“In 30 years of covering NFL football, it was the very first game I had ever shot in a blizzard.”
For me it’s about three things:
1) Understanding the sport and the tendencies of the teams you are covering;
2) Understanding how those tendencies can help a photographer anticipate what might happen next in the game; and
3) As a note in Life magazine once said, “an awesome perseverance which motivates the sports photographer to hang in there until the picture they see in their head is framed in the viewfinder.”
Quite frankly, this also MAY require a bit of luck as well.
Caption: Kicker Josh Brown #3 of the Seattle Seahawks kicks and makes a 27-yard field goal in the third quarter against the Green Bay Packers during the NFC divisional playoff game on January 12, 2008 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
This photograph is of one of the simplest plays in pro football, a field goal. The kicker hit a 27 yard field goal for three points during the play. In 30 years of covering NFL football, it was the very first game I had ever shot in a blizzard. The temperature was probably 30-32 degrees Fahrenheit but there was absolutely no wind and the snow came straight down and was so thick at times that we couldn’t see the action on the field, despite being just yards away from the game. I like this picture because it really gives you a great idea of the weather conditions and what the players had to play through and what we had to deal with to shoot the game.
Everyone shooting NFL football carries at least three cameras, with lenses including a 400-to-600 telephoto lens, an intermediate range lens like a 70-200 zoom lens and a wide-angle lens around our necks to capture something that might happen directly in front of us. I shot this moment with a 24mm wide angle lens because I took the chance that the camera would correctly autofocus and show the entire scene as I envisioned it. Heavy snow like this impairs the autofocus abilities of our cameras. But this shot worked.
Overcoming the weather at this time of year in the US upper Midwest, is perhaps the biggest challenge. At kickoff in December and January, the temperatures can range from an above-freezing 35 degrees Fahrenheit, to a bone-chilling -10. One year at an NFL playoff game in Green Bay, a week after the above picture was taken, we had a kickoff temperature of about -10 degrees with a wind chill well below -20. That’s expected if you’re a scientist in the Antarctic, but not necessarily expected in Green Bay, Wisc. or Chicago, Ill. in January. A photographer needs to learn how to dress for this type of weather and how to find the nearest store that sells hand, feet and body warmers. And to always buy more than what you think you’ll need. I think our group used about 50 warmers total, changing them at half-time.
I know that sitting on the side of a mountain shooting skiing or standing in 3 feet of snow at an Olympic event is just as challenging to cover. Most of those are “fast paced” sports as well. And the photographers who cover those sports have the same issues to deal with: frozen feet and hands, blinding snow, terrible cold. But to cover an NFL game in this type of weather means at least we can move up and down the sidelines and generate some body warmth underneath about 30 extra pounds of clothes. It’s hard and very tiring, even for the younger photographers covering the games, not to mention an old guy like myself.
Tendencies. Anticipation. Perseverance. Those are the keys to covering professional sports, especially in bad weather. Too bad the Super Bowl is in Phoenix, Arizona this year. No one will have to wear long underwear, even though I think they should, just for the hell of it.Explore more of Jonathan Daniel’s imagery on Getty Images