What a wild, long, confusing, exciting game as the Atlanta Falcons whupped up on Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos on Monday Night Football up in Atlanta at the Georgia Dome.

I had a total blast because I got to shoot with the Falcons crew (the awesome Michael Benford, the magnanimous Matt Lange, and the gentlemen of NFL football photography, the incredible Jimmy Cribbs), and their guest (and our mutual buddy) Joey Wright. Overall, I had a pretty lame shooting night and I was pretty disappointed with what I got, but at least I did like some of the fisheye stuff I got from the full frame Sigma 15mm fisheye lens I was trying out. I liked it so much, yesterday I bought it (it was $300 cheaper then Nikon’s full frame 16mm lens which is an older lens that hasn’t been updated in a while). It’s sharp, has great contrast and a fast auto-focus. Totally digging it.

Here’s a shot Joey took of me taking the fisheye shot I showed above this one. I liked it so much, I made it my Facebook cover photo (thanks Joey!). This was about three hours before game time, and right before the opened the doors to the public. That’s my favorite time for stadium shots — when it’s empty like this. A few hours later, the dome was packed to the gills and it was an absolutely electric atmosphere in the Georgia Dome.

Like I said, I was pretty disappointed with how I shot overall, but here’s a few that I did get (more on the fisheye stuff in just a minute).

Some Fisheye Work
When you’re shooting for the Falcons (they get all my shots straight off the card, which is pretty terrifying by the way, especially with the night I was having), you get extra access (and a green photo vest that tells security its okay for you to do things like go on the field while the players are warming up about 45 minutes before kickoff).

So, I put my Sigma 15mm lens on my camera; attached my camera to the end of my Monopod, and put a PocketWizard Plus II on the camera, and I held another Pocket Wizard Plus II in in my hand to wirelessly trigger the camera on the end of the monpod. Then I headed out to the field to catch these shots — I balanced the foot of my monopod on my knee to balance it and then I extended it up high over the players (It was actually only about a foot or two above the players, but the fisheye makes it look like it’s MUCH higher, as seen below).

(Above: Here’s an iPhone photo of the rig — you can see the camera mounted on top of the monopod, and the PocketWizard Plus II on top, with a short cable into the socket on the camera. I’m holding another PocketWizard Plus II in my hands. The JBL vocal monitor on the bottom left is so I can hear myself singing over the crowd noise. ;-)).

(Above: Here’s another shot of the rig in action where I’m taking the shot you see below [iPhone photo by Mike Benford].  The bottom of the monopod is on my thigh — the top of the camera is cut off, but it’s there). 

My epic remote-camera fail
To be able to mount a remote camera anywhere near where the players come out, you have to first get permission from the guys that handle the pyrotechnics and the safety crew, and these crews generally would just rather you didn’t use a remote camera and they treat you that way, but in Atlanta, they were incredibly accommodating and even helped me find a better, closer vantage point. How sweet (and usual) is that (but honestly, that’s how it is in Atlanta — everybody I came in contact with, from elevator operators to the guys that hand out the photo vests, were as friendly and chatting and just downright nice as can be). So, I got my remote all set-up in an awesome place — right where the players come out, and the smoke is shooting out, and the fireworks and fire are going off. This is going to be Epic. Unfortunately, it was an epic fail.

I tested it out, and the remote triggered perfectly. The aim was right (I used a beanbag tripod I picked up at B&H Photo called “The Pod” so I could place it right where I wanted it on the ground), and then I set-up at mid-field to capture the players as they came out through the smoke and fire (see the shot above — four shots back) so that way I could get them from two angle. I had the Sigma 15mm fisheye on the ground aiming up, and the 400mm f/2.8 out on the field with me.

(Above: There’s my remote rig, on silent duty waiting patiently for the players to run through the smoke and fire.)

I hit the PocketWizard every time a player came through the smoke — the only problem was — it never fired. Not once. I have no idea why. Uggh. Could have been so cool. Sigh.

There were a lot of fireworks between the replacement refs and Broncos Headcoach John Fox. This photo gives you an idea of how he felt.

Above: Here’s my load-out for the game: L to R: Gel-filled kneepads (from Lowes), and a Gitzo monopod. My main body is a Nikon D4, and the 2nd body is a Nikon D3s. 400mm f.2.8 lens (top); Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 I’m trying out; Nikon 1.4x teleconverter for the 400mm (making it around 540mm); a 70-200mm f/2.8 for my 2nd body; a beanbag with a tripod mount for the remote shot as the player’s come out [well, that was the plan anyway], and the Sigma 15mm fisheye [the Nikon 10.5mm fisheye I use is for cropped sensor bodies. That has its advantages, but you lose half your megapixels]. Lastly, it’s all in a ThinkTank Photo Airport rolling bag. I’m also now using the Lexar X1000 speed cards for sports which is absolutely insane!!!! (and perfect for sports). The whole thing is just a blast to hoist up into the overhead bin. :)

And all was going well, until….
While I absolutely had the best time of any game this year, I had a rough day on the field. I was out of position for just about everything. One time I was in the perfect position for an amazing touchdown catch from Bronco’s receiver Demaryius Thomas (I was right there — it happened right in front of me), and I knew I had nailed it. Right after, I looked at my screen and sure enough — I had it dead on.

Then I zoomed in and saw that every frame was out of focus. I set up my second camera WITHOUT the backfocus button, so if I have to grab it quickly I won’t miss finding the back button. However, in my excitement from finally being in the exact right spot, all I pressed was the backfocus button and instead focused on the players 20 feet behind him. I blew it. Ugh!!!!  I just stood there shaking my head (and uttering a string of words normally reserved for rappers), but there was nothing I could do but try to make the 2nd half better, which I did, and things finally started coming together.


Above: L to R: that’s me, Matt Lange (who apparently got ahold of some bad sushi), and Joey Wright before the game — photo by Michael Benford.

Overall, I still had the best time yet. Mike, Matt and Jimmy are the most fun, gracious, and talented group of guys anywhere, and Joey Wright kept us laughing the whole time (it was great getting to know him better). And while the game went on for a lifetime (I didn’t’ get back to my hotel until after 2:00 am), I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. I caught an early flight home and was back in the office by lunchtime. All-in-all — totally worth every minute of it! :)


Above: If you’ve ever wondered what Falcon’s Creative Director Michael Benford would look like if shot from above with a 15mm fisheye lens, well, now we finally know. He and Matt make an insane team — both top notch graphics designers and shooters — the Falcon’s are lucky to have these guys (and I’m lucky to have them as friends). :)

What’s next?
On Sunday I’m off to Nashville for the Titans vs Lions game, then the following week I’m back shooting the Bucs in Tampa vs. the Redskins, then onto Jacksonville the following week for the Bears vs. the Jags. I am LOVING football season!!!