As a Bears fan, the game sure didn’t turn out the way I had hoped, but getting to shoot a game like that was still an incredible thrill for me. The level of excitement in that stadium, and surrounding the stadium (out in the tailgate sections), was just amazing.

I was there as a guest of my buddy, and Bears Chairman, Mike McCaskey, who shot the game alongside me the whole time (though thankfully he wasn’t there when Rogers came crashing into me at the goal line—link).

I was born and raised in the Tampa Bay area, so naturally the Buccaneers are my home team, but through my friendship with Mike and his family these past years, I’ve totally adopted the Bears as if they were my own, and I’m so glad I did (football is even more fun when you get to root for two teams each week).

Shooting a Team you Care About is Harder Than It Looks
I stunk shooting this game. Seriously. My friends were all asking yesterday how I did, and I said, “I pretty much sucked.” I literally missed a dozen or more plays because I’m cheering (or cussing) as a play unfolds in front of me. Then I’d realize, I wasn’t shooting at all—-I’m just watching the game, and I kind of have to snap out of it and get back to shooting.

I saw a shot of me on ESPN’s Sports Center last night, where Green Bay had just intercepted the ball, and everyone else is shooting, and I don’t even have my eye to the viewfinder—I’m just watching in shock as the play (and the game) run away right in front of me. Needless to say, there’s another shot I missed. When it’s your team out there playing, it changes everything.

So, I’m going to Blame it on that. That and Rogers breaking my Monopod
I’m glad I wasn’t shooting for a wire service this time, because I don’t think I got anything—anything at all—in the entire first quarter. My monopod got broken during Green Bay’s first possession, and I tried hand holding the 400mm for a few plays, but it’s front-heavy, and really hard to wrangle (a 200-400mm or a 300mm f/2.8 would have been no problem). So it took me a while to get adjusted (and to get the dirt off everything).

Shooting with half a monopod
I could still kinda shoot with the stump that was left, but it was shorter than I would actually set it when I’m on my knees, so it was really awkward the entire game. Plus, there was no foot on the stick, so it kind of impaled itself down into the dirt. I lugged the broken other piece with me the entire first half, as a momento.  So, I’m going to assign a 22% “lame shooting blame” to my mini-monopod.

Brrrrrrrrrr
I’m going to assign another 26% of the blame to the cold weather, even though I was dressed so warmly, and it was such a beautiful, blue sky, sunny day that the 23° temperate at game time really didn’t affect me at all (Hey, these are all excuses, not actual reasons why I didn’t get good shots).

I wore Under Armor’s “Cold Gear” base layer (link) which worked great, and then I had layers and layers on top of that (I felt like the “Michelin Man”) and I was so comfortable I didn’t even ever consider putting on the face mask. In fact, it wasn’t until the last five minutes of the game, when it was already dark that I thought, “Hey, it’s getting a little chilly.” So, I should probably lower my “lame blame” on the weather to maybe around 17%.

The Refs. Ahhhh, the Refs
I think I broke my all time record for plays with the ref blocking my shot. Well, them and the video crew. There was one point where I was following a receiver running with the ball and a video camera man walked right in front of my lens—and stopped. Suddenly, everything went black. I pulled my eye away from the viewfinder and I’m staring at his butt two feet in front of me. I said a few choice words. However, it wasn’t their fault—it was mine. I wasn’t in position. I could have moved more, but having to be on your knees every single play gets old fast (I’m on my knees a lot during a game for a better perspective, but sometimes you need a break for a few plays. Well, at least you do at my age).

The end zones, where I usually like to shoot because you avoid most of the refs and video crews, were packed because the TV network had complained that photographers were getting in the way of TV cameras in the end zone. So, they backed the photographers up at least 20 or more feet from the End Zone, so there was just a little strip to shoot from, and it was always packed.

There were more photographers here than any game I’ve ever shot. I tried to take a photo of the photographer’s work room for you guys at half time, but my lens totally fogged up when I got in there. So, whose fault was it that I was not in the right position to capture the action? Mine. So to whom am I assigning a portion of the blame? The Refs and video crew. 14%.

So, it’s really not my fault
OK, it totally is. However, had I been there on assignment, I would have just manned-up and got the job done no matter what, but since I was there to hang with my buddy Mike, I get to blame anyone and everything for having a really off day of shooting (totally kidding—it’s all on me). Oh yeah, where’s the shot you got flattened for? Blurry. Even the ref is blurry, but not nearly as much as Rodgers. Ugh!

I felt bad for Mike
Mike and I were on the 10-yard line when the Bears were in position to tie and take the game into overtime, and Mike and I were watching more than shooting at this point, and then Green Bay picks off  Caleb Hanie’s pass at the 2 yard line, and I just saw Mike’s heart sink. (By the way: I thought Hanie did a great job coming in cold as a third-string Quarterback. Talk about pressure! That’s his reaction above after his first regular season/post season NFL touchdown).

After the game, Mike and I watched part of the Steelers/Jets game with his lovely wife Nancy (Nancy is an incredibly gracious hostess, and a really fun person all the way around) along with their daughter Catherine, (who is just as gracious as her mom, and funny as anything) while having a delicious dinner comprised of foods I shouldn’t eat. We talked and shared stories and made the best of what must have been a very tough night for them.

More Time For Photography
This is Mike’s last year as Chairman of the Bears, and I know there is nothing he would have loved more than to see his team go to the SuperBowl this year (Of course, I think particularly it would have been because he’d get to shoot another game. See how it is with shooting sports? It really gets under your skin). Afterward, they dropped me off at my rental car for the drive back to the airport hotel, broken monopod in tow.

Mike is a really passionate photographer, and he’s gotten really good at shooting football, really fast (he even had an amazing 10-foot long pano/collage of one of Devin Hester’s run backs that was being auctioned off for charity during the game).

I feel very fortunate to have become friends with the McCaskeys, who are some of the most genuine, friendly, and community-minded people you’d ever want to meet. Few photographers I know have worked as hard at their photography as Mike has during these past years, and it has really paid off for him. Although he’s been shooting a lot of football lately, he’s a people photographer, and that makes sense, because he’s a “people person.” (When we’re walking through the stadium, people recognize him and ask for autographs and to pose for photos with him. He treats everyone, from the elevator operators to the security guards, like they’re his personal friends, and Mike always has a smile and time for a quick chat with everyone, no matter who they are or what they do. He treats everyone like they’re important. He treats everyone like they own the Bears, and to me, that speaks volumes).

Joe McNally, who did a portfolio review of Mike’s work will tell you, Mike’s one heck of a people shooter—-so much so that Mike’s now selling prints of his work (RC designed his new photography Web site), and I imagine he’ll devote even more time to his photography now that he’s retired (though knowing Mike like I do, his first love and most of his attention will always be helping other people in need, which is probably why I feel about him the way I do).

I’m thankful for the friends I’ve made in the Bears organization, including Bears Team Photographer Bill Smith (who is very special person outside his amazing photography skills, and I’m trying to get Bill to be a Guest Blogger here so you can learn more about his work outside photography), and I want to thank Mike and his wonderful family for taking me in and making me feel like family every time I visit. GO BEARS!

One Last Thing
I went into this game wanting to try to capture a series of images I could apply a Bleach Bypass effect to, and I did manage to at least do that part. I know this effect isn’t for everybody, and some folks are going to hate it, but for certain things like this, where you’re just capturing the player’s emotions before the game, I thought it would look kinda cool, and I actually like the way these turned out.

These were all taken with my 24-70mm f/2.8 out wide at 28mm, and then post processed in Lightroom by increasing the Exposure until the sky totally blew out, then I opened each image in Nik Software Color Efex Pro 3.0 and applied their Beach Bypass filter using the default settings. Hope you like ‘em.