This past Sunday the weather forecast for the Philadelphia area had called for a light coating of snow, but just before the start of the Eagles game it looked like a blizzard outside. While I sat comfortably on my couch watching one of the craziest football games I’ve ever seen, the snow didn’t seem to let up, accumulating to over 6 inches on the field by halftime. I watched as both teams struggled in the beginning to adjust to the elements, trying to get traction and keep their footing. As the game went on some players adjusted better then others, making for some big plays and a great game.
Just as the players had to quickly try and adjust to the elements and harsh conditions, so did the photographers on the sidelines. Shooting an NFL game in light flurries is one thing, shooting in a complete white out is another, especially when trying to auto-focus on moving players that are a good distance away.
Kyle Grantham, a staff photographer with The News Journal in Wilmington, Del was one of the photographers on the sidelines struggling to get a good shot through the wall of snow coming down. Watching as the other photographers gave up trying to get shots of the action from across the field, he thought he would try something a little different then the others. It paid off.
Kyle explained that while shooting a football game in the snow makes for fantastic photos, it’s also the most challenging scenario a modern photojournalist can find themselves. Cameras today rely so heavily on autofocus for sports that snow renders them functionally useless.
Imagine trying to photograph someone standing behind a waterfall. Even if you can see them clearly, no matter what you do your camera focuses only the water. The same went for every thick snowflake between me and the players on the field, and when you consider there were thousands falling every second the challenge was daunting.
Some photographers coped by abandoning their long glass and switching to a 70-200. While plays in the middle of the field would be hard to capture, you could document features on the sidelines and hope the storm let up soon enough to bring the long glass back. About midway through the first quarter, with the snow falling so hard it was beginning to accumulate inside my lens hood, I decided to switch my 400mm lens to manual focus, and literally try my hand at focusing on my own. I’ve never shot football on full manual but it was the only way I’d come back with something different.
Kyle compared shooting in manual mode to that of driving a car without power steering, or trying to fly the space shuttle without autopilot, but he tried it anyway. He came back with some of the best photos he has ever taken at a football game, and when the snow let up in the second half he had a new appreciation for the autofocus button.
Eagle’s running back LeSean McCoy found a way to adjust to the elements and found traction when it seemed like no one else could, rushing for career high 217 yards. Photographer Kyle Grantham found a way to adjust as well, taking a chance rather than playing it safe and it paid off in a career day for him as well. Football is considered a game of inches. One inch can be the difference between winning and losing. Photography can be game of seconds, one second can be the difference between getting the shot of lifetime and missing it. Kyle could have packed up and hoped for the weather to clear. Instead he kept at it, took a chance, and it paid off. “If you don’t dare to fail you’ll never succeed”, he says.