Wednesday, October 14, 2015

NCAA Football: Washington at USC

I don't shoot a lot of football.  This is my fifth season working for the NFL, and in total, I have photographed about 1.5 games.  My first game was a Cal vs USC college game back in 2012, and the other half a game was the Hall of Fame game this year between the Steelers and Vikings in Canton, OH.  I wanted to get some more experience under my belt, and basically try to get my timing down, so I asked to be credentialed to a college game last week.  In the past, I have generally been busy on Saturdays with photo shoots and photo booth jobs.  This year, I decided that I want to go out there and shoot some more football.  My first game this season was at USC as they took on the Washington Huskies in PAC12 action.  Since I do not own long glass (300mm or longer), I ended up borrowing the NFL's 400mm 2.8, and a camera body.  I would have loved to use the Canon 1dX, but those bodies were already being used by another photographer in Houston.  In the end, I was happy to take the 400mm and a Canon 1d Mark IV to the game.

I decided that I was only going to take one camera body and work on my timing and framing.  I forgot that the 1D Mark IV is not a full-frame camera, and the 400mm lens was actually tighter than I was used to.  Of course having a super telephoto lens limited me a little bit since I wasn't able to shoot wide-atmospheric shots that I generally like to do, but it also afforded me a chance to get pretty close to the game action from a distance.  Those were the types of images that I really wanted to produce from this game anyway.  While on the field, I got to see some old photographer friends that I have not seen in quite some time.  Jae C. Hong from the Associated Press, Wally Skalij from the Los Angeles Times, and L.A. Dodgers and USC photographer Jon SooHoo to name a few.  When I worked as a digital tech for the NBA, I used to see these guys on a consistent basis at Staples Center while they were on assignment.  All three photographers are people I tremendously respect and admire.

If you have not had a chance to carry around a 400mm 2.8 lens, it is really heavy!  I only carried around one body (usually I take at least 2, sometimes 3), on a monopod, and I still have marks on my shoulder from last week.  I have shot with the new Canon 600mm f/4, and it is extremely light - lighter than the old 400mm 2.8.  I wanted to take that lens with me, but it too was in Houston that week.  Anyway, while I was wandering the sidelines, I could not help but wonder who the heck all those random people were down on the field taking selfies.  Just normal people like you and me.  I am used to being at sporting events where only credentialed media are allowed, and this was just a different experience.  I got the feeling that many of them could have been boosters and students, or just relatives of players.  In the past, I have heard the stories of the USC sidelines being crowded with unnecessary people, and that they have gotten better at limiting who gets to be down there, but I found it hard to work with such a large amount of people down there.  If I wanted to make my way down to one corner of the end zone, I would find myself competing for spots with people holding cell phones.  There was one guy in a white vest (credentialed media), who was down there with a GoPro camera aimed directly at the sideline photographers.  I swear he had his camera aimed directly at me at some point, and I want to believe that the point of his job was to take a record of the sidelines and document who should and should not be there.  I have no idea, and I digress.

As I paced the sidelines, I noticed former USC defensive end and current player for the New York Jets Leonard Williams hamming it up with some of his former teammates in pregame warmups, so I photographed him for a bit.  I also made a point to capture images of USC's inspiring long snapper Jake Olson, who is legally blind.  I watched Jake interact with his teammates on the field during warmups.  He always has at least another player with him, and they seem very protective of him - almost to the point of trying to block the cameras from photographing him.  I would like to see him in the game at some point this season, because it really is a cool story of a kid fulfilling a lifelong dream of playing football.

This turned out to be the final game that USC Head Coach Steve Sarkisian coached before being forced to take a leave of absence, and ultimately fired later in the week.  After watching USC's offense let the Huskies hang around by halftime, even the photographers were saying things like "what's wrong with USC?"  Well, I don't have to shoot a lot of football to feel momentum swings, and it was only a matter of time before Washington scored a touchdown, and then another to put the game away.  I had a feeling that things were not going well when the defense couldn't stop Washington, and USC's offense failed to keep up with their opponent.  I concentrated on photographing the reactions of USC's coach Sarkisian on the sideline when USC looked to be making a run and marched down the field, only to be stopped short once again.  Trojan players, coaches, and staff tried to amp up the crowd by waving their arms and encouraging people to get loud.  I got lots of reaction and emotion from the sideline, and it was the perfect time to be aiming my lens at their coach.  In the end though, what matters more than football is peoples' lives and well-being.  I hope that coach Sarkisian now has the time to seek the help that he needs in order to turn his life around.  I don't know the full details or the whole story, but I know that a man's health and life are in danger, and I truly hope that he comes out of this a better man.

Enjoy my take on the Washington vs USC football game.

A Washington staffer cools himself off on the sideline.

New York Jets defensive end Leonard Williams catches up with some old college pals.

Blind USC long snapper Jake Olson
Blind USC long snapper Jake Olson walks the field with a teammate.

Washington marching band member's tuba

I wonder what they're saying..

Washington WR Brayden Lenius (81) makes an insane "Sportscenter Top-10-worthy" catch over USC's Iman Marshall (8).

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