, the health of any injured teammates, and for the privilege of getting to enjoy this amazing sport and walk away from it to play another day. It’s a very touching moment. I take a few quick shots at the start, and then I bow my head right along with them).

(Above: That’s the injured player, Colts Defensive Tackle Eric Foster being carted off the field. You never, never want to leave the field in a cart, but he was pounding his chest and letting the crowd know that while he won’t be back tonight — he’ll be back, and he’s with his team in spirit. They only showed it once, but for a brief moment while Eric was lying on the field in agony they showed a camera view of his ankle, turned all the way around the wrong way, on the big HD screens in the stadium, and you heard 70,000 fans simultaneously cringe and go “ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh.”)

(Above: Here’s one for the road. This is the kind of sharpness I’m looking for — the same sharpness sports photo editors are looking for. If the image is a little soft, it doesn’t make their cut).

(Above: In Photoshop I zoomed in tight on the image before this one just so you can see what I mean when I say it has to be tack sharp. See how you can clearly read the words “NFL Equipment?” That’s tack sharp! That’s what I’m shooting for every time. I don’t always get it, but that’s the goal. Don’t worry — I’ll nail it next time!). :-)

P.S. Camera Settings: Both cameras should have been set to f/2.8 all night. My main body was a Nikon D3s set at 1,600 ISO all night, with a Nikon 400mm f/2.8 lens on a Gitzo monopod. The 2nd body was a Nikon D3, also at 1,600 ISO and f/2.8 with a 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom lens.

P.S.S. Congrats to my readers: Todd Sloan, Josh Whiting and Matt Leitholt who won a signed copy of my new book, “Light it, Shoot it, Retouch it” for being the first to post of  photo of me as seen on their TV as they spotted me on the sidelines during the live broadcast. We’ll be contacting you later today. :)