Some Shots from my Monday Night Football Shoot with the Atlanta Falcons

What a wild, long, confusing, exciting game as the Atlanta Falcons whupped up on Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos on Monday Night Football up in Atlanta at the Georgia Dome.

I had a total blast because I got to shoot with the Falcons crew (the awesome Michael Benford, the magnanimous Matt Lange, and the gentlemen of NFL football photography, the incredible Jimmy Cribbs), and their guest (and our mutual buddy) Joey Wright. Overall, I had a pretty lame shooting night and I was pretty disappointed with what I got, but at least I did like some of the fisheye stuff I got from the full frame Sigma 15mm fisheye lens I was trying out. I liked it so much, yesterday I bought it (it was $300 cheaper then Nikon’s full frame 16mm lens which is an older lens that hasn’t been updated in a while). It’s sharp, has great contrast and a fast auto-focus. Totally digging it.

Here’s a shot Joey took of me taking the fisheye shot I showed above this one. I liked it so much, I made it my Facebook cover photo (thanks Joey!). This was about three hours before game time, and right before the opened the doors to the public. That’s my favorite time for stadium shots — when it’s empty like this. A few hours later, the dome was packed to the gills and it was an absolutely electric atmosphere in the Georgia Dome.

Like I said, I was pretty disappointed with how I shot overall, but here’s a few that I did get (more on the fisheye stuff in just a minute).

Some Fisheye Work
When you’re shooting for the Falcons (they get all my shots straight off the card, which is pretty terrifying by the way, especially with the night I was having), you get extra access (and a green photo vest that tells security its okay for you to do things like go on the field while the players are warming up about 45 minutes before kickoff).

So, I put my Sigma 15mm lens on my camera; attached my camera to the end of my Monopod, and put a PocketWizard Plus II on the camera, and I held another Pocket Wizard Plus II in in my hand to wirelessly trigger the camera on the end of the monpod. Then I headed out to the field to catch these shots — I balanced the foot of my monopod on my knee to balance it and then I extended it up high over the players (It was actually only about a foot or two above the players, but the fisheye makes it look like it’s MUCH higher, as seen below).

(Above: Here’s an iPhone photo of the rig — you can see the camera mounted on top of the monopod, and the PocketWizard Plus II on top, with a short cable into the socket on the camera. I’m holding another PocketWizard Plus II in my hands. The JBL vocal monitor on the bottom left is so I can hear myself singing over the crowd noise. ;-)).

(Above: Here’s another shot of the rig in action where I’m taking the shot you see below [iPhone photo by Mike Benford].  The bottom of the monopod is on my thigh — the top of the camera is cut off, but it’s there). 

My epic remote-camera fail
To be able to mount a remote camera anywhere near where the players come out, you have to first get permission from the guys that handle the pyrotechnics and the safety crew, and these crews generally would just rather you didn’t use a remote camera and they treat you that way, but in Atlanta, they were incredibly accommodating and even helped me find a better, closer vantage point. How sweet (and usual) is that (but honestly, that’s how it is in Atlanta — everybody I came in contact with, from elevator operators to the guys that hand out the photo vests, were as friendly and chatting and just downright nice as can be). So, I got my remote all set-up in an awesome place — right where the players come out, and the smoke is shooting out, and the fireworks and fire are going off. This is going to be Epic. Unfortunately, it was an epic fail.

I tested it out, and the remote triggered perfectly. The aim was right (I used a beanbag tripod I picked up at B&H Photo called “The Pod” so I could place it right where I wanted it on the ground), and then I set-up at mid-field to capture the players as they came out through the smoke and fire (see the shot above — four shots back) so that way I could get them from two angle. I had the Sigma 15mm fisheye on the ground aiming up, and the 400mm f/2.8 out on the field with me.

(Above: There’s my remote rig, on silent duty waiting patiently for the players to run through the smoke and fire.)

I hit the PocketWizard every time a player came through the smoke — the only problem was — it never fired. Not once. I have no idea why. Uggh. Could have been so cool. Sigh.

There were a lot of fireworks between the replacement refs and Broncos Headcoach John Fox. This photo gives you an idea of how he felt.

Above: Here’s my load-out for the game: L to R: Gel-filled kneepads (from Lowes), and a Gitzo monopod. My main body is a Nikon D4, and the 2nd body is a Nikon D3s. 400mm f.2.8 lens (top); Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 I’m trying out; Nikon 1.4x teleconverter for the 400mm (making it around 540mm); a 70-200mm f/2.8 for my 2nd body; a beanbag with a tripod mount for the remote shot as the player’s come out [well, that was the plan anyway], and the Sigma 15mm fisheye [the Nikon 10.5mm fisheye I use is for cropped sensor bodies. That has its advantages, but you lose half your megapixels]. Lastly, it’s all in a ThinkTank Photo Airport rolling bag. I’m also now using the Lexar X1000 speed cards for sports which is absolutely insane!!!! (and perfect for sports). The whole thing is just a blast to hoist up into the overhead bin. :)

And all was going well, until….
While I absolutely had the best time of any game this year, I had a rough day on the field. I was out of position for just about everything. One time I was in the perfect position for an amazing touchdown catch from Bronco’s receiver Demaryius Thomas (I was right there — it happened right in front of me), and I knew I had nailed it. Right after, I looked at my screen and sure enough — I had it dead on.

Then I zoomed in and saw that every frame was out of focus. I set up my second camera WITHOUT the backfocus button, so if I have to grab it quickly I won’t miss finding the back button. However, in my excitement from finally being in the exact right spot, all I pressed was the backfocus button and instead focused on the players 20 feet behind him. I blew it. Ugh!!!!  I just stood there shaking my head (and uttering a string of words normally reserved for rappers), but there was nothing I could do but try to make the 2nd half better, which I did, and things finally started coming together.

Above: L to R: that’s me, Matt Lange (who apparently got ahold of some bad sushi), and Joey Wright before the game — photo by Michael Benford.

Overall, I still had the best time yet. Mike, Matt and Jimmy are the most fun, gracious, and talented group of guys anywhere, and Joey Wright kept us laughing the whole time (it was great getting to know him better). And while the game went on for a lifetime (I didn’t’ get back to my hotel until after 2:00 am), I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. I caught an early flight home and was back in the office by lunchtime. All-in-all — totally worth every minute of it! :)

Above: If you’ve ever wondered what Falcon’s Creative Director Michael Benford would look like if shot from above with a 15mm fisheye lens, well, now we finally know. He and Matt make an insane team — both top notch graphics designers and shooters — the Falcon’s are lucky to have these guys (and I’m lucky to have them as friends). :)

What’s next?
On Sunday I’m off to Nashville for the Titans vs Lions game, then the following week I’m back shooting the Bucs in Tampa vs. the Redskins, then onto Jacksonville the following week for the Bears vs. the Jags. I am LOVING football season!!!

  1. Glad you had a good experience on MNF – its an experience for sure, that most never get to even experience, much less shoot! I’d be happy to give kudos to the Falcons too, but let’s face it – the Falcon’s didn’t win so much as the Broncos sorta self-destructed…for the first 3 quarters. Surprised Peyton (of all people) fell from grace that far that fast, but hopefully he’ll recover for the home game against the Texans this coming Sunday! :)

  2. Scott, I love mt Nikon 16mm, I’ll be shooting the Charlotte race from the pits in a couple weeks, I plan on getting a shot from the stands of the speedway since I’m all access. I think sometimes we just have to have a little fun and not worry about the shot. :)

  3. That was quite a game and you did get some wonderful shots (particularly love the officials arguing)! I feel your pain regarding equipment fails and focus! We’ve all been there, done that!

    Was that the same D3s you had for the Light It, Shoot It, Retouch It workshop at #PSW? Maybe you needed the healing hands of Brad :)

  4. I’m a fan of the fisheye shot of the huddle for the linemen. It’s interesting that the one on the left is looking directly at the camera instead of looking into the huddle. It’s a look of “Hey, I don’t want that falling on us!”

    Scott, love the photo work, and I’m envious of what you get to shoot! I try my best with what I’ve got, but you can tell in a lot of things that I shoot, I’m either in the stands, or I’m fighting poor lighting. I can’t wait to upgrade!

  5. So… I’m a European. And like most Europeans , I tend not to like the typical American football games (or handball? ;)), but everytime I see your shots from the games, Scott; well… They are SO much more grabbing, entertaining and shows so much more expression that most football (or “soccer” like Americans tend to call it) shots.

    I’ve loved every post you’ve had so far from the different games! Keep ’em coming, because they are spectacular!

  6. Hi Scott, As always, thank you for the insights (and for providing the EXIF data on your shots). Couple of questions: Do you actually use your TC much? Do you think the Lexar 1000X does a better job than your D4’s XQD card?

    1. I use my TC at least the entire first quarter, but often the entire first half (especially if I’m shooting in daylight, where losing a stop doesn’t matter). As for the Lexar 1000X, I haven’t tested the two side-by-side by man that Lexar screams!!!

    1. You turn off the shutter button’s ability to focus, so that all it does is take the shot. Then you reassign the focus lock button on the back of your camera so when you press and hold it with your thumb, it does the focusing instead.

  7. OMG Scott, your images & story telling gave me goosebumps! I’m a proud resident of Atlanta & I love all of our sports teams here…win or lose! So glad you captured some REALLY amazing images. Fisheye images of the dome are Ahh-MAZ-ING!!! Thank you for your honesty when you were disappointed with yourself on some images that failed. As an aspiring portrait photographer, it is encouraging to hear from pro photographers like yourself when things don’t go as planned. I appreciate your honesty & transparency.
    I’ve had the opportunity to hear you speak in classes at several conventions & seminars. You are truly a Rockstar. Looking forward to many more your awesome football coverages!

  8. I’m glad you had a fun time, but I’m confused about the vests. Do you only get to wear the Green vest for a short time and then have to switch back to the Tan vest, or did you trade it with Matt? So many rules in sports photography, I imagine.

    1. Green vests are issued to the team photographers, giving them extra access (security knows green means go!). Tan vests are for everybody else, and you’re limited to where you’re allowed to go in most cases. In this case, I had both vests, but normally you’d have one or the other.

  9. Hey Scott

    Dig the fisheye work of the stadium and overhead. Very cool. Couple of questions for ya…

    1) Curious that you’re trying out the Tamron 24-70. Don’t you already have the Nikkor?

    2) For shooting sports (field, ice, whatever) what focus point do you use? For the longest time I had tried to move the points around in the frame for better composition but never failed being a pain. That and the outer points aren’t as accurate as the central. So I’ve just gone to the center point, 21-point continuous AF, and aim for center of mass. Problem is that doesn’t always make for best composition.

  10. Trying to shoot the 747 carrying Endeavour as it flies over downtown Los Angeles skyline today. Probably will get less than 3 quality shots. Wish me luck, and I hope no referees get in the way. Hoping there won’t be an epic failure

    1. Flew over LA downtown at 1500 ft, no noise, moving slowly, directly over me. Guessed wrong in terms of direction (not publicized due to security). Endeavour had 2 fighter escorts. Next time: Don’t rely on autofocus for a 747 going away from you at low levels.At first view I did an OMG before taking pics. It was that impressive. They spent about 45 minutes flying that low over So. California before landing at LAX. Lots of traffic accidents due to gawking.

  11. This was actually a very inspiring post for me personally. After shooting a HS game last night where I really struggled on just about everything no matter what I tried (focus, settings, position) it is encouraging to be reassured that there other seasoned sports photographers out there that also struggle from time-to-time. Just like players are sometimes off their game, we are too sometimes. Still some nice shoots. I particularly like the stadium shot with the fish eye and the monopod shots which I keep saying I’m going to try to never do. I will have to try this very soon.

    1. Hi Shawn: Man you hit it on the head when you said even the players have an off nite. I sure did, but I was happy that I tried the new fisheye stuff on the monopod and hopefully I can try it again this Sunday at the Titan’s game. I learned a lot by doing it, and I’ll do it better this time. Plus, this is a day game on Sunday and that just makes everything so much easier. :) Wish me luck (and best luck on your next shoot — hopefully we’ll both have “on” days). Cheers.

    1. I believe that’s a 400mm f/2.8 Canon lens. It looks huge because of the fisheye, but I’m pretty sure that’s what he was shooting, because if he snuck at 600mm out there, I’m not sure we’d be friends any more. LOL!! :)

      1. it was indeed a canon 400mm 2.8 I had although I do want to try a 600mm to shoot our coaches from the other side of the field a game or 2 this year

  12. Scott, great shots and story telling behind the scenes of your event. Hope someday you do a tips training video during football game for Kelby Training. I would also like to see interior decorating photo shoot tips video training posted there too. Your travel video was awesome.

  13. I appreciate your frankness in always sharing some things that went wrong, as that makes the rest of us feel like we are not alone when we miss it. But I think the shots you did get and post are fantastic. Shots 1 2 & 3 above… great! And the fisheye of the players high fiveing with
    the one player looking up, love it!

  14. I appreciate your humility. I had a similar experience today where I got in position just in time, tracked the receiver and got the whole TD just to find out I had accidentally moved the f-stop to where I was shooting at a shutter speed of 125. Oh man.

  15. Just wondering if your tight images are cropped in post, or are these straight out of the box? Like your second ‘action’ photo (Falcons player horizontal), shot ‘wide’ then cropped in tight? I help friends by shooting local football (soccer) here in Cameroon and cannot follow the action that tight. It’s like trying to shoot with a monocular for a lens. Great shots by the way.

  16. Like your fish-eye, whole stadium shot, but I have to say… you shoot that one when the stands are packed, and you’d quadruple the awesomeness. Of course, that would mean you’re in two places at once. Not an easy feat.

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