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Best Seat in the House

Photography, sports and life as seen through the lens of Seattle Times photographer Rod Mar.

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January 7, 2008 12:44 PM

Seahawks: The Long and the Short of It.

Posted by Rod Mar

For most sports photographers who shoot football, the "long lens", usually a 400mm or 300mm, is the primary lens of choice.

On a given football game day, I'll shoot roughly 85-90% of my photographs with a 400mm lens, 10% with a 70-200mm lens, and 5% with a 16-35mm lens.

Most of the published pictures you see are shot with a long lens because that's what most shooters start out when the ball is snapped. It's hard to shoot the beginning of a play with the 400mm, then put it down and switch to a camera with a shorter lens, find the action again, focus and shoot.

Saturday, for Seattle's opening round playoff game against Washington, we had the luxury of having three photographers shoot the action and one shooting features.

For each of the eight road games this season, I've been our lone shooter. So with Dean Rutz and Jim Bates, two of our best sports photographers assigned with me, I came into the game wanting to take some chances. I felt that if I gambled on a lens choice, say using a shorter lens where a longer lens would be the more practical choice, I would be covered by Jim and/or Dean and we wouldn't miss a play.

I've written this before, but I really like the look of shorter lenses at football games, especially on scoring plays. A 70-200mm lens will allow you to see the end zone, the goal posts, and the reactions around the play.

Keeping this in mind, when the Seahawks entered the "red zone" (the area near the goal line) in the first quarter, I wanted to use the 70-200mm zoom. The ball was at the 17-yard line, which felt pretty far away from me since I was about five yards deep in the end zone along the far sideline.

I had the 400mm lens up to my eye when Scott Clarke, a friend and shooter from Southern California who was next to me, muttered, "Sh*t, I think I've got the wrong lens!". I peeked and saw he had a 400mm up to his eye as well. I looked at the Seahawks formation and saw four receivers in the lineup, which is often a signal for a pass play.

Anticipating a pass into the end zone, I quickly put down the 400mm and raised the 70-200mm to my eye. The ball was snapped, and damn it all if Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck handed the ball off to a running back, Leonard Weaver.

Now it was my turn to mutter, "Oh, Sh*t..." Because if Weaver was tackled for only a short gain, or, heaven forbid, fumbled, my lens would be way too loose to capture the action.

Luckily, Weaver broke through the line of scrimmage and headed for my corner of the end zone. It was easy to track him as he headed for the orange pylon of the goal line. My only concern at that point was not getting run over by players.

The shots looked nice, and my friend Scott continued to swear at me because I'd taken his advice...and he hadn't taken it himself:



(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 70-200mm f2.8 lens @ 70mm, ISO 800, 1/1000 sec., f2.8)



(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 70-200mm f2.8 lens @ 70mm, ISO 800, 1/1000 sec., f2.8)

Later, in the second quarter, the Redskins were deep in their own territory and I was lying down along the back of the end zone to add some different perspective. Seattle's Patrick Kerney, who had a beast of a game despite not having a sack, broke through and made a smashing (pardon the pun) tackle of Washington running back Ladell Betts:



(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 70-200mm f2.8 lens @ 200mm, ISO 800, 1/1000 sec., f2.8)

Knowing Kerney player fueled by emotion, I kept my lens on him and shot as he celebrated:



(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 70-200mm f2.8 lens @ 95mm, ISO 800, 1/1000 sec., f2.8)

Probably the best example of risking the shorter lens came in the fourth quarter. Seattle had the ball on the Washington 35-yard line, and I was again five yards deep in the end zone, this time on the near sideline. If I felt that being 17-yards away like in the first quarter was risky, shooting the 70-200mm lens from the 35-yard line seemed downright silly. But Seattle had just gained huge chunks of yardage on some pass plays, and as the game was now tied, I felt like they would want to score and score quickly.

Again, the risk of being caught with the wrong lens was mitigated by the fact that we had two other excellent shooters on the field. I got lucky as Seattle receiver D.J. Hackett broke free up the middle for the go-ahead touchdown. The play and resulting celebration with Seahawks mascot "Blitz" were shot with the 70-200mm lens, which allows the viewer to see that Hackett is indeed in the end zone:



(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 70-200mm f2.8 lens @ 125mm, ISO 1600, 1/800 sec., f2.8)



(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 70-200mm f2.8 lens @ 135mm, ISO 1600, 1/800 sec., f2.8)

Seattle's defense recorded two long interceptions to seal the victory in the fourth quarter. Both interceptions occurred about 50-yards from me, and I was blocked by seeing both of them because I was shooting along the Seahawks sidelines and the players on the bench blocked my view.

I did see both plays begin by watching the big screen televisions located at the end of the field, and managed to grab the 70-200mm lens as I saw the players running my way up the sideline. They were running up along the sideline, and I had to debate whether or not to grab the 70-200mm or the wide-angled 16-35mm. If the player got tackled up field slightly, the 16-35mm would be useless, but if they ran right by me, it would make a nice photo. But I didn't take the risk this time and stuck with the longer of the lenses.

Marcus Trufant runs back a 78-yard interception for a touchdown, and the sign behind him shows up again:



(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 70-200mm f2.8 lens @ 70mm, ISO 1600, 1/800 sec., f2.8)

Later, Seattle's Jordan Babineaux picks off a pass and returns it for a touchdown, too:



(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 70-200mm f2.8 lens @ 120mm, ISO 1600, 1/800 sec., f2.8)

Shooting the 70-200mm lens can feel risky for a sports photographer because we are used to longer lenses. But having a great team to work with can offset those risks and help make stronger pictures.


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