Brighton and Hove Albion are an English football team which plays in the Football League Championship – the second tier of English football.
At Brighton and Hove Albion I am lucky enough to be one of the small team of club photographers who assist Paul, the club’s own professional photographer, and I thought I would give you the lowdown on what I get up to on a match day. Lets assume the Seagulls are playing at home at the Amex stadium, with a kickoff at 3 PM.
Normally, my preparation starts the day before – I’ll need to charge the batteries for my cameras and for the flash units; there is nothing worse than running out of power before the end of the day! In my flash gear I use Sanyo Eneloop rechargable AA batteries; these are great, because once they are charged they don’t go losing their power if they are not immediately used. Standard rechargeable batteries seem to lose their power regardless.
I also take photos for a sports photo agency, and I need to be able to ensure that a newsworthy photo, or a photo of significant interest can be edited, captioned and wired to the agency within three minutes!
To do this, I use a program called Photo Mechanic on my MacBook Pro.
When captioning photos it helps if the player’s name can be entered quickly and accurately. The day before a match I generate a text file of players names and shortcut codes (code replacements) for each side, so rather than type “Brighton’s Sam Baldock” I just type \9\, or for the name of the visitor’s number 14, I’ll type \v14\.
The agency sends me an information file – a .xmp file – containing all the relevant transmission information added to each image, which I load into Photo Mechanic. Finally, I’ll reset the image file renaming with the two clubs names, the date and my initials.
The Day Begins
On the morning of the match, I gather and check my gear. Into my Peli case I pack at least two Canon cameras (EOS 5D MkIII and a 7D MkII); three or four lenses, comprising a 300 mm f/2.8 telephoto, a 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom, a 24-105mm f/4 zoom, and a wide angle zoom lens; two flashguns, a flashgun power unit (to help the flashgun recycle speedily), plus a monopod and assorted tools, spares, and gaffer tape – the latter is always useful!
I also check the weather forecast; if it looks like rain I’ll make sure I pack some wet weather gear for my cameras and for myself. I generally think that I’m about to take too much clothing with me, but I’m usually grateful that I do, as I invariably finish up putting it on as the temperature drops. These extra layers are stuffed into my rucksack, along with my MacBook Pro laptop, its power supply, card reader and iPhone cable.
For a 3 o’clock kick-off, Linda and I will leave home around about 11.15 and pick up our friend Paula; this means we can get to the Amex Stadium, all nicely parked up, a little before midday. Linda and Paula will wander off to the bar for a nice cup of tea, whereas my first port of call is the club’s media office.
Inside The Stadium Building
After saying ‘hello’ and trading insults to the other snappers and media guys in the office, I’ll set up my laptop and get it to talk to the club’s printer, and then find the two sponsor’s photo frames, so it’s all ready for business after the game. On a matchday, my snapping activities fall into three broad areas: first – before the game – I’ll take photographs of the young match mascots; I’ll then shoot the game itself; and finally I’ll go into the hospitality lounge to take photographs of the man of the match with the match sponsor and the matchball sponsor.
Around 1 o’clock I will take my peli case and rucksack down to the press lounge for lunch! The club look after the press contingent very well; today’s menu offering was either lamb hot pot or a vegetable lasagne with chips. Lunch and coffee is wolfed down with the other snappers, as we peruse the match day programme looking to see how many of our own photographs have been used, and to admire the good photographs in there taken by the others.
At this point, I’ll put on the hallowed purple (as opposed to the yellow) photographer’s bib. This garment is like the Hobbit’s elvish cloaks in Lord of the Rings, which renders the wearer invisible; purple-bibbed club snappers can go just about anywhere without being restricted by security.
First Visit To The Field
At 1.45pm I will go out to the stadium tunnel to look for my first customers of the day; the match mascots. There can be anywhere between two and ten kids – who are about to have a day to remember. It’s always a busy start to the day. I’ll prepare the gear I need for the game itself, leaving it close to the touchline, and I’ll introduce myself to the mascots.
I’ll take the mascots through a series of poses against a series of backgrounds; including the TV interview backdrops, the managers seat, and of course the stadium itself. The mascot minders keep the mascots active by working with a football, and at this point I need all the help I can get! One or two of the other snappers come to my rescue at this point by helping out with the photography – I do the posed shots while the others do the ‘playing football’ shots.
In the Tunnel
Nearer game time, the mascots are taken back into the tunnel, where they practice going down the line and shaking hands, – a few nearby stewards are dragged into this exercise! The Brighton captains’ mascot has already been asked who is his favourite player ready for the ‘player and mascot’ photograph, and the visiting mascots have been asked the same. The team sheet (collected by one of the photography team) is hastily consulted to make sure that all nominated players are in the starting eleven.
The noise and the atmosphere in the stadium starts to build, and it is at this point that things start to move very quickly. The referees appear in the tunnel, followed by the arrival of both teams – who despite wearing their game heads – are good to the kids. The mascots ‘favourite players’ are quickly asked (often by sign language) if they will pose with their mascot on the field after the handshake.
In the tunnel the anxiety increases – it’s like a pressure cooker; the mascots are paired up with their favourite player, and the snappers are snapping. The tunnel coordinator then shouts the magic code into her lapel microphone to the stadium announcer upstairs; the entry music “Sussex by the Sea” starts to blast across the stadium; the referee is given the signal to go, and the teams walk out. The noise is deafening. Twenty six thousand spectators. The snappers are snapping.
We take to the Field
The players and officials walk out of the tunnel and onto the field, and then line up for the ‘Respect’ handshake. Tradition is that the visiting players stay still, so the Brighton players and mascots move down the line shaking hands with the visitors – two of us snappers are still snapping the mascots like fury, and at the same time trying to avoid knocking over the TV cameraman or getting into his shot. With the exception of the captain’s mascot who stays on the field, all the remaining mascots then run to the mascot minder, and then back to their Mums and Dads.
One snapper – usually me, sorts out the pre-arranged visiting mascots favourite players for their photos, (its always easier to tell the mascots to quickly find and run up to their favourite player) while Paul takes the Brighton captain’s mascot photo with his favourite player.
If the visiting mascot’s player is well known, I will make a point of talking to them and addressing them by their first name: “Luis (Suarez) or John (Terry) – can I do a mascot picture after the handshake?” – just so that I can brag about it afterwards. Like here!
Then to the centre of the field. The referee blows his whistle to summon the team captains, and the snappers beckon to the mascots. Time for the final shot – usually taken by Paul. The referee, his assistants, the team captains with their young mascots and Gully all stand in a line, with the stadium’s packed stand as an impressive backdrop. We’ll always take five or six shots of this – as you can guarantee that somebody will be blinking, and look as though they have their eyes closed. We’ll then shout “Thank you gentlemen – have a good game”, and leg it. The mascots and snappers will quickly exit stage west, as a football match is about to kick off. The noise is still deafening.
I’ll grab the memory cards from the other snappers and put them in my top pocket, before collapsing on my seat – feeling exhausted but exhilarated.
Phase two of the afternoon begins; shooting the game. The flashgun comes off the camera, the small lens comes off, the big lens goes on, and the game is already underway. The snappers will take a cue from Paul, the club’s pro snapper – sometimes he’ll want us to work with the defenders, sometimes with the strikers, but generally it’s action shots and good portrait shots.
After the climactic excitement of the mascots, the game is no less pressured, – good photos are still required! The ideal action shot is player versus opposing player, faces visible, ball, and a blurred crowd backdrop. If you can see the players shirt numbers, you won’t see their faces. No ball, no good. The players must be sharply focussed, blurry player, no blurry good.
I set up my ‘office’ – connect my laptop to my iPhone, and connect to the internet using 4G, so that if a goal is scored, or other significant action (such as a red card), the image is moved to the laptop, edited, captioned, and wired to the agency.
It’s good to move around. My preferred locations are at the visitor’s end, around one-quarter of the way along the sideline, and one quarter of the way along the endline (if I can find room there!) If I’m on the right hand side of the halfway line – where the referee’s assistant works, I’ll adjust my final position according to how deep the defenders play, – this will dictate where the lino will stand to check for offside. On the left hand side of the touchline on the dugout side of the field, (still with me?) you’ll have the substitutes running up and down keeping warm; sometimes there’s almost a solid wall of them getting in the way of a good shot.
After the Game
Once the game has finished, it’s on to phase three. I’ll head for the hospitality lounge to take the Man of the Match (MoM) photos with the match sponsors and the matchball sponsors. The big 300mm lens and the 70-200 lens and camera are packed away, and the memory cards are removed from both cameras. The 5DIII is kitted with a flashgun and a new card, and set to shoot RAW.
The commercial guys will erect a corporate backdrop, and we wait for the man of the match. And wait. After the match, the players may need to have an ice bath, a warm bath, some physio, a rollocking from the manager and the MoM may well be asked to do TV interviews – all before he appears in the lounge.
During the wait, I may save some time later by importing the day’s photographs from my memory cards onto my laptop, this time using Adobe Lightroom – which is better for editing photos in bulk. I’ll also find out which 12 seat tables are occupied by the two sponsor groups, and offer to take photos of the group sat around the table; – it’s all good customer relations for the club.
Once the MoM arrives, I’ll take photos of the MoM being presented with his champagne by the match sponsor, and the MoM giving the match sponsors a framed football shirt signed by the players – it’s a rather nice trophy. The matchball sponsors are called forward and are photographed being presented with their similar trophy. Sometimes it is one or two people who come forward, or sometimes a large group of people, who will need to be arranged – it’s just like doing a wedding!
I use my flash gun pointing directly upwards, with the catchlight card out. This way, all the light is bounced off the low pale ceiling – no light travels directly to the subject -this provides some good soft three dimensional facial shadows. Pointing the flash directly at the subjects will create stark shadows on the background, “elephant ears”, flat faces, and horrible bright shiny skin.
To The Office And Back Again
I pack up speedily and head back to the office, where the other snappers in the team are busy sifting, sorting and editing their photos, and the media guys are writing match reports, post match interviews and the like.
My job is to quickly edit my hospitality photos: crop, adjust the colour balance and exposure, and print one photo for each sponsor on 5” x 7” photo paper. The photos are then carefully placed in the mounts, and the mounts placed in a frame. I then dash back to the hospitality lounge, to present the sponsors with their framed photographs. When presenting the frames, I will pull out a lens cloth, and polish a couple of imaginary fingerprints off the glass; a little theatre always helps!
Back in the office, there may be other photos of groups or individuals which need to be processed and distributed quickly, such as the managers or players being interviewed in the tunnel.
Time now to print the mascots’ photos; two for the captain’s mascot – usually the favourite player image and the centre circle line up image – and print one of each of the other mascots. A picture with a player usually proves popular! The club will post these photos to the mascots. I’ll then whizz through the mascot’s photos in Lightroom (sometimes 300-400+ photos) – either rejecting or cropping and editing where necessary, and upload them to Seagullspics.com, so that the mascots and their parents can see them (and hopefully purchase them) the following morning.
Is that it?
At this point it may now be three or more hours after the end of the match, and I am whacked. Linda comes to the stadium to pick me up (bless her!), and on the way home I might treat myself to a Uncle Sam’s veggie burger or a takeaway curry which I’ll enjoy at home with a beer. So, what else needs doing?
Well, the following day I’ll sift, select and edit the 300-400 mascots images – reducing these to 50 – 170 images – depending on the number of mascots – and upload them to the club’s photo sales website. I’ll also sift through 300-350 match photographs, and select 20-40 to upload to the club’s photo storage, where they can be seen by the website team and the match programme editors.
It’s a busy day. Many of the photos we shoot can’t be re-staged, so it has to be right first time, as first time is the only time we have. At some times in the season, we can be snapping away, wearing t-shirts, shorts and sandals; other times in the season we look like Michelin men wearing so many layers to keep warm. We might get absolutely soaked, we might get frozen fingers and frozen feet, we might even get sunburnt as we take photos of our team, but us sports photographers just love what we do; there is nowhere else on the planet Earth that we’d rather be!