This weekend, I had absolutely one of my most-fun football weekends ever, covering the University of Tennessee Vols big upset win against the South Carolina Gamecocks in Knoxville, Tennessee on Saturday and then right after the game flying over to Atlanta to shoot with the Falcons crew for Sunday’s game. It doesn’t get much better than that!

Today, I’ll cover Saturday’s game and the two locations we mounted remote cameras. I called my buddy “Big Daddy” Don Page (the head of sports photography for UT) and asked if there was any chance of us mounting a camera on the Goal Post itself. I often see video cameras mounted up there, but so far I haven’t seen any still cameras, so I thought it was worth a shot. Don worked on it, and sure enough — on Friday we got the go-ahead, with the warning that the camera or lens absolutely could not cross the plane of the goal post which could interfere with the game (and we would make darn sure it wouldn’t).

 For me, there are two main reasons to use remote cameras: 

(1) To let you cover two or more locations at one time. For example, when I shoot Major League Baseball, I’ll cover the batter myself, but I have a remote camera aimed right at 2nd base, so if something happens there I’ve got it covered with the 2nd camera.

 (2) But mostly for me, it’s to give me angles and views from places either I can’t shoot (like with the Falcons, right up next to the smoke and fire pyrotechnics when the player intros happens right before the game, or hanging from the truss the players run out through), or in our case, a Goal Post came up high aiming down right at the 5-yard line with a wide angle lens. I totally dig this stuff! :)

My Loadout
We packed four Canon 1DXs, a slew of lenses for the trip (long and wide), and a Pelican case full of remote rigging gear for the trip.  This was going to be challenging since two of my flights this weekend would be on Delta CRJ-900 Regional Jets with small overhead bins. I took a Thinktank Photo Airstream Roller, which is like the Airport International but about half the height. It’s an amazing bag because it looks so small, but holds so much (Two 1Dx-bodies; a 70-200mm f/2.8, a 24-105 f/4, a 8-15mm fisheye zoom, a black rapid strap, my card reader, my backup drive, a Hoodman Loupe, memory cards, misc cables AND my 15” laptop and my iPad in the outer sleeve PLUS, my full-sized Gitzo Monopod. That is one amazing little bag, and believe it or not, it slides right under the seat in front of me on that small regional jet (the flight from Atlanta was only 24 minutes, so having a little less legroom was no big deal).

I carried my Canon 400mm f/2.8 in a soft-sided Lightware bag, and son-of-a-gun if it didn’t fit perfectly in the overhead bin of both the CRJ-900 and the smaller CRJ-200 on my way back to Atlanta (seen above right). I checked the Pelican case (with a TSA-approved lock) as baggage along with my overnight bag with clothes (and I tossed my gel-filled knee pads as well in there).


Above: That’s Randy and this custom-made goalpost rig (see the metal bands?). 

The Goal Cam
We got to the stadium really early because we realized that the goalpost was MUCH thicker than how wide a Manfrotto Magic Arm clamp would fit, and so Don called his buddy Randy Sartin, who shoots for USA Today Sports Images and is really clever at coming up with solutions to problems like this. On Friday night he went to Lowes and bought two large metal bands (the kind you would use on a dryer hose or indoor plumbing) that you can tighten with a screwdriver, and he connected those (somehow) to a Manfrotto Magic Arm. You can see the metal bands in the shot above.

Above: That’s “Big Daddy” Don Page flashing a classic Big Daddy “I’m up on a laddar” smirk

We pulled our a big ladder (at 7:30 am) and Randy got it attached to the goal, then Brad Moore (who came on the trip with me to help out, and to visit family in his hometown while he was there), scampered up that ladder and mounted a 1Dx up there with a 24-70mm f/2.8, and we used Auto Focus to focus it on the 5-yard line (at around f/8) and then once focused, we switched the lens to Manual Focus and used gaffer’s tape to make sure it didn’t move.

Above: That’s Randy, me and Brad testing the remote after it’s in place. 

Above: I cannot begin to explain this shot of Brad, taken by Brad (note the PocketWizard in his right hand).

Above: Here’s a close-up look at the rig (Randy added a GoPro camera on top to make a time-lapse video). You can’t tell very well from this angle, but the camera is well behind the plane of the goal post.

We would leave the camera there all game, but we’d also get the big player entrance as they take the field (and leave the field) from right behind that goalpost, so it was the perfect place to position it.

Above: Here’s the goal post cam of the players taking the field.

The camera was up and running by 8:00 am, so we went up to the roof of the stadium where I shot some fisheye shots of the empty stadium (it was scary as anything up there for someone like myself who has a fear of heights). On our way down to the field, we passed right over the tunnel where the players stack up right before they take the field and I took a fisheye shot of it empty, and showed it to Donald and said “Ya know, we’ve got another camera, and a couple more Manfrotto Magic Arms” and about an hour or so before kickoff, we mounted that camera, with the fish-eye set to 15mm on a railing above the tunnel. So, when I fired my camera, it would fire both the goalpost cam and the tunnel cam.

Above: Here’s the tunnel remote cam right as the players take the field. The two cameras both fire simultaneously when I fire my camera, or press the “test” button on the PocketWizard.

We used PocketWizard Plus IIIs to trigger these remotes, which are just perfect for stuff like this (with a 300+ foot range) and they are just so easy to work with and incredibly reliable. You just need a cable that goes from the remote into your camera’s sync port, and you find the exact right cable that works with your camera using the free cable-finder widget on the PocketWizard site. Works like a charm.

After the players took the field, Brad quickly removed the remote and the rest of game I just kept a PocketWizard Plus III in my pocket, and when the play got near the end zone, I’d fire shots with it, no matter where I was in the stadium.

Field Camera Gear & Settings
I used pretty much the same gear I’ve been using all season: two Canon 1Dx’s with a 400mm f/2.8 on my main body (with a 1.4 tele-extender attached most of the game) supported by a Gitzo monopod, and a 70-200mm f/2.8 on my 2nd body. Canon sent me this loaner gear at the beginning of the season, and I already let them know not to expect it back any time soon LOL!! (and by soon, I mean not until well after football season. 2015). ;-)

Above: I do this when I get sleepy. ;-)

At the beginning of the season a friend at Canon who shoots sports too asked if I’d like to try out some of their gear, and ever since their 1Dx came out (and my buddies from the Falcons all shoot the 1Dx and just rave about it), I’ve been anxious to see if it’s “all that.” Well, I can tell you, “it’s all that” and then some. So much so, that for shooting sports I’ve totally switched over to Canon (in a related note, I saw my buddy pro-sports shooter Paul Abell [who guest blogged here my blog] at the Falcons game yesterday and I noticed he had switched over to Canon as well).

Anyway, I haven’t had much time with Canon’s other bodies, just my trip to Rome using a 5D Mark III, and I’m still getting used to using it, but it’s been a lot of fun trying out some goodies. I also tried out some Sony gear at a studio shoot last month which was really interesting, but I didn’t get to shoot with it long enough to get used to the electronic viewfinder.

At some point, I’ll do either a video review or an in-depth blog post about the 1Dx and Canon lenses, because there’s a lot I want to share about why that body was born for shooting sports, but this week I’m off to Photo Plus Expo in New York, and then my Washington DC seminar on Friday, and then back to NYC on Saturday (whew!), and then off to Boston for another tour date on Monday, and well…it’s gonna be a few weeks, at earliest.

Canon did invite me to do a presentation in their booth about shooting sports at Photo Plus Expo this week, so if you’re in NYC, I’m on stage at the Canon booth at 2:30 pm on Thursday, and at 11:00 am on Saturday, so I’ll hope you stop by, so I can meet you in person (I haven’t been on stage at Photo Plus Expo since 2010 so it’s exciting to be back, and my thanks to Canon for the invitation to talk about one of my favorite topics).

What was especially exciting about all this though, was the game itself. For the past two years I’ve been only  shooting NFL games which are great, don’t get me wrong, but the traditions of college football, and the passion of the fans is really something special, and something I have definitely missed, so it was great to get swept up in it all again. When the game came down to a last-second field goal for a big upset Vols win, the place just erupted into celebration that was beyond those even any college bowl game I’ve covered, and that was just amazing, since I was right in the middle of all of it. I have had special access to the locker room after the game, and that was just insane!!! A really amazing experience.

At the end of the game, when the Vols lined up for the last-second kick, instead of covering the kick (which I knew they had covered by the other team photographers), I turned and focused on the Vols bench and I figured I’d know whether the kick was good or not based on their reaction, and either good or bad it would still have the makings of a interesting story-telling shot. The kick was good, and the players exploded off the bench to rush the field, where I got the shots you see above.

I haven’t had a chance to process all the images yet (I sent some to the Vols that they needed right away), and I I’m working on more Falcons stuff today, and I’ll share those as soon as I can, but since I did some different stuff with remotes from this game, I wanted to share those here today.

Above: A really great moment when Coach Jones jumps up on the podium and directs the UT Marching Band in a rousing chorus of the Vols fight song “Rocky Top” — the place was just going nuts!!!

Above: I was able to fight my way through the sea of players and photographers and video camera crew to get this shot from the front side. 

Above: Go Vols! 

Here’s wishing you call an awesome Monday (well, as awesome as a “monday” can be anyway).