Shooting The Bears/Packers NFC Championship Game From the Sidelines

As a Bears fan, the game sure didn’t turn out the way I had hoped, but getting to shoot a game like that was still an incredible thrill for me. The level of excitement in that stadium, and surrounding the stadium (out in the tailgate sections), was just amazing.

I was there as a guest of my buddy, and Bears Chairman, Mike McCaskey, who shot the game alongside me the whole time (though thankfully he wasn’t there when Rogers came crashing into me at the goal line—link).

I was born and raised in the Tampa Bay area, so naturally the Buccaneers are my home team, but through my friendship with Mike and his family these past years, I’ve totally adopted the Bears as if they were my own, and I’m so glad I did (football is even more fun when you get to root for two teams each week).

Shooting a Team you Care About is Harder Than It Looks
I stunk shooting this game. Seriously. My friends were all asking yesterday how I did, and I said, “I pretty much sucked.” I literally missed a dozen or more plays because I’m cheering (or cussing) as a play unfolds in front of me. Then I’d realize, I wasn’t shooting at all—-I’m just watching the game, and I kind of have to snap out of it and get back to shooting.

I saw a shot of me on ESPN’s Sports Center last night, where Green Bay had just intercepted the ball, and everyone else is shooting, and I don’t even have my eye to the viewfinder—I’m just watching in shock as the play (and the game) run away right in front of me. Needless to say, there’s another shot I missed. When it’s your team out there playing, it changes everything.

So, I’m going to Blame it on that. That and Rogers breaking my Monopod
I’m glad I wasn’t shooting for a wire service this time, because I don’t think I got anything—anything at all—in the entire first quarter. My monopod got broken during Green Bay’s first possession, and I tried hand holding the 400mm for a few plays, but it’s front-heavy, and really hard to wrangle (a 200-400mm or a 300mm f/2.8 would have been no problem). So it took me a while to get adjusted (and to get the dirt off everything).

Shooting with half a monopod
I could still kinda shoot with the stump that was left, but it was shorter than I would actually set it when I’m on my knees, so it was really awkward the entire game. Plus, there was no foot on the stick, so it kind of impaled itself down into the dirt. I lugged the broken other piece with me the entire first half, as a momento.  So, I’m going to assign a 22% “lame shooting blame” to my mini-monopod.

I’m going to assign another 26% of the blame to the cold weather, even though I was dressed so warmly, and it was such a beautiful, blue sky, sunny day that the 23° temperate at game time really didn’t affect me at all (Hey, these are all excuses, not actual reasons why I didn’t get good shots).

I wore Under Armor’s “Cold Gear” base layer (link) which worked great, and then I had layers and layers on top of that (I felt like the “Michelin Man”) and I was so comfortable I didn’t even ever consider putting on the face mask. In fact, it wasn’t until the last five minutes of the game, when it was already dark that I thought, “Hey, it’s getting a little chilly.” So, I should probably lower my “lame blame” on the weather to maybe around 17%.

The Refs. Ahhhh, the Refs
I think I broke my all time record for plays with the ref blocking my shot. Well, them and the video crew. There was one point where I was following a receiver running with the ball and a video camera man walked right in front of my lens—and stopped. Suddenly, everything went black. I pulled my eye away from the viewfinder and I’m staring at his butt two feet in front of me. I said a few choice words. However, it wasn’t their fault—it was mine. I wasn’t in position. I could have moved more, but having to be on your knees every single play gets old fast (I’m on my knees a lot during a game for a better perspective, but sometimes you need a break for a few plays. Well, at least you do at my age).

The end zones, where I usually like to shoot because you avoid most of the refs and video crews, were packed because the TV network had complained that photographers were getting in the way of TV cameras in the end zone. So, they backed the photographers up at least 20 or more feet from the End Zone, so there was just a little strip to shoot from, and it was always packed.

There were more photographers here than any game I’ve ever shot. I tried to take a photo of the photographer’s work room for you guys at half time, but my lens totally fogged up when I got in there. So, whose fault was it that I was not in the right position to capture the action? Mine. So to whom am I assigning a portion of the blame? The Refs and video crew. 14%.

So, it’s really not my fault
OK, it totally is. However, had I been there on assignment, I would have just manned-up and got the job done no matter what, but since I was there to hang with my buddy Mike, I get to blame anyone and everything for having a really off day of shooting (totally kidding—it’s all on me). Oh yeah, where’s the shot you got flattened for? Blurry. Even the ref is blurry, but not nearly as much as Rodgers. Ugh!

I felt bad for Mike
Mike and I were on the 10-yard line when the Bears were in position to tie and take the game into overtime, and Mike and I were watching more than shooting at this point, and then Green Bay picks off  Caleb Hanie’s pass at the 2 yard line, and I just saw Mike’s heart sink. (By the way: I thought Hanie did a great job coming in cold as a third-string Quarterback. Talk about pressure! That’s his reaction above after his first regular season/post season NFL touchdown).

After the game, Mike and I watched part of the Steelers/Jets game with his lovely wife Nancy (Nancy is an incredibly gracious hostess, and a really fun person all the way around) along with their daughter Catherine, (who is just as gracious as her mom, and funny as anything) while having a delicious dinner comprised of foods I shouldn’t eat. We talked and shared stories and made the best of what must have been a very tough night for them.

More Time For Photography
This is Mike’s last year as Chairman of the Bears, and I know there is nothing he would have loved more than to see his team go to the SuperBowl this year (Of course, I think particularly it would have been because he’d get to shoot another game. See how it is with shooting sports? It really gets under your skin). Afterward, they dropped me off at my rental car for the drive back to the airport hotel, broken monopod in tow.

Mike is a really passionate photographer, and he’s gotten really good at shooting football, really fast (he even had an amazing 10-foot long pano/collage of one of Devin Hester’s run backs that was being auctioned off for charity during the game).

I feel very fortunate to have become friends with the McCaskeys, who are some of the most genuine, friendly, and community-minded people you’d ever want to meet. Few photographers I know have worked as hard at their photography as Mike has during these past years, and it has really paid off for him. Although he’s been shooting a lot of football lately, he’s a people photographer, and that makes sense, because he’s a “people person.” (When we’re walking through the stadium, people recognize him and ask for autographs and to pose for photos with him. He treats everyone, from the elevator operators to the security guards, like they’re his personal friends, and Mike always has a smile and time for a quick chat with everyone, no matter who they are or what they do. He treats everyone like they’re important. He treats everyone like they own the Bears, and to me, that speaks volumes).

Joe McNally, who did a portfolio review of Mike’s work will tell you, Mike’s one heck of a people shooter—-so much so that Mike’s now selling prints of his work (RC designed his new photography Web site), and I imagine he’ll devote even more time to his photography now that he’s retired (though knowing Mike like I do, his first love and most of his attention will always be helping other people in need, which is probably why I feel about him the way I do).

I’m thankful for the friends I’ve made in the Bears organization, including Bears Team Photographer Bill Smith (who is very special person outside his amazing photography skills, and I’m trying to get Bill to be a Guest Blogger here so you can learn more about his work outside photography), and I want to thank Mike and his wonderful family for taking me in and making me feel like family every time I visit. GO BEARS!

One Last Thing
I went into this game wanting to try to capture a series of images I could apply a Bleach Bypass effect to, and I did manage to at least do that part. I know this effect isn’t for everybody, and some folks are going to hate it, but for certain things like this, where you’re just capturing the player’s emotions before the game, I thought it would look kinda cool, and I actually like the way these turned out.

These were all taken with my 24-70mm f/2.8 out wide at 28mm, and then post processed in Lightroom by increasing the Exposure until the sky totally blew out, then I opened each image in Nik Software Color Efex Pro 3.0 and applied their Beach Bypass filter using the default settings. Hope you like ’em.

  1. Damn Scott, why are you beating yourself up? You got more than one awesome shot and you watched a great game from the sidelines with a good friend. Sounds like a perfect day shooting pics to me, aside for the fact your team lost. Sorry about that, but hey there is always next year. And I really appreciate that you gave me a reason to pay attention to the game. My husband and son laughed at me as I had my eyes pealed on the sidelines looking for you. Our San Diego Chargers were out of the playoffs before they even started.

  2. Scott: Great stuff. Love the shot of Urlacher and the one of Rodgers just before he got smoked by Peppers. I will shoot an NFL game someday. The path might be long, but I’ll get there. Enjoyed your post!

      1. I mean seriously, I saw it during the game, I mean c’mon you can’t miss that Fender hat!

  3. Loving the bleach effect! Is there a preset in Lightroom that does a similar job? would you share which slides to use?

    Thanks for a lifetime of inspiration

    Linkoping, Sweden.

  4. Hey Scott

    Loving the series of shots posted of the game. I quite like the bleach bypass effect, certainly does capture the players emotions – adds a little drama to the shots I reckon.

    Great work Scott, as always… Keep it up. :)

  5. ”I literally missed a dozen or more plays because I’m cheering (or cussing) as a play unfolds in front of me. Then I’d realize, I wasn’t shooting at all—-I’m just watching the game, and I kind of have to snap out of it and get back to shooting.”

    Uh – emotions kill good shooting session. Sometimes even the worse. I learned that hard way last summer… My friend joined me to the pack of fans that gathered at the Nisville Jazz festival (Niš, Serbia) to attend a gig of Hungarian band Djabe with special guest – Steve Hackett, legendary English guitarist. At one certain moment prior to gig, while the other band played at the other stage, we saw Mr Hackett playing with his Les Paul Custom and his amplifier, among the backstage guys. My friend told: “I’m going there to greet Hackett”. Not a surprise because he bought every Hackett’s single record the moment they appeared over the last 35 years (and more: he is Genesis fan over early 70’s,. when Hackett was the key of their sound). I followed, just to get some shots of them if that occurs, since I already had my faithful G6 ready with a speedlite on.

    Mt Hackett approached to my friend in a manner of a good neighbor wanting to greet the next door guy… They were chatting about two minutes and I had a clean scenery to shoot. When they finished, my friend turned to me and asked “How many shots did you get?”. I realized, only then, and that was it, that I didn’t shoot a single pic! Being Hackett fan for at least 20 years, I was stunned myself. I was watching them talking, not hearing too much, and completely forgot that I have my camera in my hands. I caused irreaparable damage.

  6. Scott,
    Great job! Love the shots and the bleaching effect. And I second everything you said about the McCaskeys! I was only there a few hours but they made me feel like they had known me for years! And I can definitely vouch for Mr. McCaskey shaking hands and posing for pictures, that’s the one thing from my trip there I will never forget, and NFL Chairman of the Board out socializing with tailgaters before the game!! How cool is that? Can you give us a link to Mr. McCaskey’s website? I know he has to be a terrific shooter and would love to see more of his work.

  7. Scott,
    You may have covered this before, but when you shoot a game, are you doing so for a mag / team, etc. or just for yourself?

    Nice shots by the way. Sorry about your mono-pod. I guess it doesn’t have a leg to stand on now. ;-)

  8. Hey Scott,
    I really liked the post a lot. Especially the way you describe Mike McCaskey and his kind spirit. You do know that you perfectly described yourself, right? This is exactly how I feel about you. I feel that anyone who would ever meet you would feel the same way.
    Tomorrow, Dave Cross, OKC! Mini PSW, Can’t wait!!!
    Sww ya,

  9. Hi Scott,

    I got the pleasure of meeting Mike and Nancy McCaskey at Photoshop World Orlando 2010.
    By chance, I sat across from them at a dinner hosted by Scott.
    We only introduced ourselves by our first names, so I didn’t at first realize he was THE Mike MvCaskey of the Chicago Bears. Mike and Nancy were some of the most charming, funny, and intelligent conversationalist I have ever met! They even let babble on and on about my kids ;-) I wish them nothing but the best, they are some of the nicest people I have ever met!
    I want to publicly thank Scott for inviting me to that dinner it was a wonderful highlight to a great Photoshop World. I won’t embarrass Scott too much, but I have to say that Scott Kelby is probably the most generous person I have ever known. Thank you, Scott.

    Just because I embarrassed you, don’t delete my comment!

  10. I am echoing the sentiments above Scott. The Bleach Bypass is a great effect. I can see it in my mind’s eye with some shots of the linebackers just before the ball is snapped. Another potential shot would be with the steam rising from their heads as they just come off the field.

    Love the effect, thanks for sharing!


  11. Scott -Great shots. I know the game didn’t turn out as you wanted but you obviously had a great time and were able to document an historic game. For us Packer fans it was a very long 4th quarter. Henie did an incredible job. The Bears and their fans should be proud of their season. The other day you generously offered to send me a print from the game. I don’t want to give out personal info in a blog comment so how should I get the info to you. Do you see my email when I leave a blog comment? If so you could contact me that way or else let me know what I should do.

  12. I just watched this game on Monday night (I live in Russia, no live options, so I wait for iTunes to release the download)….but I did not pay close enough attention…going back to the “tape”, gotta see Aaron Rodgers slide….

    Way to hang in there Scott — and btw, these are not terrible shots, no need to apologize to us!

  13. Scott:

    You’re way too critical of your work. All of the photos you posted today were terrific and they really “pop” when you give them the Kelby frame treatment. I love the emotion in the Hanie interception reaction shot! Talk about frustration when the momentum had turned in the Bears favor at that point in the game.

    Mr. McKaskey and his wife sound like they’re terrific people and I’m sure they’ll be lifelong friends to you. Nothing’s better than having good friends. But does this mean you won’t be shooting any more Bears games?

    BTW, I really like the bleach effect, but I think that they really looked good when there wasn’t so much blown-out sky in the picture. I just found that distracting, and brought my eye away from the player’s expression. The shots of the players coming onto the field with the fans in the background worked a lot better for me. Just my .02!

    You never told us what you plan to do with the broken monopod. Framed, with pictures of the play is one way to go. At least have Brad put a R.I.P. banner on it in the “My Gear” section for a bit! :)

    Thanks for a great year of football pics (even the blog that showed all your stinkers…funniest one you’ve written!)! Can’t wait to see what your next photo adventure entails. You know we all live vicariously through you each week…. :D :D


  14. Scott, don’t beat yourself up over not getting all the shots you wanted to get – it happens. Plus, you came away from this game with a great story (a funny “encounter” with a QB that has the potential to be a hall-of-famer someday). I know the feeling of shooting a team that you’re rooting for. I shot some high-school football this season (the school I graduated from had a great year and was one victory away from playing for the state championship in Cowboys Stadium no less – so I share the disappointment of barely not getting to shoot the big game there just like Mike). I sincerely want to thank you for taking us along on your journey of shooting football this season. You’ve shared your highs and lows (and the highs include lots of great shots). It’s truly inspired me to shoot more sports. Like another reader wrote above, I’m determined to shoot an NFL game someday, no matter how long the road is and what I have to do to get there, I’m going to do it.

  15. Anyone can get lucky and shoot 1 good picture or forget to take one. It takes character and stubborness to shoot really bad ones. Can we see another Kelby “classic”? I move that the industry calls these shots “Kelbies”.

  16. Excellent captures, Scott! I really like your poster style and have copied it … hope you don’t mind! Really, like the shots of Cutler just letting loose of the ball and Jacob’s reaction to the touchdown throw … Excellent captures! I’m not a real fan of the bleach bypass look, but like you said some like it and some don’t. I hope you plan on mounting your broken monopod with the picture of Rogers sliding into you. Great stuff! Mike and his family sound like down to earth American patriots … good folks! Thanks for share that with us.


  17. Yet another great game! Love your shots.

    I still think the Mathis shot is the best……;) Of course that could be because I am from Indy….

    Still looking forward to the print!


  18. Scott,
    All of these shots look great! But I think that bleach bypass look just takes it to a whole other level. It has this 70’s classic american football look. You should try this on some of the Notre Dame images that you shot a while back. Still can’t believe you were in my home town of South Bend. Would have been awesome to meet you. Anyway, nice shots dude!

  19. Wait, the Chairman of the team is shooting on the sidelines and not sitting in a luxury box? How cool is that!

    You should frame the broken Monopod.

    The Bleach Bypass is great. The pictures would have looked pedestrian without the effect.

    And you didn’t break anything (camera or self). A totally successful trip. And who else gets to cheer their team on the sidelines.


  20. Dear Scott, I think the shots you posted are terrific. Some of the big game moments are not here, but who cares, you captured the feel of the game and the great triumph of the Green Bay Packers. Okay sorry. Urlacher is exceptional and the Bears will be back especially if they give that young qb 3rd stringer a shot. I thought he was the most exceptional player on the field given what he faced when he came in. To me he was the MVP of that game regardless of that interception. He has that kind of feel you know is going to take him far.
    I find the fact that you were not happy with what you did one of the great lessons we photographer face. Sometimes we feel like we are having a bad day but we still manage to pull something out of the hat. This is what you did. Congratulations, you are a championship photographer.
    Hope you get to go to Dallas.

  21. Fantastic shots Scott.

    I really enjoyed the “More Time For Photography”. Those people who are genuine “people persons” are very rare. Reminds me of my Dad who did the same thing, just at a different level. Seems as though you have a really nice friend in Mike.


  22. Scott… you have some really great stuff there despite all of the “forces of nature” working against you! Thanks for the paragraph on Mike McCaskey as well. I completely agree that he is a great guy and a great shooter, too! I’m happy that you two got to shoot the game together…

  23. Being hard on your pictures is the sign of a great photographer, but you’re already a great photographer, so no need to apalogize. :) The bleach effect looked so good on the pics you took.

  24. Scott,

    How the heck to get such nice exposure shooting in the hard light. All the images look great. Great blog topic on your sports settings and post processing from game. Better yet how about a kelby training lesson!!!!

    1. Hi Ryan:
      This would be a very short class, because I didn’t do really anything to these photos but sharpen them, and remove some blue from the white jerseys when the players were in the shady side of the field. Nothing in camera either; like everybody else out there, I’m shooting wide open at f/2.8 all day in Aperture Priority mode. I did a post, I think back in November, with all my sports settings, so do a search here on the blog for “my sports settings.” For the rest; we just had some great light for a while, but then it all moved in the shade later in the day.


  25. ”I literally missed a dozen or more plays because I’m cheering (or cussing) as a play unfolds in front of me. Then I’d realize, I wasn’t shooting at all—-I’m just watching the game, and I kind of have to snap out of it and get back to shooting.”

    I love this post, I’m wondering if this resonates with others out there.

    I mainly shoot sports – and most of it is my kids HS teams – soccer, basketball, lacrosse, … Invariably after the pics are posted I’ll get “Hey dad, how come you didn’t get my goal or my rebound, but you got everyone elses”. My answer at first was “I guess I just missed it ” but over time I realized I get excited when it’s my kid, and I find myself watching (especially through long glass) that I forgot am shooting. I’ve discovered how much easier it is when I do it for a team where other than my kids. I’ve gotten better over the years but it takes real concentration and focus, to not slip into watching. It was nice to see that it happens to others, especially professionals.

    Thanks Scott – it’s nice to know I’m in such good company.

    – Jim

  26. well, i think you got some great shots anyway.

    but i’m kinda bummed, you didn’t get one of our quarterback taking down Urlacher.

    Hope you get into the Superbowl. And if you do, maybe you can peek around outside, too, and document some of the work being done by the organizations working to combat the human trafficking of kids, in connection with the superbowl. I bet you could tell that in some great story form =) From what I understand, “shipments” of children have already started arriving, and it’s one of the Sex Trade’s biggest events to sell kids…right here in America. If you get there, I’d love to see you tell that story a little bit- It’s pretty amazing how little people know about this!

    Best to you, nice work!

  27. Scott:
    Fantastic pics. It must be reealy cool to be on the side lines never mind being able to photograph the game. I realy like the pics you applies the bleach effect to, they are realy neat.
    Oh, by the way the book you produced for Lightroom 3.0 was great. I picked up a lot from the book as I have never used Lightroom before. It’s my favorite software for photo editing.

    Looking forword to more of your books and if you are ever in the area of New England I hope to attend one of your training sessions.

  28. Beautiful shots… I shoot Jr High football and hopefully HighSchool Football next year if I can get a sideline PASS. What are you shooting with as far as glass goes? These are remarkable. I to sometimes find myself watching the game and a grreat shot gets by me as I watch in AWE!!!. I am buying color efx pro as soon as I click submit comment

  29. Scott,
    Man you lucky dog…I grew up in ChiTown watching DA Bears and sitting on the old metal cold bleachers in Soldier Field. Hate the Packers. Rough loss. Love the pics. Hadn’t thought of using the Bleach filter other than some old warehouse photos, and some graffiti. However, really like the tone and feel of these pictures with that filter. Great Job.
    Now…Geez…gonna have to find some place here in Memphis to go get a Chicago Dog now that I’ve seen all these images, and memories that it brought back. Double the sport peppers. All the best.

  30. Scott,

    Great story. I could only dream of having the chance to shoot an NFL game but I will keep dreaming. Thanks for sharing the photos and you get a 100% in my book.

    Go Steelers in SB45


  31. Scott, Being from Chicago, these shots brought me back home. I’ve been to Soldier Field and you brought me right back there with your images. “Wait till next year” has been a Chicago slogan for years for the Chicago Cubs and now it will be used for the Bears. Thanks for sharing DA Bears images with your fans! Love the High Pass filter look! See you in Orlando!

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