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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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October 27, 2008 8:26 PM

Seahawks: Missing the Shot and Saving Your...(Asterisk).

Posted by Rod Mar

When you're one shooter trying to cover an entire football field, you're not always going to get the shot.

That's just a harsh reality of the job.

Sometimes it's out of your control. The play can happen far away from you. Faces can be obscured by other players or officials. The play can be in front of you but the players can be facing the other way. You could be distracted by the cheerleaders (much more likely to happen in Tampa Bay than anywhere else...or so I've heard).

Other times, it's in your control and you just mess it up. Well, not you, I mean. Me.

There were four pretty big plays in Sunday's Seahawks game at San Francisco that I just didn't get right for one reason or another. Two of them I was able to salvage, two of them just went to hell.

In order, they were:

1. Brandon Mebane's and Patrick Kerney's first quarter sack of San Francisco quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan, resulting in a fumble that Seattle's Darryl Tapp twice had chances to recover but couldn't.

2. Kerney's sack later in the quarter which caused another fumble by O'Sullivan, which Kerney returned 50 yards, nearly for a touchdown.

3. Josh Wilson's interception near halftime, which he returned 75-yards for a touchdown.

4. Seahawks fullback Leonard Weaver's 62-yard catch and run in the fourth quarter, also for a touchdown.

Let's go over them one by one. Maybe reliving the agony will be therapeutic.

On San Francisco's first drive, Seattle's Darryl Tapp and Patrick Kerney forced San Francisco quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan to fumble as he was sacked. Shooting behind the line of scrimmage with a 600mm lens, I was WAY too right on the play and as the loose ball bounced around.

If you could have read my mind during the play you would have heard something like this: WHERE IS IT?...THERE IT IS...WAIT, WHERE'D IT GO NOW...TAPP HAS IT?....CRAP...I CAN'T SEE ANYTHING...THERE'S THE WHISTLE...DAMN.)

The 12th Man will hate me for this, but I was secretly glad that the Seahawks had not recovered the ball and returned it for a touchdown because I was wrong-lensed, then alternately wrong-aimed, and wrong-focused.

Things started out fine. Shooting from behind the line of scrimmage, I see Seattle's Rocky Bernard rushing and sizing up O'Sullivan. Even in a split second you can know that because there is no one else in the frame that a sack could happen.

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens, ISO 400, 1/1000th sec.,f4.0)

This is the next frame I shot is this one. I'm not sure why I didn't shoot in-between, I can only guess that it's because no good frame presented itself and suddenly I realized the ball was loose. This is very tight framing and in real time at live speed, all this action is happening fast and keeping it all A) in the frame and B) in focus is one of the harder things to do.

Now I'm the victim of a little bad luck with the composition. The ball is out and I've got two Seahawks taking O'Sullivan down to the ground. BUT, everyone is facing away from me no this isn't much of a frame. There's an old sports photography saying that goes, "All you need is two faces and a ball". This one has ball, but ain't got no faces.

Having already been beaten by the dreaded Curse of the Backs of Heads, now I'm paying the price for having the wrong lens. With a 400mm lens, I get Seattle's Darryl Tapp trying to pick the ball up and run it in for a touchdown. But, I'm way too tight and I have another bad frame.

Two frames later, the ball is bouncing away from me and I get more of Tapp in my frame, but clearly the "moment" of the previous frames is gone.

This looks to be a better frame today (Monday) than it was when I was editing, and I probably should have sent it. The problem here is that there was still a lot of smoke and haze over the field leftover from the pregame pyrotechnics. It's a good moment, but the quality of the image looks funky to me.

Rightly or wrongly (clearly I'm having some Monday Morning Quarterback moments about this one), this is the frame I transmitted for the paper and web:

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4 lens, ISO 400, 1/1000th sec.,f4.0)

A bit later, another huge play occurred when Seattle's Patrick Kerney recovered a fumble as the 49ers threatened to score and he returned yards to set up a Seahawks field goal. Once again, I was in the wrong spot. Was blocked from the sack and then got barely anything of the return.

Don't believe me? Check out these gems.

(Nikon VR 600mm, ISO 400, 1/1000th sec.,f4.0)

That's some nice clean sports photography, wouldn't you agree? We could make a list of the problems -- overexposure, missed the peak moment, got blocked on most of the runback, too far way when I did get a good view, and crappy backgrounds (I mean, is that a BARN on the left?). Actually I think I started shooting that play with the 200-400mm lens, and then switched to the 600mm when I realized I might be 110 yards away from a possible touchdown.

At this point, I was going a little crazy as two big plays had happened and I had virtually nothing of either play. Again, I was lucky that Kerney didn't score on the play. I took small comfort that this was still early in the game, but that didn't stop me from updating my Facebook status from my Blackberry during the next media time out (hey, don't hate -- those media time outs are LONG):

"Rod has missed both pictures so far."

I immediately got a handful of smartypants comments from my so-called "friends", ranging from "Were you in the bathroom?" to "Ask them to do it over for you".

Thanks, friends.

Just before halftime, I found myself in the right position for a big play. With San Francisco driving down the field, I decided to stay behind them in the far end zone. I'd already been burned by this in the first quarter, so I guess I wasn't learning from my mistakes very well.

New 49ers coach Mike Singletary decided to go for it instead of kicking a field goal, and Seattle cornerback Josh Wilson jumped the slant route, intercepted the pass and then ran 75 yards right at me as he headed for the end zone.

I saw the whole play, but did a terrible job of placing my single autofocus sensor on Wilson as he made the interception. When you're shooting relatively loose (a 600mm from 85 yards away is loose framing), it's harder to pin the target on your subject than if he was closer to you. Not an excuse, just an explanation. This should be an easy frame to get, and I didn't get it. The only saving grace is that it appears that his arm blocked his face as he made the interception.

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens, ISO 400, 1/2500th sec.,f4.0)

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens, ISO 400, 1/2500th sec.,f4.0)

However, as Wilson is running at me, I have plenty of opportunities to shoot him. At this point, what is running through my mind is just keeping him in focus and also thinking about what will happen as he scores. This all happens in seconds. You're trying to keep him focus locked and then wondering -- "When he gets to the end zone, will he swoop around the end zone towards the Seattle bench? If so, I better be thinking about the wide angle". Or, "Will he stop in the end zone and celebrate there? If so, the 200-400mm is what I need". Just about then, another thought crosses my mind and I feel a bit of panic -- what if Wilson does some sort of celebratory hotdogging flip into the end zone like you sometimes see? Then the 600mm will be WAY too tight.

Obviously, I overthink things, but that's what happens when you miss a couple of pictures.

As it turns out, the light was nice, I caught his eyes in my frame, and it all worked out okay, even though I missed the key moment.

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens, ISO 400, 1/2500th sec.,f4.0)

I also moved a cropped version at halftime for our website, which can only run squatty horizontal-shaped photos.

(Nikon D3, VR 600mm/f4.0 lens, ISO 400, 1/2500th sec.,f4.0)

The last big play of the game was a 63-yard touchdown by Seattle's Leonard Weaver, which I conveniently was in the wrong position for once again. It started innocuously enough, with quarterback Seneca Wallace rolling out of the pocket to his left and throwing a little dump pass to Weaver. Here's the not-so-dramatic photo of the reception.

(Nikon D3, VR 200-400mm/f4.0 lens, ISO 500, 1/1250th sec., f4.0)

I figure this to be an 10-yard gain at the most, until I hear what's left of the crowd start to buzz. Weaver is running up the near sideline that I'm shooting from and I can't see him as I'm blocked by the Seahawks players on the sidelines. Looking up at the video screen I see him rumbling for the end zone.

I realize this is his second long touchdown and it's an important moment of the game. I think a bunch of swear words (if I say them out loud, I owe each of my kids a dollar per word, so I just think them), and take off running for the other side of the bench where I know Weaver will be headed after his trip to the end zone.

Looking around, I don't see Weaver. Spotting a member of the Seahawks' P.R. staff, I ask where Weaver is. He points towards the end zone and says, "he's not back here yet -- you got time".

Players are making their way back from the celebration and I use them as test subjects since I'm worried about the exposure and also lens flare from the setting sun to my right. (The Nikon wide-angle is in for repairs, so I'm using my Canon instead).

First to pass me is center Chris Spencer. Flare city, as you can see.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, 16-35mm lens @ 16mm, ISO 320, 1/500th sec., f5.6)

Next, receiver Bobby Engram comes back and receives high-fives from team president Tod Leiweke and a player to my right.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, 16-35mm lens @ 16mm, ISO 320, 1/500th sec., f5.6)

Finally, Weaver heads toward me and I fire off a series of frames while squeezed between Leiweke and other players. While editing, I like the composition of the figures and the arms. It seems like a natural lead photo for the sports cover.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, 16-35mm lens @ 16mm, ISO 320, 1/500th sec., f5.6)

Later, on the phone with editors, we discuss whether or not an action or reaction photo is best for the cover. There is sentiment for an action photo as last week's cover was of a solitary Seneca Wallace walking off the field in Tampa. I make the argument that a reaction photo is appropriate as with this victory, the Seahawks ought to be relieved by the win, and that they should climb the standings a bit as every other team in the NFC West lost.

After some discussion, it's decided to go with the picture of Weaver getting congratulated. I think the photo does a good job of capturing the sense of relief the team must have felt after getting back on track, if even against a lowly team like the 49ers.

Even though the day had lots of moments of frustration, the great thing about my job is that there are lots of different ways to visually tell a story. By not panicking too much, I was able to find other images to make up for my occasional misses.

That said, it's better not to miss in the first place.


Here's the pages from Monday's paper. I'm very grateful for the fine editing and great display and I thank all those who help make the pictures look good every day.

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