I love shooting the Atlanta Falcons. First, I get to shoot with the awesome Falcons Photo Crew — Jimmy Cribbs, Matt Lange, Lynn Bass and Michael Benford are just some of the most fun, most gracious, and most talented guys around and I have so much fun shooting with them. I always wind up learning new stuff from these guys.

Secondly, because I’m shooting for the team, they let me do stuff like set up remote cameras in insane places to get shots like the one you see above, taken during the team introductions before kickoff.

Above: Here’s where I set up the remote camera. You have to get permission from the Pyrotechnics crew to place your gear in this area, but just like everybody I’ve met that has anything to do with the Falcons, the guy was incredibly friendly and helpful. In the third quarter he even found me on the sidelines and said, “Next time you’re up here, get with me early and we’ll find a really cool place to put it!” and I about fell over (and I’m going to take him up on his offer, because I’ve got an idea where I’d like to try next time and it will definitely need approval and help from him).

Above: Here’s a close-up (these two are a little blurry — shot with my iPhone). I tried out a new mounting rig this time and I love it. It’s called an fplate from fplate.net and compared to other remote mounts it’s a steal at just $55. It’s very well made, and it’s designed to have you mount a bullhead on it (it comes with different size tripod screws). I had a small challenge with my “Really Right Stuff” ballhead because the knob is so large that it hits the bottom of the plate when you try and tighten it, so next time I’m going to use a Gitzo ballhead I have that has a round tightening knob and that should do the trick.

Above: Here’s a screen cap from their Website so you can see the plate a bit better. Lightweight but solid as anything. I might have to pick up their plate that lets you mount 2 remotes on one plate. Mmmmm. Two remotes. :)

Above: Once I set the remote in place, I stand in the spot where I think the players will pause when they come out, and I fire a few shots so the Auto Focus kicks in, and then I walk back to the remote; check the focus on the LCD, and then I switch the focus to Manual mode so it doesn’t change again. I also got photographer Phil Williams (very nice guy) to help me out by acting as my “focus model” for a few frames, too! You can see me holding the Pocket Wizard remote in my hand which triggers the remote camera. Over my shoulder is my other camera, with a 15mm Sigma Fisheye lens, mounted on the end of my monopod so I can shoot up high farther down the field as the players come out. When I fire the Pocket Wizard in my hand, it fires both cameras simultaneously.

By the way: The bright green vest means tells the security guards that you’re with the team so you get extra access, like being on field during the warm-ups and stuff like that. Green means GO!

Setting up a Remote Camera
If you want to see how easy it is to set up a wireless remote camera, watch the video above from our new photography tips weekly show, “Photography Tips & Tricks” (Photo TNT for short), and my remote tutorial starts at around 7:49 seconds into the show.

One problem that burned me at another game was when I think either the camera or the remote went into “Sleep” mode on me, so I was careful to test the camera and fire a burst of shots every couple of minutes to make sure everything. Right before the introduced the players, Lynn was kind enough to lean down and listen to see if he could hear my remote camera burst off a round of shots in High-Speed Continuous mode. He gave me a thumbs up after hearing it go off (and seeing the little red light on the remote) and we were good to go.

I’ve got a number of solid shots from them coming out, but they all look pretty much like the one you see at the top (which is my favorite of the bunch).

Above: I got to take my fisheye/monopod rig out for the coin toss at center field to start the game. This is the ref announcing who won the toss (Cowboys) and you can still see the coin on the field behind him. I shot the actual toss but since I was shooting kind of blind (remember, the camera is out at the end of my monopod) in those shots I cut the head off the refs (which should only be reserved for replacement refs), so I (ahem) won’t be showing off those (cough).

Why all the focus on the remote shots?
For every game I shoot, well after the game I look at my images and do an honest assessment on how I did, what I did right, what I did wrong, and how I can improve next time. The most important word there is “honest.” I’m especially hard on myself when it comes to my photography, but I think it’s helped me to improve. Going in to this game, I felt like I was really getting in the groove so I was excited to be shooting such a dynamic team in such an important game, but as I looked at my images, I confirmed what I had felt during the game. I had an off night. It happens.

It was one of those games where I was in the wrong position at the wrong time; I missed some key plays, my timing and focus was less than stellar, and I had a setting wrong that had a lot of my fisheye shots looking kind of soft, so overall I was disappointed with everything but my remote work above, but I’ll share a few that came out OK below.

I also made a rookie mistake — I didn’t double-check my settings before the game and I shot nearly half of the first quarter with the settings Brad had used the night before at a concert. I figured he changed them back to my sports settings, and he hadn’t. It’s not Brad’s fault — it’s mine. I should have checked. It wasn’t until I saw some blurry shots I realized I was shooting at 1/320 of a second in Auto ISO. I can tell you — if it’s below 1/1000 of a second (even 1/800th), the shots aren’t going to be tack sharp. Totally 100% my fault. That won’t happen again.

Above: This one makes me laugh ’cause it kind of tells the story of how the Cowboy’s played that night.

Camera Settings
My settings are pretty much the same for most games in a dome — high ISO because of the low lighting (I know what you’re thinking, “Low lighting!!!???” I had to shoot at 5,000 ISO on my 2nd body because my 24-120mm lens is an f/4 and at f/4 with the Georgia Dome’s lighting, I have to shoot at least 4,000 if not 5,000 ISO to reach 1/1000 of a second. This is why I love day games. :)

Above: Michael Turner scores the only touchdown of the entire game to set up the Falcon’s big win. 

On my main body, with the 400mm f/2.8, I leave it at f/2.8 all night (I shoot in Aperture Priority mode) and I’m usually between 1,600 and 2,000 ISO in a dome or at night like this. My focus is set to Continuous at 9 points.

Above: A totally spontaneous, non-posed, completely natural shot of my buddy Matt Lange, a totally spontaneous, non-posed kind of guy showing off with his 600mm lens. 

The Falcons are now 8 – 0, but…
…the Falcon’s crew of photographers (led by the amazing Jimmy Cribbs) are always #1!!! It’s a real honor to get to shoot for them and alongside Mike, Matt and Lynn, and I’m thrilled for the year their team is having. OK guys, now go beat the Saints — I’ll be shooting the Bucs/Chargers game on Sunday (in glorious 100 ISO daylight shooting conditions). Whoo Hoo!!!

Trying Something New
On Sunday’s game I’m going to be trying out my new modified sports post-processing workflow with tweaks suggested by  my buddy Rob Foldy after I outlined my bottleneck a few weeks ago (link), and I’m very psyched to give it a try. If I pull it off, I’ll have more details next week. :)

And make sure you check out my other post for today for a killer “This Weekend Only Deal” from Image Wizards!