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Shooting Football: The Strategy


The football game has reached a critical juncture. The Rams are driving for what could be the winning field goal, and it's the photographer's job to outguess quarterback Jim Everett.

All of us from the media who are photographing the event try to predict where the game action will occur and the best spot to capture the resultant jubilation. But, suddenly, Everett throws to Willie Anderson for the winning touchdown, and the Rams are in the National Football Conference championship game.

These are moments that make football a great game to photograph. They offer action and a chance to zero in on the sideline emotions.

But being on target isn't the only consideration for great football photographs. We must also be in focus.

Then there are the factors we have no control over such as an official or player getting in our way or a player running from the bright sun into the shadows.

Preparation is the key in photographing football. We need the right clothing, equipment, stadium darkroom and credentials.

In photographing the Rams in action, our first call is to the public relations department.

Some people think there is some mythical all-serving press pass that gets us into a game. If we thought that, we'd be watching the game from the parking lot. Football teams issue separate credentials for each game.

If the team is on the road, the next step is making the proper travel arrangements. For the Rams' recent game against the New York Giants, we contacted the Associated Press in New York and arranged to share their stadium darkroom.

We also needed to make arrangements to have color negative film processed, two phone lines and a table for a transmitter.

Flight plans included flying in on Saturday and out on Monday for the Sunday game. Although the game usually ends around 4 p.m., the processing and transmitting of photographs can keep us at the stadium until 10 p.m.

Game day for photographers starts very early. There is usually a breakfast meeting to discuss the various shooting locations and game strategy.

Film will be picked up by wire service runners at the end of each quarter and taken to the Associated Press darkroom.

One of the staff photographers will leave the game at halftime and edit the film and start transmitting, which usually leaves just two photographers to shoot the second half.

Photographers arrive at the game about two hours before kickoff to set up and locate the wire service darkroom.

Photographers from USA Today, the Washington Times, the Orange County Register and Los Angeles Daily News use this facility too.

There is usually a check to see that the Leafax transmitter is working. This machine transmits from a negative, either color or black-and-white, into a positive form over the phone lines.

It's one of the biggest changes in wire-photo technology in recent years.

Gone are the days of making prints. We simply put the negative in the machine and the image pops up on a small television screen. Then we crop the photograph, write a caption, change the contrast and send it.

Each image takes eight minutes to send in black and white or about 30 minutes in color because three color separations are sent of the image.

The film used during the game is Kodak Ektapress 400 in the first half and 1600 in the second half. The shadows on the field during the first half make it difficult to shoot. The faster 1600 ISO (ASA) film is needed in the second half because the entire field is in the shadows.

The weather is another factor beyond our control.

In the Rams' last playoff game against the Giants, the temperature was in the low 40s, which is pleasant for football if you're dressed properly.

But when we pack for a trip, we have to be prepared for any situation or change in the weather.

It's wise to have two pairs of gloves, one that is thin or a liner style that will keep hands warm but allow us to unload the camera and change the film. An additional heavier pair is needed to go over lighter gloves if it gets really cold. There are also gloves with the fingers cut out so we can keep them on and still handle the film.

A warm waterproof jacket and pants are essential, otherwise if the field is a little damp and we kneel, the freezing water will soak right through.

Warm socks and high-quality boots are also important. They are our first protection from an ice-cold field and weather that will get colder as the game progresses. The sun will be gone, leaving the field completely in shadow. Although this makes it easier to shoot because the field and players are evenly lit, the cold is uncomfortable.

Rain can be a major problem. Not only do we struggle to keep warm, but we have to keep our camera gear dry. Today's camera depends so much on electronic circuitry it doesn't fare well when wet.

We can affix an umbrella to our monopods with clamps and tape plastic bags to the lenses. This is awkward, but we don't have many options.

One of the nice aspects about inclement weather and football is the look it gives the images. Muddy exhausted football players slugging it out or battling through a thick blanket of white snow are good pictures.

The two words you fear most are windchill factor . Then it's best to stay inside.

The Photography column, which runs Saturdays in Orange County Life, is intended to help both the serious amateur and weekend shooter.

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