Creative Sports Shooting Ideas from the LA Rams Training Camp
The Rams are back in LA and nobody could be happier than myself! In 1995, while attending college at UC Irvine, the Rams left Los Angeles for St. Louis, as the Raiders moved to Oakland leaving Los Angeles with no teams. Photography was my major, football was my passion, and LA was home. My goal was to major in photography and get a job either with a team in Los Angeles or with Sports Illustrated and two of the three options had just moved away.
The next 21 years I spent unknowingly preparing myself for a major return to LA for NFL football by first photographing youth sports in Southern California and working my way up the ladder in the sports world with the Associated Press, among other media outlets, by shooting many NFL games and several Super Bowls, the NBA Finals, and other major sporting events.
My work slowly started focusing on PR for corporate clients and NFL players and their well-being and off-field agendas with my company, Playmaker Images. As I got wind that the Rams were coming back, I successfully jumped on the opportunity to be the team photographer and got the position!
As team photographer, my role consists of photographing every aspect of the team from practice to games, corporate-sponsored events, to headshots and community service events – anything the PR team throws my way and get these images back to the team as quickly as possible. To do this requires a wide array of equipment from cameras, lenses, strobes, light stands, light modifiers, and anything you can think of in and out of photography.
The first major assignment for the team was to photograph training camp. Coincidently, training camp was at UC Irvine, right back where it all started for me. I was given a room in the same place I lived as a student and a schedule for practice. We would be in Irvine for a month and the question was how do you photograph the same thing everyday and make practice look amazing?
For practice on the first day, I did my typical setup for football games: 3 Canon 1D X Mark II cameras, a 400mm 2.8L lens on a monopod, 70-200mm 2.8L on my shoulder, and a 16-35mm 2.8L around my neck in case the action gets too close. I also had a 15mm fisheye just in case. It became apparent quickly that I had unique access and could walk all over the field like a trainer or coach (just as long as I didn’t get in the way). This made the 400mm unneeded in most cases but pushed my creativity through the roof. I decided to photograph training camp not like a game but as an experience through the passion of the players, the coaches, and the game – all on my home field at UCI.
To start, I pulled out my right-angle finder and laid out on the field for a completely different perspective to bring the amazing Southern California blue sky into the frame. This also makes the players look larger than life and as the prominent athletes they are.
Friendships with players through Playmaker Images over the years, several of whom play for the Rams, made it comfortable for me to get close to the action and step right in as if I belonged. I sat the 400mm to the side, put the fisheye on a 1D X with the monopod and used Pocket Wizards to fire images from right behind the play from about 12 feet up.
[learn_more caption=”HOW TO: Firing Cameras Remotely with Pocket Wizards” state=”open”] Mount your camera where you cannot be and still fire it exactly when you want to by connecting your camera to a motor cable and a Pocket Wizard trigger. Sounds complicated but it’s really not with some practice and the right tools:
Get 2 Pocket Wizards and set them to the same channel.
Attach a remote camera cable (we have them for Canon and Nikon) between your camera and 1 Pocket Wizard.
Turn on your Pocket Wizards then the camera.
Keep one Pocket Wizard in your hand and press the TEST button to fire the shutter!
How far away you can trigger your camera will depend on the Pocket Wizard and your environment but usually you can be many feet away. This is great for car photography (with the help of hood-mountable grip gear), behind the catcher, above the rim, or anywhere too dangerous or too distracting for a shooter to stand. Just make sure your camera is really securely fastened, like with a Magic Arm. For more remote triggering advice, visit Pocket Wizard’s Wiki.[/learn_more]
My thought process was to make images that look like the Madden video game and since I couldn’t use a drone, the monopod was going to have to work. The angle also gave a different perspective as it showed where we were, who the quarterback was throwing to, and everything around us.
After two weeks of practicing just about everyday and one day practicing in the LA Coliseum, we finally played our first game against the Dallas Cowboys. Professional football hadn’t been played in Los Angeles in 22 years and I needed to capture something special from the day. My idea was to shoot at ground level to show the players running out with the historic peristyle end in the frame and fire blazing. I used the 16-35mm and let the players run past me as our intro-fire towers blazed.
The following week against Kansas City, I used the fisheye on a pole to get more of an elevated view of the same scene. Practice continued as players were fine-tuning their skills. Hits came harder and the competition to make the team became urgent.
As this became clear, I had an idea to mount a facemask onto the camera and shoot as if it was from a player’s perspective. I obtained a facemask from the Rams and manufactured a mount for the mask to mount to the camera at home. I used a 16-35mm and shot eye-level at the players during warm-ups in Denver and even ran out with the team!
My goal is to always make the client happy. It’s not about how many cool images can be made but how I can please the team and push the envelope to create images that bring in more fans and followers, especially in this new LA market. The Rams are back and we are just getting started!