Football Archives for Super Bowl LII (2018)

It's a slow Super Bowl's Eve, so just for fun I thought I'd dig into my old archives for a sports-themed post!

For those who only know me from my post-college days, there was in fact a time before landscape photography when I had some actual diversity in my photo subjects! I got my start doing photojournalism at the Daily Californian, UC Berkeley's school newspaper, and got to cover a fair share of football games during the 2008 and 2009 seasons.

A handful of those players have moved on into professional football careers now, so I thought I'd start a little then-and-now project with what I had from my college images. For this Super Bowl I didn't expect to find much, given there was only a single Cal player between either of the teams (the Philadelphia Eagles and teh New England Patriots). But there was actually a surprising number of visiting players, and all of them actually have fairly significant roles!

Michigan State QB Brian Hoyer being tackled by California LB Worrell Williams in 2008.Hoyer is the backup QB for the New England Patriots, and was a starting QB for the San Francisco 49ers earlier this season. Nathan Yan /staff © The Daily Californian

I think this was the brief instant where Michigan State Spartans QB Brian Hoyer was purely blissful to have gotten off the throw, before the reality of a bone crunching ground impact underneath Cal LB Worrell Williams would set in.

This Michigan State game (the 2008 season opener) was actually the first one I ever shot! This was shot from the near sideline, but cropped in on a maxed-out 70-200 2.8, from a 1D Mark II (which had a 1.3x APS-H crop back then). The 70-200 2.8 was my workhorse lens for most games - it was by far the most reliable (getting the focus right, and flexibility to get the framing right on account of its short focal length), but it was definitely rare to get the outstanding money shots at its 200mm (regardless of the crop factor).

Canon 1D Mark II (1.3x crop)
1/6400 | ISO800 | f/2.8
200mm (70-200mm f/2.8)
Arizona Wildcats QB Nick Foles in 2009Foles is the starting QB for the Philadelphia Eagles. Nathan Yan /staff © The Daily Californian

Your Philadelphia Eagles starting quarterback... Nick Foles! With those beautiful golden jesus locks from his Arizona Wildcat days. Not actually cropped in much (this is the full vertical length of the frame). This was during the heyday of my notorious Craigslist empire, so I think I'm probably the only photographer to ever come up with this EXIF at a Cal game:

Canon 5D Mark II (3fps heh)
1/500s | ISO2000 | f/2.8
261mm (try and guess THIS lens =P)
The Cal LB core of Robert Mullins, Mike Mohamed, and Mychal Kendricks take down Washington State RB Chantz Staden in 2008Mychal Kendricks is the starting weakside OLB for the Philadelphia Eagles. Nathan Yan /staff © The Daily Californian

My /r/AccidentalRenaissance submission. It takes the entire combined might of the Cal LB core (Robert Mullins, Mike Mohamed, and Mychal Kendricks - starting OLB for the Philadelphia Eagles) to take down Washington State Cougar RB Chantz Staden. I actually had to go back and match sock patterns to ensure this wasn't Chris Ivory, the other WSU running back with a jersey number starting at #2. So don't be so quick to throw away the surrounding non-keepers in a series before you fill in all the cutline/keyword tagging.

This was shot on the holy grail of pool equipment for the Daily Cal - the Nikon D200 and our ginormous 400mm f/2.8. Definitely the beastliest sports lens I'd ever shot, with buttery background rendition. However! It was terribly unwieldly on a crop body (effectively framing at 600mm). And you basically needed to be in football shape to sprint down the field and reposition yourself with it after a big gain. I wish I had today's equipment and could go back to try that lens on a full-frame body.

Nikon D200 (1.5x crop)
1/800s | ISO640 | f/2.8
400mm (400mm f/2.8)
Cal DB Marcus Ezeff struggles to bring down Arizona TE Rob Gronkowski in 2008Gronkowski is one of the all-time great TEs, starting for the New England Patriots. Nathan Yan /staff © The Daily Californian

Who's that college TE dragging along undersized defenders? Yep, that's Patriots GOAT TE Rob Gronkowski doing his thing while playing with his brother Chris down in Arizona. "Yo soy fiesta" suddenly makes a lot more sense...

Shot from the opposite sideline, cropped in on an already maxed 200mm at f/2.8... on my old Canon 20D. Luckily I caught this with the within the 6 frame buffer it has while shooting RAW - lol.

Canon 20D (1.6x crop)
1/640s | ISO1600 | f/2.8
200mm (70-200mm f/2.8)
Michigan State QB Brian Hoyer being tackled by California LB Worrell Williams in 2008Nathan Yan /staff © The Daily Californian

Earlier from the sequence with Brian Hoyer and Worrell Williams. If you're checking the EXIF, you might be wondering - why ISO800 and 1/6400 (excessively short exposure time for this daylight exposure, when I could have lowered ISO and achieved the same result on this shot)? This was an extremely annoying period of the game where the sun was starting to set and this creeping shadow started to move across the field - these were the settings for daylight, but once players moved into the shadow the light dropped to about a tenth (-3.5 stops). So I set ISO800 as a floor and used spot metering on the players, so I would get the overkill 1/6400 in daylight and a still usable 1/500s when they crossed over into the shadow).

These days of course, cameras have auto-ISO and programmable min shutter speeds which take care of this beautifully. #backinmyday

Canon 1D Mark II (1.3x crop)
1/6400 | ISO800 | f/2.8
200mm (70-200mm f2/.8)


As a sort of photo reflection off these old images, I realize what a shame it was that hardly any of them were actually shot in RAW - this was back in the days of old, slow, and tiny CF cards, with even tinier buffers, so JPEG and absolutely nailing the exposure in-camera was essential. Especially as poor college students with a self-funded paper, the best pool camera we had at first was a Nikon D200, which could lay down the hammer at 5fps for a beefy 24 frames in JPEG mode, which then took on the order of 20s to fully clear to the card. Later on we picked up a Canon 1D Mark II which could hit 8fps for 33 frames, which then took the eternity of 40s to clear to card.

Night lights and cloudy days were the easiest because of the lighting consistency, but of course the stadium lighting was atrocious photographically. I can't imagine how it's like to shoot sports these days, with all the extensive auto-ISO and AF tracking capabilities of today's cameras, and the huge DR pushes that can be made with RAW. Oh and also finally getting full-frame to use these lenses like they were meant to!

For a more thorough and real-time analysis, I actually wrote an article series way back then on my old blog about my gear and technique learnings during the 2008 season. Give it a read if you're starting out with field sports photography!