In anticipation of the start of the local high school football season we're talking to Damian Mulinix, staff photojournalist at the Chinook Observer. He's also responsible for the photos you see here on the Friday Night Sights blog and the Observer Sports Blog. Today we'll be talking about how he goes about shooting local sports for the paper and the blogs.
FNS - So the summer is winding down, which around here means time to get back to sports right?
DM - Yeah, I actually shot my first sports assignments in a couple months last week when I got out to the first week of football practice at Naselle and Ilwaco.
FNS - How do you go about choosing which games to cover?
DM - Well, it's somewhat of a collaborative process at our paper, where we have a weekly staff meeting and talk about what everyone is working on for the next week's edition. Being a weekly we don't have the room to photos from games every day, and plus by the time we publish some of the stuff is a bit dated. Usually we pick a few games that have a strong storyline. Since there's only one of me I can't be at both Ilwaco and Naselle's games on Friday night, so we choose a game of the week, which both me and sports writer Kevin Heimbigner go to. It's almost always a home game and usually the one that has the best potential for being a meaningful game.
FNS - You mentioned that with the cycle of the paper being what it is, that some of the sports coverage is a little dated by the time it reaches the printed page, is that where the blogs come in?
DM - Yeah, the blogs and Observer Web site are key in keeping people up to date on sports that happen throughout the week. So I guess in that way we're not really a weekly after all, as those gets updated as stuff happens. But the printed paper is still a cool thing to hold onto. A lot of parents especially will clip out articles or photos. It's pretty cool when you're at someone's house and something you've shot is on their fridge.
FNS - So talk about your routine for covering like a football game for example.
DM - Yeah, so I usually will arrive at a game at least a half hour early, depending on the significance of the game. For example, during the playoffs last year as Naselle advanced to the semifinal round, I would get there over an hour ahead of time (that doesn't count drive time as they were all on the road). Anyway, after getting all my stuff together I'll cruise around the field as teams are warming up. There's usually a couple good pix to be found then. I also use that time to talk to players and coaches, which sometimes is helpful in getting me up to speed on what may take place on the field that night, or get me caught up if a player is injured and won't be playing.
During the game I usually stay on the side of the field of the team I'm covering. One of the best things about shooting high school sports is there really isn't many places you can't stand to take pix during a game, so I usually nestle into where the players are standing. This usually keeps the action in front of me and I can turn and get reaction too as stuff takes place. As far as shooting action goes, depending on what lens I'm using and what kinda shot I'm trying to get I will usually try and stay at least 10 yards ahead of the team, that way as the play happens the action is coming at me.
FNS - When you're shooting sports are you looking for killer action or emotion from players?
DM - Both usually, it depends on how the game goes. To me, action can be dime a dozen, so I usually work the sidelines and other areas pretty hard to get more emotion pix, as I think they can say a lot more about what happened during the game. Of course if an awesome play happens right in front of me I have to be ready for that too.
I'll let you in on a little secret, which a lot of photographers already know — one of the best places to catch real emotion isn't on the sideline, but in the locker room, away from the crowd and the game. I'm very lucky in that most coaches around here don't mind me being in their locker room at halftime, pregame, postgame. But you have to be respectful. Like with most things I shoot, I try to just melt into the background and shoot as things happen. If you make yourself so obvious than people won't be real. But you let them go about their business and just shoot away while things happen you usually get some pretty cool stuff.
FNS - And what about getting stuff onto the Web sites after games?
DM - Nowadays after whatever game I'm shooting it's back to the office for usually a couple hours of editing, toning and building a Web gallery. At a normal football game I'll usually shoot around 600-800 pix. If it's a big game or playoffs or something it'll easily be over 1,000. On Friday nights I usually have the Web gallery upon the blog by like 11 pm. And it's kinda funny, I can track how many people are hitting the blog and at what time and from where, and sometimes I'll check before I head home and there's already been 10-12 people checking it out (usually from the Naselle area).
FNS - Not to get all tech or anything, but what kind of equipment do you shoot football with?
DM - Yeah, um, usually two or three camera bodies. I use pro Nikon bodies and lenses. It really depends on what kinda shot I want to get. If I wanna stay close to the team I'll go with a wide zoom and a long zoom, if I'm looking for more action I'll also add a 300mm f2.8 to the mix, and maybe go with a third body, but I've found that I really go that route during daytime playoff games. I usually like to travel pretty light during a game, so the two bodies and the two zooms are pretty standard for me. I also use a Think Tank belt system with couple compartments for my keys, cell, digital audio recorder, extra batteries and CF cards.
One thing I don't take is a flash anymore. I just never like the way the pix look with flash under the stadium lights (and the ones here can be brutal). This usually isn't that big a deal during the first month of the season as it stays daylight for usually the first half, but as the season goes on my stuff gets grainier as I have to keep bumping up the ISO. Who knows, maybe I'll get desperate and break my rule this year?
FNS - So you're looking forward to the start of the fall season?
DM - Oh for sure. I was just telling my boss today that it always feels like there's a void in my weekly work when I don't have a game (or four) to shoot, so yeah I'm looking forward to it. I've always liked shooting sports. It was really the first thing I did when I started doing photos back in high school 16 years ago. I think both Naselle and Ilwaco will have pretty good seasons this year too, so it should be fun.
You can see Damian's work every week in the Chinook Observer, and on his photo blog Picture Window
Q & A is a new feature on Friday Night Sights and will feature different people related to local football throughout the season.
*All photos by David Plechl/For Friday Night Sights