It was a Football Shootin', Remote Firein' Weekend!

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 â” 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 wellâ¦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).

  1. It’s always fascinating seeing how photos are constructed in this case the goal post cam. I bet the GoPro time lapse video was pretty cool too! Do you normally get to the stadiums that early in the morning?

    1. Hi JC: I usually get there around an hour before kickoff. The only reason we were there so early was our concerns about how the goal cam set-up might work. If it didn’t work, we needed time to come up with a Plan B. :)

  2. Oh man, I live around Knoxville and I can’t believe I didn’t know you were here! I guess if I followed your twitter feed, I would have. Anyways, glad to see the Vols represented well here. Great shots!

  3. Scott – Appreciate the in depth reports on your sports shooting. I’m sure there are tons of photographers who wish they had the ability to do the same. I know you have worked hard in the pursuit of being able to shoot at these high profile sporting events. When I see all the gear you have at your disposal, I get amazed. You have loads of Nikon cameras and flashes and now you have a slew of high end Canon gear. There are few photographers in the world that have the resources that you have. We all know that it is not the gear that makes a photographer. Great photos can be had with the simplest of cameras. BUT having a myriad of gear at ones disposal, certainly can enhance ones ability to capture the elusive great photograph. It is nice that you have found your artistic niche in the world, are willing to share your knowledge and help those that want to get better. At least, when you show up for a sports shoot, you have the gear to back you up. LOL

    1. Peter: I feel VERY fortunate to have all access to this awesome gear (actually, I prefer the word “blessed” but you know what I mean), and if there’s one area where I think the gear has the biggest impact on the photos, it’s probably sports photography. While Canon is loaning me this gear for now, I bought ALL my Nikon gear myself, which is the same set-up as my Canon gear (bodies, lenses, etc.) with the exception of one lens, a 300mm that I got as a gift, but I know that having access to this gear is a huge advantage, and I’m very grateful and thankful to have access to it. So, just so you know “message received.”

      1. Do you feel that the Canon is THAT much better than the D4 to go out and buy one, since you already have the D4?

    1. Same as always — I shoot wide open (my lowest-numbered f/stop possible, so either f/4 or f/2.8), but I had to bump up the ISO a bit because it was overcast or cloudy most of the day. The Bucs stadium I shoot in on Sundays is also an open stadium.

  4. Hey Scott, fantastic article and real interesting to see how remotes are used in various sports venues. In the photo where you are shooting prone on the ground, the guy to the right of you seems to be shooting with some sort of stabilization rig. Do you think he was primarily shooting video, or could this be used as an alternative to a monopod now too? More mobile perhaps? Just curious…

  5. Awesome writeup, Scott! Your enthusiasm for what you do just jumps off the page! I had the privilege of shooting high school football last Friday alongside a fellow shooter you worked with in TN a while ago — Al Wagner (whose tailgate grilling talents apparently made a lasting impression that day as well!)–and I am learning so much from you guys! Thanks for all the behind the scenes stuff!

  6. Great post Scott! I believe your most controversial photo is the one of your gear stuffed in the overhead compartments on the plane. Did they yell at you? :)

  7. Thanks for sharing this is very cool best of all it is proof that hard work and networking and then some more hard work oh and did I mention hard work PAYS off,

  8. Great post Scott! The shot of the team running through the T is powerful – makes the hairs on my arm stand up. Love the last shot too.

    I think Don Page ought to have you at every game the rest of the season. The past few years, we’ve lost games with last second FGs (and other unfortunate events). You’re good luck! I’m sure there’s a booster who would gladly pay for your expenses if it meant Wins.

  9. Thanks for this riveting post, Scott. I’ve started working with remote cameras, firing via PW, and it’s great to read about your real-world experience. Amazing images!

  10. Great pics!! Wish I had been there – almost got in but creds fell through. Did Randy tell you that the last time UT had a big win over Spurrier, while he was at Florida, the fans tore down the goal posts along with an ESPN camera? That would have been a bad way to lose a new D1X.

  11. I was referring to the fact that you took a photo whilst on a plane. I almost always get the stern look from the cabin steward/stewardess when I take out a camera or phone on the plane.

  12. GREAT shots! I was at the game and must say that it was one of the most exciting games ever. Do you sell your photos? I would love to get one of these enlarged for hubby’s office!

  13. Hey Scott, as a Gamecock fan that was a brutal game to watch. Speaking of, I do a lot of the work for the Gamecocks and if you’ve got an extra three minutes you can check out the behind the scenes video of how we shot the players for the team poster at the link below(photoshop composite build included as well!). Maybe sometime we can have you up for a game in Columbia if you’re interested!

  14. Hi Scott,

    When you do your “video review or an in-depth blog post about the 1Dx and Canon lenses” could you also discuss when you use your Nikon cameras? I know you love the 1Dx for sports, and took the other Canon body on your photowalk. So when will you use a Nikon camera now? Many thanks.

  15. What an awesome blog post today, Scott! You captured several unique shots, and explained how you got them. The goal post cam idea was inspired to say the least. Maybe the NFL will let you try that at a Bucs game! :-)

    On a side note, your Boston seminar is on Tuesday next week, not Monday! You’ve probably got 500 photographers coming, and they would be a bit irate if they missed you! Just sayin’ ….. ;-)

  16. Great story and shots, Scott. I shared it with some of my UT-grad friends (I’m a Kentucky grad, so it hurt, but friends do what they must…). Question: When setting up a remote camera, particularly in open lighting like that, how do you handle changes in lighting (clouds rolling in or breaking, sunset, etc.)? Do you leave the camera on some level of Auto (Aperture mode or Auto-ISO, etc)?

  17. Awesome stuff Scott. We have been using the RRS flash arm for weddings (that we never use) to put the GoPro’s on. I just got The 3+ and those are crazy little son of a guns! The video software that comes free with the GoPro works awesome and I’ve actually used it to process D800 video. Love the shot of Shaw going sown (I’m a Clemson guy). :)
    Like I tell all my “cocky” friends, I would rather get beat by the best team around than the worst. :)

    (I’ll be on the lookout for what we talked about Sat) :)

      1. Tenn sucks and beat Carolina, Fla St is very good and beat Clemson, it’s the lesser of 2 evils. :)

  18. Great stuff Scott. If you ever come to shoot a game in Norman, OK, I’ll gladly be your assistant for the day. Hint, Hint! :)
    Thanks for sharing your work & skills with us.

      1. Yep, I love my college football, whatever the team. However, I love my Sooners most!!!

  19. Wooooow!! Great shots..great color…great action..Scott, u r the man!!! I want to shoot like u when i grow up….when u comin’ to Atlanta… things to learn….travel safely.

  20. Hi Scott,
    Any chance of posting info on the Adobe security breach? I just got a letter in the mail from Adobe suggesting I have my credit monitored. I am getting little details from adobe and trying to understand how much of my data (specific to me) has been compromised. All I am getting is general “it may have” and “we don’t know”…. I was hoping maybe Adobe has shared more info with you that you could pass along.

    1. In the meantime change your Adobe password and sign up with the credit monitoring since it is free. They can contact you when anyone tries to change your credit status. Yeah, lots of people are impacted but you don’t need your identity messed with. The details may never by fully known since it involves a security breech.

  21. Dude I have mad love for you. I mean, I learned Elements from you way back when and I adore sports photography, no FOOTBALL photography, but I need you to show up at an Auburn Game and send my boy (who wants to play for them) some Scott Kelby photo love! We were so excited UT won this weekend, having lived in UT country for a long time. That AU/TAM game! Barn burner!!!

    Thanks for sharing your love! I’m on a 7D now and can only dream about that Canon 1Dx! My hands are itching to feel it. Until then I’m shooting my boys dream becoming a reality before my eyes!

    Training hard……
    Juile Worthy (and Joshua with Trainer Mike Hicks)

    1. Canon gave him all the gear he wanted. Canon is trying to pull him to their product line. Guess what, it worked. In the 1950’s most pj shot with Leica covering the Korean war. Nikon treat these guys like kings when they came back for some R&R. Guess what camera line was abandoned. Here is a hint, it starts with a L and ends with an eica.

  22. I’ll take Scott’s equipment! Oops – sorry, for a moment I thought it was “Free Stuff Thursday”. Don’t know what came over me, must have been out of my mind…….. Great shots!!

  23. Great shots (as always) and a great post! .I’m shooting my 9 year old’s football games with a 7D. You’re living the dream! So, if you ever shoot for the NY Giants and need an assistant…just sayin’…(can’t blame a girl for trying, right?)

  24. Scott I would absolutely love to to purchase one of your photos as a print if possible. I can only imagine you cannot just give them away. These are absolutely beautiful!

    Please contact me and I would be happy to work with you on details.


  25. I’m just so tired of this blatant commercial for Canon, before it was all “Nikon is best” and “Nikon is so good” and now all of a sudden its all Canon. I would take it you more seriously if it wasn’t so blatantly obvious you’re getting payed/sponsored by the camera makers!

  26. Scott, I hope you get this. I am a huge Vols fan and a longtime NAPP member. I can’t believe you had the option to shoot there. First of all, I was wondering if there is a way I could purchase a disc of images, strictly for me. I just want some photos for my office. I got recruited by Tennessee in high school and it didn’t work out for me, but I have been a big fan ever since then, I mean tattoo, car, personalized license plates, the list goes on and on. Anyway, I hope to hear from you and here are some images of me and tailgating so you can see how much of a fan I am. Also is a photo that I took a couple years ago with a tip from you on how to set up a photo from you Notre Dame Tutorial.

    Thanks again and hope to hear from you, John First

Leave a Reply
Previous Post

“A Walk in Rome” The Free Rebroadcast — Right Here (and some more stuff)

Next Post

My Speaking Schedule This Week at Photo Plus Expo in New York (and in DC on Friday)