Veteran shooter, Elsa Garrison walks us through a dream assignment
Do you edit in-camera when you're on the field?
Maybe you look at the back of the camera for a minute just to see if you got it. Maybe you tag one you want the editor to see right away. I don't shoot as heavy as some. During a Super Bowl, you definitely shoot a little heavier. But, you don't have a lot of time to edit down your take anyway.
Also, during a big game like that, you just never know what sort of play will mean something. It could be a boring tackle, but then the guy is out for the rest of the day, that picture becomes really important. It's best just not to mess with things.
What's in your kit when you're on the field?
I bring two Canon 1D Xs bodies. One has a 1.4x converter and a 400mm F/2.8 lens, which I'll use most often. I'll also have a 24-70mm F/2.8 hanging around my neck set around 50mm. I use that for when I'm in the end zone and someone makes a catch right in front of me. Occasionally I'll bring a 70-200mm F/2.8 on a third camera body. If they're on the goal line and you think one of the players is just going to dive over the pile, the 400mm can be a little too tight for something like that. 95% of the time, though, I'm using the 400mm lens with the 1.4x converter.
I used to shoot with a 300mm and a 600mm, but the new converters are really sharp, so I feel comfortable with it on the 400mm. I can also run faster with it.
Elsa Garrison/Getty Images
When do you typically arrive in the Super Bowl city? Do you shoot the whole week or just the game?
It depends. I've done the whole week where you get there Monday and the do media day on Tuesday. Friday is typically the big press conference day. The last three Super Bowls, I've come in on Thursday. They'll have all the media stuff pretty much all day on Friday. Saturday will have a few more press conferences, but it's mostly just waiting for the big game to start.
When do you actually arrive at the stadium for the game to start shooting?
We get there about four or five hours before the game to start getting situated. Then we go out and shoot the little details around the stadium and people coming in. You slowly get to work a couple hours before the game. A few guys will go out and get people tailgating and then others will go and get warm-ups for the bigger players like the quarterbacks and the running backs. Sometimes the owners are milling around or celebrities are in attendance before the game, you can shoot that.
Last year, I shot the Patriots warming up. They weren't in their uniforms, which is part of the reason they like to have shooters who cover the teams a lot. You know who the players are, even if they're not wearing their jerseys. I know what the coaches look like and even the assistant coaches.
Usually we get to the field about a half-hour to an hour before the game. Once the game starts it's just go, go until the end.
When do you start transmitting images?
After the kickoff and the first series, you try to get pictures of the quarterbacks and we start shipping those images right away. After the first four downs, I'm sending a card, whether they score or not.
Do you have a ballpark number of images you'll shoot during a game like this?
It really depends on the game, but my playoff games the last couple of weeks have been around a thousand images. That's about average. There are some people who shoot much heavier, and I will too if there's a lot of action. Sometimes it's a little less, too.
Does it get competitive with the other photographers out there trying to get the iconic Super Bowl shot?
Yeah! [Laughs]. My co-workers and I are all one big team and we know what our assignments are, so even if everything doesn't go your way, you want to at least have a good showing. You've been picked to go to the Super Bowl, so you want to show what you can do. At the end of the game, though, it gets a little competitive. I don't want to let anybody down. It's not for the weak.
How do you decide when to shoot tight and when to step back for a more wide angle approach?
You mix it up a bit. If I'm in one of the quadrants and they're kicking off to me, I'll try to get to the middle of the end zone a little bit and shoot wider. That way you get the ball coming to the guy catching it. If I'm in one of the elevated areas, I definitely shoot the kickoff wide.
With big games, like playoff games or season openers and stuff like that, there will often be fireworks or a flyover or something and you want to shoot that wider. As far as the action stuff, goes, I mix it up a little bit. Most of the time, I'll shoot a little tighter. I'll shoot some full body and then some half. I like to wait in the end zone and wait for them to come to me because I feel like the backgrounds are a little bit cleaner. If the backgrounds are really messy, I'll shoot even tighter.
How much of a chance do you get to really be creative with your shots? Or do you keep things more straight forward for the sake of the assignment?
Super Bowls are at night or indoors, so the light is all pretty much the same and you can't really play. But, if you're shooting outdoors during a day game, I'll try and work with the light a little bit. Maybe I'll find a little beam of light or something and I'll try to make that work while a play is going on.
I like to shoot backlit a lot. I just really like the way it looks. Some people don't like to do it, but why wouldn't you? It's beautiful? [Laughs]
Elsa Garrison/Getty Images
Where do you go during the halftime show? Do they push you off the field for the big production?
During the regular season, the NFL gives us all colored vests that we wear out onto the field. We get tan vests. It's part of our credential and it lets people know that we're allowed to be on the field. During the Super Bowl, there are different colors for different areas. The elevated people will have one color. The field people will have another color. Then, there's one white vest. Each outlet gets one. The white vest is for coin tosses, pre-game stuff, and halftime shows. That color can go onto the field and up close. The rest of us are shoved off to the sidelines. They bring all the stuff onto the fields and you do shoot it, but from wherever you happen to be.
Do you have any personal favorite Super Bowl pictures from the games you've shot?
It's hard to say, but I kind of liked the shot of Brady walking off the field last year. It was kind of sad. He's looking up and the confetti is coming down. It's a sad moment, and it's a newsy photo, but I like it. I like the more subtle moments more than the standard action pictures.
One other Super Bowl, I got a photo of Eli celebrating. He was running right toward me and he just gave it up. I knew that was going to get some play. The Super Bowl was in Phoenix that year, and had the Patriots won, I would've had to fly back really early to shoot the parade. But, since they lost, I got two days off [laughs].
It seems like the reaction shots are often as rewarding as the action shots.
Yeah, I tend to like reaction photos better than the action stuff. There's just more emotion in them and that's probably the most fascinating part of the game. Even if your team doesn't win.