Above: One of my favorite shots from my remote cameras positioned right next to the Pyro. I particularly like the way his headshot and name appear on the giant video screen behind him, which honestly was a “happy accident.”

OK, the outcome wasn’t what we were hoping for, but it was a great game, and a great season for the Falcons, and I was just tickled to even be a small part of their post-season photo coverage team. Before we get to all the remote camera stuff, a little background on shooting the game:

There were eight photographers covering the game for the Falcons (their regular crew of superstars led by Jimmy Cribbs, along with Michael Benford, Lynn Bass and Matt Lange), and we were all given a long assignment sheet (from Michael) of the shots we needed to cover before, during, and after the game (a small snippet is show above) in addition to covering the regular game action.  Michael knows I’m into the whole remote camera thing but we planned our most ambitious remote shoot yet.

I would be shooting three to four remote cameras for the player intros, but I wanted to have one camera rigged up at the top of the dome aiming down at the 50-yard-line. Since I can’t climb more than three steps up on a step-ladder, I knew I was going to need help. I called Bill Frakes (long time Sports Illustrated living legend, Kelby Training Instructor and powerful overlord of camera remotes — he uses up to 30 remote cameras when he covers the Kentucky Derby each year), to ask for his advice on where to place remote cameras, and if knew someone brave enough to rig a camera or two at the top of the Georgia Dome aiming down at the field. He turned me on to Kevin Liles (who is based in Atlanta) who regularly rigs remotes for Sports Illustrated, and Kevin (who was awesome by the way) did the high-wire act that is rigging way up at the top of a stadium dome that holds 72,000 people (not for the faint of heart).

That’s a glimpse of Kevin doing an easy install — rigging a remote on the semi-cicrular truss the players run through during the player intros, seen in the shot at the top of the page. But soon he would making the 45-minute arduous task of climbing to the top of the dome while carrying a heavy backpack filled with three cameras and lots of lenses.

Shooting from the assignment list
Michael Benford (my buddy and one of the best guys ever), is the Falcon’s Creative Director, and he and Matt Lange create all the cool graphics and signs and game day graphics (and program) you see throughout the stadium, so it’s important to them that we cover more than just the action. I kept the shot list with me and made darn sure I covered as much of that list as I could, which included getting shots of fans, the half-time entertainment, on-field signage, celebrities (like Usher and Fox Sport’s Jay Glazer), players interacting with fans and signing autographs, football gear (things that could be used as graphic elements) and the sights and sounds surrounding the game. I put together a few in the grid you see above (created in Lightroom’s Print Module and saved as a JPEG).

Shooting the Game Action
Here’s a shot of all my gear, and just a few shots of the game action (remote shots to follow); I was more focused on the shot list (and my remote overhead at aimed at the 50-yard line) than the game. I figured with seven other photographers shooting the game action, they pretty much had every angle covered, but I still got a few shots.

CAMERA SETTINGS: Two bodies: a Nikon D4 and a D3s. Main body with a 400mm f/2.8 lens and 2nd body with a 70-200mm f/2.8. Shot at f/2.8 all day, ISO up around 2,000 – 2,500 all day to get my shutter speed to 1/1000 of a second or faster.

Above: Running four remotes and doing game coverage means you have to take a bunch of gear (luckily, I had Brad Moore to put all this together, test it, and get it ready to roll. I checked the Pelican case and my clothes bag, the backpack and roller bag went on the plane with me. 5 bodies, 6 lenses, lots of PocketWizards, cables, ballheads, and stuff. Uggh!).

OK. onto the Remote Camera Stuff
The Falcons do a big intro package for their players and the fans absolutely love it. It’s important for the Falcons photo crew to capture this so we kind of went all out!!!

I was able to work in advance with the pyrotechnics crew (seriously great guys) to be able to position two cameras on the ground (marked #1 and #2), and for the first time we mounted a camera on top of the truss archway the players run through (camera #2 circle below).

To be able to mount and place these remotes, you need the advance permission of the Pryo crew (they are an outside company that specializes in pryo and they are hired by the team). Their main focus is safety (players and fans), and they assemble this rig in about two minutes flat. It has to be up, wired and in place about 10 minutes before the players make their entrance, so you can’t just walk up in the midst of all this safety preparation and start plopping down cameras. We worked this all out in advance (via email), but I had worked with this crew before and they are just absolutely great people (especially considering that accommodating photographers is probably nowhere in their contract). But honestly, these guys go above and beyond because I’ve never met a Pyro crew that was more willing to help us out to get some great angles and access.

Above: It’s not a pretty shot but here’s a closer-look at one of my remotes. This is all held up by a metal floor plate designed for just such purposes called an fplate (from fplate.net), and it has holes drilled into so you can mount a ballhead on it so you can angle you camera wherever you want it. On top of that is a PocketWizard III — my first time using the IIIs and they FANTASTIC!!! I liked the IIs, but the IIIs are much better (and I’m ordering more!). 

GIVEAWAY TIME!!!!
OK, so for this game I had Brad call and order me a few more fplates (shown above from the company’s site), and the company that makes them (fplate.net) was kind enough to give me one to give away here on the blog, so….if you want to enter, just leave a comment here with the word “fplate” somewhere in your comment, and we’ll pick a winner and ship you the plate. I swear by these things! By the way: the PocketWizard-shaped hole is so you can mount a Wizard there and keep it there and still access the battery compartment. That way you can keep these rigs pretty much in one piece between games. Now, if you don’t win, you can still buy one for just $55 (worth every penny!). Great for Baseball, horse racing, basketball, motorsports — you name it!

Here are some remote shots from the player intros: 
I used four cameras (three mounted and one hand-held — when I fired my hand-held camera, with a PocketWizard on top, it fired all the three other remotes, all capturing the same moment, but from different angles, perspectives and focal ranges. I’ve included an image of the same player (Falcon’s Cornerback Asante Samuel) shot at same moment from all four cameras (read each photo’s captions for more details) plus some behind the scenes stuff as well.

Above: The view from Floor Remote Camera #1

Above: The view of the same moment from remote #2, mounted up on the archway truss.

Above: The view of the same moment from Remote camera #3 on the ground.

Above: Here’s camera #4 — my handheld camera with a Sigma 15mm Fisheye lens to capture more of the stadium in the shot. When I fired this shot, the PocketWizard mounted on my camera fired the other three cameras at the same time, all wirelessly.

Above: That white circle on the left is where I’m shooting from (this image is taken with Camera #2).

Set-up Stuff
Here’s some behind-the-scenes about the set-up.

Above: To keep the camera away from the very cold CO2 smoke canisters, we had to mount the camera upside down (here’s a shot as we’re mounting it), on the truss. So when I brought the images into my computer I had to first rotate them 180°, which took all of two-clicks. This one is using one of my older PocketWizard Plus IIs as a receiver (I didn’t have enough Plus IIIs to cover all the remotes).

Above: The arch truss is assembled and stored off to the side until right before the players come out, and this was our only opportunity to mount Camera #2. I had to stand at the approximate distance where the players would pause as they come out for us to set the focus (using Auto Focus) and then switch the lens to Manual Focus and lock it down with Gaffer’s tape so it doesn’t slip or move.

Above: Once the truss was put into its final position and the Pyro crew rolled the pyro gear into place, we did a quick retest to make sure everything was working. That’s the Falcons Matt Lange posing with me, and we’re both listening to hear all four cameras fire and I press the shutter in the camera I’m holding in my hand. Everything worked (Whew!). I also ran a wireless remote with my camera connected to the end of my Monopod so I could extend it up and over the heads of the players during warm-up and/or at the coin toss. So, there’s one PocketWizard in my hand, and one on top of the camera mounted on the monopod, with a 15mm fish-eye on the camera.

Above: So, how did I get a shot like this in the middle of the game? Well, if you look closely, it’s not in the middle of the game — that’s Falcons vs Falcons — during the pre-game warmup. I’m actually right behind Snelling (#44) with my monopod balanced on my leg high above his head. I corrected the fisheye effect in Photoshop with one click (profile correction in the Lens Correction filter). 

Above: Here’s what the shot looked like coming out of the fisheye, without cropping and without the Lens Correction fix. I do kind of like it (and that you see the coach), but overall the elements on the bottom of the image are kind of distracting even if I like the overall fish-eye look. 

Above: Here’s the view from my overhead remote with a 200mm lens. One word: “Meh.” 

The Overhead Blues
The remote I was most excited about turned out to pretty much be a bust, and it’s my fault. This was my first overhead shot, and it either needed to be tighter (like 300mm, as Bill Frakes suggested to me, instead of 200mm), or I would have mounted a second one with a 14mm wide angle to capture the entire crowd, sidelines and all, which I think would have rocked. So, while this is a different perspective, it’s just kinda “Meh.” Oh well, that’s how you learn, right — from your mistakes — next time I’ll try both.

Above: During pre-game warm-up I saw a player had put these two down, almost like he placed them there just for me. I asked the position coach he was warming up with if he minded if I got a shot of it, and he was totally cool with it, so I placed my camera, with a 14-24mm lens on it on the ground and fired to get this shot. 

Above: It all made it up/back in one piece. Well, four pieces but you know what I mean.

I’m going to do a separate post just about setting up remotes, and working with the new PocketWizard Plus IIIs (which are awesome!) hopefully next week, but since this is about my longest post ever, I think I better wrap things up. My humble thanks to Mike, Jimmy, Matt and Lynn for having me shoot for you guys this post season. I know it didn’t end the way any of us on the photo crew had hoped, but man —- what a season!!! GO FALCONS!!! #riseup