49ers vs. Texans - Preseason Game

Believe it or not, shooting sports was an after-thought.  As a kid (before the iPhone days!!), I used to save up lunch money to buy rolls of film for my small point-and-shoot camera.  Developing film became expensive for a budding photographer so I picked and choose what I wanted to shoot.  At that time, it was pictures of my friends.  As time went on and frankly, as money allowed for me to get more equipment, I ventured into portrait work and weddings.  Where I really found my calling was when my children became "of age" to play sports, it became a goal of mine to capture their sporting activities.  It was that moment when I realized if I could ever shoot professional athletes.

One thing led to another and here I am...shooting professional athletes in their prime.  While I wouldn't consider this as success by any stretch, it is, however, those goals that I set forth in order to get to where I want to be.  One of the goals was to shoot a 49ers game.

San Francisco 49ers Preseason

I am a big 49ers fan...all the way back as far as I could remember.  I remember watching the game with my maternal immigrant grandfather on those old CRT TVs with the rabbit ears.  I was in charge of making sure the signal was good so that we can both watch the 49ers games every weekend.  I remember watching the games with him at a very young age, but not fully understanding the game other than getting into the end zone.  My grandfather used to get upset when they ran the ball "up the gut" because he loved seeing those long bombs for touchdowns.  Never would I have thought that I would one day cover a 49ers game.

While each game is generally the same when it comes to preparation, the approach is different depending on venue.  I have shot at Levi's Stadium before...on college championship games and soccer matches but now for the first time, MY beloved 49ers football team.

All of my gear...packed and ready to go.

I was very excited when I got the news to cover the game.  Sure...its preseason, but truth be told, I love preseason.  It is the only time when I get to see each and every player showcase their skills.  While the regular season is fun and exciting because of the first stringer players, many of the bench guys don't see the time of day.  Hence, preseason is great for seeing all of the players work their magic.  I ended up arriving approximately 3 hours before kickoff...which is WAY earlier than I would for any normal game.  

My reason for showing up so early was that I wanted to be able to 'get over' the excitement that I was actually covering the 49ers and then focus on the task at hand.I unpacked my trunk and wheeled in the 'tools of the trade' towards the stadium.  After going through the normal security gates, I made my way into the bowels of Levi's Stadium and picked a spot in the Photographer's Workroom.  Most places will have some type of food options for photographers to eat...but given that this was my first 49ers game, I noticed a change.  There was a huge spread that was laid out...including dessert.  After grabbing some food, I picked out my spot in the room so I can take out my equipment. 


While I do check my gear at home before going to any game, this is really a 'secondary check' to make sure that everything that I had brought with me will, in fact, be ready-to-go.  Generally, I carry three different dSLR bodies, each mounted on a different lens (most notably the Canon 400mm f/2.8L lens, Canon 70-200 IS USM f/2.8L lens, and a Canon 17-40mm f/4.0L lens).  This is where I check the lenses for dust debris, adjust my perceived ISO settings and my shutter speed.  I check on the flash cards...making sure ALL of the cards I have both in and outside of the camera have been formatted.  One of the worst feelings is having to make a card change on the field and realizing that the card hasn't been formatted.

Once the secondary check has been completed, I'll start munching on the food while looking over the schedule AND checking the roster.  I prep my software up on my laptop and verify names and places on my captioning software.

Now that the digital paperwork has been cleared, I strap on my Thinktank Steroid Belt...which sits just slightly over my hips.  This thing is amazing...because of its thickness, it acts like a back brace but evens out the load so that I have little to no weight on my back.  I walk out of the tunnel area and onto the field...and while I have done that many times in this stadium, the "feeling" of doing that today was utterly amazing.  This was MY team that I get to shoot pictures for and I am HERE today!


Just some of my gear.  The vest is issued by the NFL but they hold your driver's license hostage.  I would LOVE to keep one of these as a keepsake!

Just some of my gear. The vest is issued by the NFL but they hold your driver's license hostage. I would LOVE to keep one of these as a keepsake!

49ers Players congregate in the south end zone to run a few more warmup plays.

49ers Players congregate in the south end zone to run a few more warmup plays.

I watch players warm up, gather for their last minute training sessions, and hear the pep talks from the veterans.  Players are warming up within a few feet of me and you can already hear the clashes from their football pads and the vibrating feeling on the ground from when they're stomping by me.  Then....just like magic, pregame ceremonies, halftime, and bam...the game was over.  Everything flew by so fast.  

One of my many views from the sidelines.

One of my many views from the sidelines.

Capturing the images of this preseason game was so amazing...and mostly because I got to see most of the players on each team showcase their skills.  After doing the administrative stuff (downloading/captioning photos/sending them via wire), I go home and watch the game...again.

Well...technically, I didn't watch the game when I was at the stadium.  I was working the game.  There is such a huge difference because when I watch games as a fan, my mentality is different.  I cheer.  I sulk.  I get nervous.  I go though a wide range of emotions and count how many yards are left to go.  However, as a photography shooter, I'm worried about one thing:  I want to get THAT shot.  In order to get that shot that I want, I'm strategically thinking of the best place to stand.  I'm thinking about what would be the most likely play call coming up.  I'm looking at the players and following them though my lens.  

August 14, 2016; Santa Clara, CA; San Francisco 49ers tight end Vance McDonald (89) scores the first touchdown of the season during the preseason game against the Houston Texans.  Photo Credit: Stan Szeto

August 14, 2016; Santa Clara, CA; San Francisco 49ers tight end Vance McDonald (89) scores the first touchdown of the season during the preseason game against the Houston Texans. Photo Credit: Stan Szeto

It's a huge mind shift...but at the end of the day, I get to become both the sideline photographer AND enjoy the game as a fan.  Now that I have successfully accomplished this goal, what's next?  Well....the more obvious would be more 49ers game.  But the more obvious would be to continue shooting games...

...because this is what I enjoy.


Me on the sidelines next to the San Francisco 49ers bench.

Me on the sidelines next to the San Francisco 49ers bench.

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