Steam rises from a Wheeler huddle during the fourth quarter against Andrean during sectional play at Andrean High School in Merrillville, Ind., Friday, October 21, 2011.
With the fall theater and concert season ramping up (and lighting design work taking a front seat for the next month or so), my photography work on the sidelines of high school football games came to a close this evening for the 2011 season — one that was quite enjoyable and yielded some very diverse images.
Perhaps the challenge of shooting 100% available light (I absolutely abhor on-camera flash for night football) in some of the worst lighting conditions imaginable is what keeps me excited about Friday night football? Perhaps it’s having a front-row seat to the best moments of student athletes’ sporting lives, most of whom will never play on another organized football team ever again following high school? Or, perhaps it’s the adrenaline rush of dodging a physical attack from a dejected football player (still in full pads) who realizes I’m photographing his upset teammates?
There’s one definite realization I solidified within my mind this high school football season, one that I would have rolled my eyes at just a few years ago, despite reading the same words from veteran photographers many times: You don’t need professional athletes as your subjects to produce professional, dynamic sports images. Just because Peyton Manning is in a photo doesn’t make it aesthetically or technically better than a peak-action image of a high school player you’ve never heard of. Don’t believe me? Here’s a few reasons why it’s easier to come away with great images from a high school football game (or any sport, for that matter):
Try shooting this image from behind the bench at an NFL game, and let me know how long your credential lasts! Hammond Morton assistant football coach A.J. Rodriguez goes over a play with players on the bench during a game against Munster at Morton High School in Hammond, Ind., Friday, September 16, 2011.
For starters, the access is way better. Want to shoot from behind the bench as an offensive coach goes over plays in a huddle? Go right ahead! As long as you’re not in the way, chances are you’ll be able to get a behind-the-scenes view of the game that the fans can’t see from the bleachers. Try shooting behind the bench at an NFL game, and get back to me on how quickly your credential was pulled.
The sidelines at high school games are much, MUCH less crowded. The game I shot tonight (a sectional final) had three other still photographers and an equal amount of videographers, all of whom were courteous and respectful (and —wait for it— friendly!) to each other. This was a large amount of media for a high school game here in Northwest Indiana, as there’s usually just me and one other still photographer. Imagine having an entire NFL sideline or end zone to yourself? Guess what? You just about have this at high school games, with nearly the same athleticism and drive on display from arguably more-passionate athletes.
“But, Guy! High school football players aren’t as athletic!” Yeah, about that… Wheeler’s Jake Gore (left) intercepts a pass intended for Andrean’s Brandon Pavlina near the end zone during the fourth quarter during sectional play at Andrean High School in Merrillville, Ind., Friday, October 21, 2011.
Due to lighting equipment issues at the stadium the night before, I got to shoot my first sun-lit high school football game since I was in high school in 1997! West Side quarterback Roderick Jones (left) holds Roosevelt defender Randle Felix at bay on a carry during the second quarter at West Side High School in Gary, Ind., Saturday, October 15, 2011.
The parking at high school games, at least around here, is free, and most games this season were played within 20 minutes driving distance from my home. Total time invested in each game: Give or take three hours (even less if I decided to leave a game early during a regular-season blowout).
Couple all of the above with a great aspect of high school and semi-pro sports I mentioned back in my basketball season recap (the trueness of the emotions of the players, who aren’t playing for money or endorsements, but only for the pride of victory and the love the game itself), and you have a recipe for great images of players at their peak, giving it their all.
On this portrait shoot, I realized that only people in strongman competitions can move gigantic tractor tires by themselves. Griffith High School’s Maciek Szczepkowski, a senior, poses at the school in Griffith, Ind., Thursday, August 4, 2011. Szczepkowski, a native of Poland, moved to the United States in 2005.
(Above, left) Andrean’s Mason Zurek (top) runs over Wheeler’s Matt Pappas during the second quarter during sectional play at Andrean High School in Merrillville, Ind., Friday, October 21, 2011. (Above, right) Hobart’s Ian Drobac (top) reaches to tackle Morton’s Kendall Huff during the first quarter at Morton High School in Hammond, Ind., Friday, October 7, 2011.
(From left) River Forest Ingots varsity football players Jaime Cervantes, Ramon Diaz, and William Perez sit alongside rival Lake Station Edison Eagles football team members Hasonie Walters, Taylor Sykes, and Kody Lenley under the Grand Blvd. bridge over Deep River near New Chicago, Ind., Wednesday, August 31, 2011. The two schools were set to go head-to-head in an annual rivalry football game the following Friday, with the bridge serving as the border (and a neutral meeting point for the portrait) between the two communities.
Morton’s Alfred Dickey (top) leaps over and onto Lowell’s Clark Mikesell for the tackle during the second quarter at Morton High School in Hammond, Ind., Saturday, August 27, 2011.
Whiting’s Tom Dabertin (right) makes a sliding sack against South Central quarterback Garrett Walter during the second quarter at Ray P. Gallivan Stadium in Whiting, Ind., Friday, September 9, 2011.
Highland High School’s Justin Thiele poses during varsity football media day held at the school in Highland, Ind., Monday, August 8, 2011. Thiele, a senior, plays the running back and safety positions for the Trojans.
Lake Central’s Matthew Madsen (bottom) kicks up rubber pellets from the artificial field turf while pulling down Munster’s Christian Leonakis during the third quarter at Munster High School in Munster, Ind., Friday, August 19, 2011.
Even though a sports editor rolled his eyes at me over the phone (I could tell) when I mentioned this moment I shot at a reunion football game of high school players from the 1990′s, I still thought it was cool. John Palyok (right) proposes to his girlfriend Jackie Brooks on the fifty yard line during half time at the Brickyard Brawl at Hobart High School in Hobart, Ind., Friday, July 29, 2011. Palyok, a 1991 Hobart High School graduate, met Brooks while working at Best Buy.
Timm Mann (left) of Hobart, Ind., talks with Laura Girgenti, also of Hobart, on the top of the bleachers during half time at the Brickyard Brawl at Hobart High School in Hobart, Ind., Friday, July 29, 2011. Mann and Girgenti are both Hobart High School class of 1991 graduates, and came to see classmates play on the Purple Pride team.