(Above: Saints QB Drew Brees takes the field to start his history-making night. The story behind how I got this shot, and why he’s looking right at me, is below). 

I finally got a chance to go through some of the images from this week’s Monday Night Football game, between the Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints. I was there shooting for the Falcons (so they got all my original untouched images, right off the cards, while I was still on the sidelines.  The ones I’m showing here are my final images, which some have have been cropped, and some have had the contrast boosted, and all of them have been sharpened.

The story on the shot of Drew Brees at the top of the this post:
When I shot for the Falcons in Atlanta, we’re on their home turf, so we pretty much had the run of the place (I was able to even mount a remote camera on the circular truss the players run through when they’re introduced. Here’s that link), but in this case, the game was in New Orleans at the Superdome, so the rules are….well….we’re not exactly sure what the rules are, they vary from stadium to stadium, but it’s probably not the land of do as you please.

The visiting team (in this case, the Falcons) just comes out as a big group, all at once, usually to a chorus of boos from the hometown crowd, and so there wasn’t much to capture when the Falcons came out (in fact, they kind of bunched them up in the end zone once they came out, so they kind of just jogged over to their sidelines. However, when the home team comes out, there’s smoke and fireworks and lots of ballyhoo and they were just about to do that for the Saints.

I looked over to my buddies with the Falcons and asked “Can we go out on the field?” They weren’t sure, and they weren’t moving out there, but I saw a photographer who cruised about 20 feet out onto the field and was down on one knee shooting, so I kind of moseyed out their myself. He looked up at me and said, “You going out there?” I said “I will if you do. Lead the way.” He got up, and we started walking heading right out to midfield. The smoke had started, and fireworks were going off, and nobody was looking at us. I looked over to this other photographer and said “Head straight for that video camera guy—nobody messes with them” and we took a knee right beside him and started shooting right down the line of where the Saints were starting to come out through the smoke.

After most of the team comes through the smoke as a group, they introduce the starters on the Offense, and some just jog out, and some come crashing through that smoke, and this other photographer and I are just snapping away, trying to find something to focus on, because all you can see is lots of smoke, but then lastly here comes Drew Brees (the shot above), and he looks right at my camera, probably thinking, “Hey, are those two guys supposed to be out here?” ;-)

Anyway, we look up and the whole team is just a few feet away from us, and we figured we’d better not press our luck, so we scooted right back over to the sidelines as if nothing had happened. My buddies from the Falcons were all snickering and laughing at us and we tried to just blend into the large group of photographers shooting the game (the most photographers I’ve seen covering a game since last year’s NFC Championship Game in Chicago).


Lighting in the Mercedes Benz Superdome
I’ve gotta tell ya, I’ve never seen better, brighter lighting in a dome ever. It was insanely good for an indoor venue, and I probably could have gotten away with 800 to 1,000 ISO if it weren’t for the fact that I was shooting at f/4 for the first quarter (more on that in the camera specs). Really great light though. Also, a friend told me before the game to bring earplugs. I thought he was kidding. He wasn’t. It was the loudest crowd I have ever heard and their cheering was deafening. What a home field advantage.

(Above: Here’s what the Superdome looks like, as shot through my 14-24mm f/2.8 lens on a full-frame camera, out wide at 14mm. Look at all those lights!).

A tough night for the Falcons
It was a heartbreaker for the Falcons as they only put up 16 points all game (to the Saints 45), but the Falcons had just found out the night before that they had already made the playoffs, so it wasn’t like they were playing for their playoff spots, but still, you hate to see the team you’re shooting for lose (and plus, from a photography standpoint, you want to see your team put up a lot of points, with some really dramatic plays).

My highlight of the night, though, was shooting alongside my friends at the game. My buddy Matt Lange (link) picked me up from the airport (he was shooting for the Falcons as well). He’s a kick-butt photographer and sports graphic designer, and a really cool guy all around. Then, as I’m checking in, I run into my buddy Chuck Barnes, who’s a great sports shooter (and photographer all around) who was covering the game for his local newspaper. Then I hung out with my buddy Michael Benford from the Falcons. Totally great guy and just a lot of fun to hang with (but not brave enough to sneak out to midfield with me before kickoff). He works for the Falcons directly so he probably didn’t want to get caught in “enemy territory”). ;-) Michael’s a talented photographer, designer, and always has a smile on his face (despite looking like a tough guy).

I also made a new friend: Stacey Revere (who shoots for Getty) is a friend of Matt Lange’s and he was with Matt when they picked me up, and we hung out during the game. Totally cool guy, and some wild stories about what happened in his neighboorhood after Hurricane Katrina. He’s a stand-up guy.

I also got to spend some time with the wonderful Jimmy Cribb, the Falcon’s long-time team photographer, and just one of the nicest, most genuine guys you’d ever want to meet. Talk about making you feel at home—he’s just that kind of person, and his passion for what he’s doing just comes over you like a wave. I totally see why the Falcons just love this guy, and his photography, for so many years now. An absolute class act.

A History-Making Night
Of course, I got incredibly lucky that I was there on a night where NFL history was made, as Saint QB Drew Brees breaks Dan Marino’s all-time Single Season passing record (and the season’s not over yet), and the place just came to a halt. Even though I was there to shoot the Falcons, I had to capture this history making moment, and I had some decisions to make about where to capture it from. The Saints sideline was absolutely jammed, and everybody was set up pretty much with 1-foot of each other, so I intentionally set-up on the other side of the field (I figured a get a few shots nobody else got). Of course, a guy from US Presswire was right beside me, with the same lens, so I wouldn’t have the only angle on it, but still—better one than 50, eh?

(Above: Offensive Guard Carl Nicks lifts Saints QB Drew Brees off his feet moments after Brees touchdown pass broke Dan Marion’s all-time Single Season passing record).

(Above: Here’s my view of the Saints Bench from across the field after Bress returned to the sidelines, takes off his helmet, and waves to the cheering fans on their feet screaming at the top of their lungs. It was pretty electrifying).

(Above: After I took the previous photo, and the game was winding down, I figured we weren’t going to see much of Drew Brees back on the field, so I headed down, across the back of the end zone, and over into the large group of photographers on the sidelines, but I noticed that only a couple of people were directly behind the bench, and the ones that were there were mostly shooting video with their iPhones, so I set up just behind with a pretty clear shot right at Brees and got a series of close-ups, including my favorite shown above, taken while he’s getting congratulated by other players on the bench, all within minutes of his breaking the record. I was shooting with my 400mm , so I had to step back until I was far enough back for it to actually focus).

(Above: Yup. His foot’s out. It was that kind of night).

(Above: Here’s the view right after the game and Drew is doing TV interviews and photographers are snapping away. The woman on the far right of the frame is holding an LED light-panel for the TV cameras. It was while I was taking this photo and I wound up on ESPN. A lot of folks spotted me, and some even posted photos of their TV screen. It was pandemonium out there).

(Above: That’s me after the game, around midnight; photo by my buddy Matt Lange. I’m much more handsome in person. Particularly, earlier in the day).

Camera Specs
I shot the game with the usual set-up; Two camera bodies: A Nikon D3s with a 400mm f/2.8 lens. I did shoot the first quarter with a 1.4 tele-extender on, which made my 400mm around a 550mm lens, but you lose a stop of light, so I could only shoot at f/4, which means I had to crank my ISO up between 2,500 and 3,200 depending on where they were on the field due to changes in lighting. My 2nd body was a Nikon D3, with a 24-70mm on after the 1st quarter (the 14-24mm on for the first quarter). I shot in tight in the first quarter to get nice tight shots of Falcon’s QB Matt Ryan.

I shot both cameras wide open (at f/2.8 or f/4 because of the tele-extender) and ISO ranged from 1,250 to 3,200 during the night). I shot in JPEG (for more shots in burst mode). My shutter speeds were around 1/1000 of a second and higher, but occasionally on the black uniforms of the Saints, it would dip down lower (since I was in Aperture Priority mode. Probably should have shot in Manual).

Post Processing in Photoshop
I didn’t do a whole lot to these images. Some I needed to crop in on (if the play happened downfield) or I just needed to keep a ref out of the frame, and so on. I also used Nik Software’s Pro Contrast (found in their Color Efex Pro plug-in) on some of the shots to boost the contrast and color a bit, but ALL of the shots got an Unsharp Mask with the settings: Amount 100. Radius: 1.5, Threshold 4, which gives some really punchy sharpening. I also darkened the edges in a couple of the photos to focus the attention on the player, and not on the background. Again, these aren’t what the Falcon’s got from me—they got the untouched images right out of the camera, while I was right there on the field.

I know this was a long post…
….but I wanted to give you some behind-the-scenes stuff, and for those of you who stuck in through this entire story—thanks. I stayed up until 1:17 AM to write it, so….just thanks.

Have a great Friday everybody. I’m off to Legoland with the kids! :)

P.S Don’t forget to read the next blog post down. :)

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About The Author

Scott is the President of KelbyOne, an online educational community for Photographers, Photoshop and Lightroom users. He's editor and publisher of Photoshop User Magazine, Conference Technical Chair for the Photoshop World Conference, and the author of a string of bestselling Photoshop, Lightroom, and photography books.