Veteran shooter, Elsa Garrison walks us through a dream assignment
For many of us, photographing the Super Bowl from the field is a dream assignment. Unfortunately, it's not one many of us will every receive. Getty Photographer, Elsa Garrison, however, has been to the big game nine times. So, let's live vicariously through her and find out exactly what it means to be behind the camera at one of the world's biggest spectacles.
When do you typically find out you're going to be covering the Super Bowl?
We usually start to find out who's going some time in December. There are a couple spots left open for the local team photographers.
How many photographers are on the team?
We have five photographers on the field and another four up in the first row of the stands at the four corners of the field. Then we have a couple photographers who are elevated in the mid section. There's also another shooter who's even higher up in the stands shooting wider. It's a pretty big team.
Where were you stationed last year?
I was on the field last year on the Patriots' bench side. We divide the field up into quadrants. There was one more photographer on the Patriots' sideline with me. We had two guys on the other side and then there's one photographer who just runs back and forth and shoots from the end zone when the offense is coming.
So, you're assigned a quadrant and you wait for the action to come to you?
Last year, when the Patriots were on offense, I followed them. If they were driving toward my quadrant, once they got past the 30 yard line, I'd go into the end zone and the other guy on that side would come to about the 20 to shoot the scoring drive. If it was going away from me, I'd stay in my quadrant and wait for an interception or a fumble recovery to be run back for a touchdown. That way, you have all your bases covered.
Elsa Garrison/Getty Images
How does that set-up differ from a typical NFL game?
When I'm shooting a normal game, it's usually just one of us on each sideline. You basically just follow the offense. If they're having a really good passing game, I'll go up the field. Or if the defense is particularly good, I'll hang back and wait for a sack. If it's primarily a running game maybe I won't go up as far as I would for a passing game. You have to know the sport.
But, during the Super Bowl, you're assigned a quadrant and it's your responsibility to make sure you get whatever happens in your area. Regular season, if you miss something, it's still a big deal, but in the Super Bowl, you really don't want to be caught out of your position.
Have you had good luck getting action in your quadrants?
There have been games, like the Super Bowl in Miami with New Orleans and Indianapolis, my quadrant didn't get a lot of action. I only got one touchdown the whole game. I was sitting in the first row of the stands on the Saints' side. The last play of the game, the Colts were driving toward our end zone and I started thinking, "Oh, good. I'm going to get the game-winning touchdown." Then he threw a pick and it was over. There have been some Super Bowls where I've seen pretty much everything, though.
What happens when the game is over? It always seems like chaos for photographers running onto the field once the clock runs out.
We're all assigned to something for post-game. Last game, I was following Tom Brady, win or lose. That was my job at the end of the game. So, when the game ended, I left my long lens with one of the runners and I sprinted out there and followed him off the field. Some guys follow the coaches. Some guys take their long lenses and stand on the team's bench and face the stage.
Is it bedlam trying to be the first one into the pile?
You want to get in that scrum early, especially if you're short, like me [laughs]. If I'm not right next to the guy, I'm not going to see him. You have to elbow your way in. It gets kind of rough sometimes.
How long do you follow the players after the game is over?
Sometimes they'll let you into the locker room after the game and sometimes they won't. It depends on the team and the PR people. A lot of times, it's not easy to get into those locker rooms. It's not like baseball, basketball, and hockey where they let outlets in for the celebration. Usually, once the team gets to the locker room, it's time to go transmit pictures.
Are you continuously sending out images over the course of the game?
We'll usually have a team of editors as part of our big workflow. We're constantly sending images to them, they're editing and sending them out throughout the game. It's a constant stream.
Elsa Garrison/Getty Images
Do you use card runners to get the images back to the editors?
Yes, we do. We've tried to use the little hot spot things to use the wireless transfer right from our cameras. It works well if you're trying to peg a single image and send it back to the editor in real time. But, last year, my quadrant was kind of a dead zone. It was so slow. There were a few plays where I thought it would've been great to get the shot out quickly, but I had to wait for the runner. They're pretty fast, though.
How far do the card runners actually have to run?
Last year, the work areas were in these portable trailers just outside the stadium. We had a spot in between, in the outer ring of the stadium, where a guy would take all the cards from the runners and dump to the editors. It cut down on the amount of running, which saved time.
What about the shooters up in the seats? Do they have to rely on runners as well?
When I shot in the seats in Miami, I was plugged directly into a hardline, so everything I shot went directly to the editor, immediately. There's no editing or erasing the bad pictures in that scenario. They see everything. You start thinking about whether you're shooting too much and stuff like that. But, then you realize you have more pressing things to worry about than whether the editor thinks you're shooting too heavy.