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An Interview with Sports Photographer Craig Mitchelldyer

By Anthony Thurston on March 29th 2013

I had the pleasure recently to interview Craig Mitchelldyer, he is a professional photographer in Portland, Oregon specializing in sports, corporate people and weddings. Craig is a great sports photographer and since that is a big area of interest for me I focused the majority of the questions around that. As the official team photographer for the Portland Timbers, a professional soccer team in the MLS, Craig has created some amazing images in one of the best stadium atmospheres in North American soccer. If you are at all interested in sports photography then I suggest you read the interview, its great stuff.

[Rewind: Check out the Art of the Headshot by Peter Hurley for More Headshot Education]

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1.      For those who may not be familiar, tell us a little about yourself and your photography background. First and foremost I’m a Dad. I have 2 kids ages 5 and 8 and man I love those people. My wife Jennifer and I went to prom together in high school. We’ve been married 11 years. She’s way out of my league and I’m not sure why she sticks around, but I am sure glad she does! It’s crazy how much your life revolves around your family, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. t am so lucky in doing what I do that I get to spend so much time with them. They are often at the studio with me and I’m going to be pretty bummed when the little man goes to school full time because it is going to be awfully quiet in the studio (and there won’t be as many legos!) I love having a pretty flexible schedule so I can be around my family as much as possible, while still working 50-60 hours a week too. I started my career in photography shooting local high school and little league sports for the local weekly newspapers. I loved shooting sports and needed film so it was a win win for me. Get a little cash, get free film and get to see my pictures in the newspaper. I loved it. Eventually a couple years later, 2001-ish I was offered a job as a staff photographer for Community Newspapers here in Portland. I covered everything for the paper, sports, news, features, etc, etc. The best way to grow as a photographer has got to be small community photojournalism. Getting 5 random assignments a day for 4 years straight will really help you grow, quickly. When I first started we shot everything on film and I think 2002 or 2003 we made the switch to digital. I think around that same time I bought my first set of pocket wizards, which then changed the way I shoot forever. I started doing a lot of work for various other newspaper and editorial outlets around Oregon and the US and in 2004 left the paper to begin my freelance career and haven’t looked back since. That is when I started shooting weddings as well.

2.      I see that you shoot portraits, weddings, and sports. What is your favorite genre to photograph? Why? I like them all for different reasons. But if I had to pick just one, I’d say enviornmental portraits are my favorite. I love walking into a location, whether it be an office, a locker room, a football field, or a wedding venue and having just a few minutes to figure out how to make something that doesn’t look that cool, into an image that is not only appealing to look at, but helps tell the story of the person in the picture. That is my favorite thing to do.  I would say shooting for magazines are my favorite assignments.

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3.      What is your go to lens kit for sporting events? Are you a Canon or Nikon guy? I’m a Canon guy. My first camera was a Canon AE-1, then later an Elan 7e, and A2, an EOS 1n and then a DCS520 and pretty much every digital camera they have made since then. Currently, I shoot portraits and most events with 5D Mark II’s and I shoot Sports with 1D Mark IV’s. I also have a 1D Mark Iin and a 30D for remotes and time lapse projects, etc. When the paper went digital, we shot Nikon D1’s, then later D1H’s and D1X’s. I loved the D1H back in the day. Anyway, my go to kit depends on the sport I am shooting, but for soccer games, I shoot with a 300 2.8, a 70-200 2.8 and then either 50mm and 16-35mm. Sometimes a fisheye for stadium shots and crowd photos, etc.

4.      What advice can you give to any of the aspiring sports photographers out there? Don’t do it for free. Seriously. Don’t do it. A lot of people think shooting sports is fun – and it is to a certain point – but is not just a front row seat to a cool event. It’s a ton of work. For a Timbers match that starts at 7pm, I arrive at the stadium around 3:30 or 4 and leave around 10:30 or 11. Football games are even worse. For a college football game I might leave my house at 9am for a 3pm game and get home around 10pm. Night games are the worst. I get home like 1 or 2 am from a game that starts at 7:00. You’re carrying around tons of gear and working your butt off and competing with what seems like a million photographers who are better than you. So make sure you are getting paid!

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5.      You are the team photographer for the Portland Timbers, how did you come by that gig? How have you enjoyed it so far? I LOVE working for the Timbers. The people are fantastic to work with, the players are great to work with and the games are super fun to shoot and there are great pictures to be made at every match. The atmosphere at JELD-WEN Field is the best atmosphere in any sport in any venue I have been to. Nothing even comes close. I started working for the Timbers back in 2002 or 2003, when they were in the USL and the main attraction was the AAA baseball team. They would hire me to shoot mainly baseball stuff and player headshots, etc and call me in to shoot a few soccer matches each season and do program cover photos, etc. Once the team made the jump to MLS, they offered me a contract as the team photographer to cover all home games and provide all the photography for the team.

6.      Is it difficult to manage a portrait and wedding studio in addition to a thriving sports photography business? A lot of times people think I do a ton of stuff…but to me, I only do a couple of things. My elevator speech goes like this: I am a commercial and editorial photographer specializing in sports, corporate people and weddings. I don’t shoot families, or products or models or landscape or maternity photos, or tons of other things. I shoot Weddings, Athletes and People with Ties. That’s it. So its pretty easy to manage. My assistant Liz has been with me for 4 or 5 years now and she makes it a lot easier. She is in charge of most of the office stuff like editing, albums, mailing, orders, delivering images to clients (via web links, etc), designing postcards and emails to send out and just doing everything I don’t always have time for so that I can concentrate on customer service, keeping clients happy and be out shooting. It gets pretty crazy sometimes, but I never feel overwhelmed at all. In fact, I am always trying to bring in more clients and do more. I figure there are 365 days in a year so I should be trying to shoot on 250 of them. Obviously that doesn’t happen, but I don’t stop trying!

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7.      What was your favorite shoot from the last few years? Tell us the story behind it. I often think about this and have no idea how to answer it. I have so many favorites and all for different reasons. But two that come to mind right away are a wedding in Guadaljara, Mexico in 2009 because it was just a really cool experience – read about it here: http://blog.craigmitchelldyer.com/2009/12/04/jose-y-annie-guadalajara-mexico/ a second would probably have to be the Timbers home opener in 2011. Best atmosphere of any event I have ever been to. It was POURING down rain and it was running around everywhere, doing time lapse and shooting action and had 3 or 4 remotes setup, just a crazy amount of work and it was all worth it. http://blog.craigmitchelldyer.com/2011/04/15/portland-timbers-home-opener/

8.      Of all the sporting events that you have covered, have any stood out for you? My best thing I’ve ever seen at a sporting event was a game I didn’t even have a camera at. It was my daughters U8 game a few weeks ago. Her team was tied and and she got the ball at the top of the box and scored a goal right as the buzzer went off. I’ve never been so excited in all my life. I cried. My wife cried it was awesome. Seriously awesome. But that aside, I’ve covered come pretty cool events in the past. A few that come to mind are in April 2010 when Brandon Roy came back 8 days after having knee surgery to lead the Blazers to a win in the playoffs (http://blog.craigmitchelldyer.com/2010/04/24/b-roys-comeback/). I’ve covered some really great prep championships, those are always fun. Another that stands out is a couple years ago at Boise State, I remember the game mostly for the awesome light, but also because they lost at home for the first time in like a million years, I’ll never forget how loud it was in that stadium and then suddenly a quiet like no one was there. People walking out in silence, you could here a pin drop. (http://blog.craigmitchelldyer.com/2011/11/13/boise-blues/) I wish I still shot a lot of prep sports because those were always the best to cover.

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9.      What is your favorite sport to shoot? What would you say is the easiest sport to shoot? Soccer. Without a doubt. I never would have thought I’d say that 10 years ago, but soccer is my favorite for sure. You have to always be paying attention because you never know when a goal is going to be scored and all hell break loose. You have to be ready for it. Every game you have an opportunity to make a great picture and you never know where that picture is going to be. The easiest to shoot? Well, they are all tough in their own way and present their own challenges. I don’t think any sport is “easy” to shoot. Even golf is hard to shoot!

10.  Thanks for taking the time to do this interview, is there anything else you would like to add? Being a photographer is more about being a businessman than anything else. Sure there is taking pictures, but I spend much more time doing business things; marketing, book keeping, social media, networking, estimates, invoices, etc, etc  than I do shooting pictures. To be a successful photographer, remember you are a business first and a photographer second. I can’t stress that enough.

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 In Conclusion

I just wanted to take a moment to thank Craig for taking the time to do this interview. I had a blast talking with him about these topics and learning from someone that I personally look up to in the Sports Photography field in my local area. Stay tuned for Part II  of the interview, a video behind the scenes with Craig at a sporting event, in the coming weeks. If you curios about Craig and would like tos ee more of his work I suggest that you head on over to his website or blog they are both full of great shots!

*Images in article are Courtesy of Craig Mitchelldyer

Anthony Thurston is a photographer based in the Salem, Oregon area specializing in Boudoir. He recently started a new project, Fiercely Boudoir to help support the growing boudoir community. Find him over on Instagram. You may also connect with him via Email.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Joseph Prusa

    Nice interview.

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