What's It Like to Photograph an NFL Playoff Game?

What's It Like to Photograph an NFL Playoff Game?


What's It Like to Photograph an NFL Playoff Game?



Kyle Grantham

Kyle Grantham is a staff photographer at The News Journal in Wilmington, Del. He shoots Eagles games for the newspaper, and I first came across his work when he described the process of making his camera work for the snowy game against the Lions in early December.

He was on-hand last night for Philadelphia’s devastating season-ending loss against New Orleans, and was gracious enough to share some of his thoughts and images from the game with The Big Lead.

What were your general impressions from last night’s game?

As a photographer, it was a great game to shoot because it was really back-and-forth. As somebody who covers the Eagles, it was disappointing because their season ended, and so did mine. At one point when they took the lead, we were sitting there asking each other, “OK, how are we getting to Charlotte?” Like everyone else involved, our emotions were swinging back and forth with the score changes.

Still, though, from a photographer’s perspective it’s ideal to have swings in the game. When you get a blowout like the Chicago game two weeks ago, there’s not a lot of tension. There’s a lot more to see when it’s close — every play has a lot more meaning to it. You might see more touchdowns in a blowout, but there’s a lot of little things and a lot more emotion out of the players when the game’s decided late.

How many more photographers would you guess there were last night for a playoff game versus in a normal regular season game? Does it change what you’re able to do if there’s more of a crowd?

I would say that at a normal game here we probably have about 20 photographers and last night we probably had about 40-45. It’s certainly a little more difficult when there’s more people on the sidelines, but last night also wasn’t like the Super Bowl where you’re just cramped in because there’s hundreds of people there. You’re assigned an area where you can be, and that’s it.

It’s not too bad with last night’s number. Like I said, there were about twice as many people and that limits what you can do a little bit, but everyone understands what’s going on — everyone’s a professional. You get in a flow where people work together and stay out of each other’s ways.


Sometimes I like to take action wider to show context in the middle of the field. This would be a fine photo cropped tight of Cooper waste up preparing for a hit from Bush, but showing the context adds another layer to it.

With the amount of precise functionality you need from your hands, how does the cold temperature impact the photographers’ responsibilities for the game?

I covered the home opener against the Chargers. It was 75 degrees and clear skies. Those are the ideal conditions to shoot in, but then you come out and try to do the same job tonight where it’s 15 degrees outside. It’s a total challenge — your fingers stiffen up, you’re holding a metal object. Everyone has a different way they approach gloves, whether it’s fingerless or super thin, or no gloves at all. You need some kind of dexterity.


This photo was a different “dejection” shot, if you will. McCoy came to Jackson as the Saints set up for their game winner, and walked away just as they kicked. It humanizes these guys we only identify by numbers hidden behind masks and shows their emotion in the game’s outcome.

When you take a picture, do you know right away that you got a great one or do you filter through them later and discover it then?

It kind of depends. That’s the beauty of digital photography — I can look at the back of my screen and see, “Did I get it or not?” There are times when I know I got it, and there are times when something happens right in front of me and I’m praying that my camera will focus for that split-second.

Since things happen so quickly, there are definitely points where I don’t have time to look at the back of my screen and see if I got something — especially with the way the Eagles run their hurry-up offense — if I’m admiring my work, I’m gonna miss something else. I’ll come back in at half-time or the end of the game and look at my photos and be like, “Oh sweet — I didn’t even know I had that.”


This is a classic example of not knowing what you have until you get back. On the surface it’s just a photo of Thornton leaping to defend a pass (which wound up getting intercepted) but when I can see it on a 15” screen as opposed to the back of my camera, I could read Thornton’s glove where he had written “Drew Brees 2 Sacks” and a bunch of other stuff on the fingers I couldn’t quite make out.

How many photos would you estimate you snap in one NFL game? How many of them from each game actually end up in the newspaper?

Yesterday I took 2,330. It really varies how many of them end up getting used. Usually there’s only one of us here, so if it’s just me then maybe four or five end up in print. We had three photographers here last night, so we’ll probably each get about two in the paper. We also put up a gallery from each game with 50 photos, so again if I’m the only one here those will all be mine but if there’s others then its split.

How does it work during the game when you have teammates at the game — how does that change your role?

Before the game starts, we’ll map out where we’re gonna be because the last thing you want is two photographers from the same newspaper standing next to each other — you’ll obviously get the same photos. So we worked it out tonight where we had one photographer in each end zone and I roamed the sidelines.

I went around the benches of both teams, which gave me the opportunity to both get different angles on the plays and to get some of the sideline features, too.


This is a pretty standard dejection shot, but it was a little different. Again a lot of people might go tight on the players, and I made that shot too, but just that they were sitting on two levels of the bench, had two kind of different expressions (the blank stare and the looking down) meant that it showed a different layer.

When you’re the only one there, how do you decide what your strategy’s gonna be?

You want to cover your ass first, so the first thing I’ll do is shoot the first quarter from the end zone because I know I can get some photos there. You’re gonna get cleaner backgrounds — you’re not gonna get people coming in your way. So I’ll shoot from there, till I know I have something.

After that I’ll kind of move around and let myself play from there, come in at half-time, transmit electronically so we have something for print and something for the web — I want to spend a majority of the third quarter doing that, then I’ll come back towards the beginning of the fourth. At that point, if I’ve already sent something good in, I’ll play around a little bit, look for feature-y stuff, and try to find different angles. Basically, just take some time for myself to hopefully make some more creative images.


This photo is just funny to me. I have no idea how Cooper wound up between Harper’s legs when he came down, but photos like that are always fun to make.

What type of cameras do you use, and what do you use each one for?

I use a Canon 6D and a 1D Mark III. I’ll put my long glass on the Mark III. For tight action, the latter is more advantageous. Otherwise, I’ll put my zoom glass on the 6D and use that on the end zones primarily, or I’ll use it on the sidelines for some feature stuff. It’s got a slower frame rate (so it’s not as good for action), but it’s full frame so the files are bigger, which gives me a higher ISO range and more tonal range.

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