© DAVID EULITT/THE KANSAS CITY STAR
Kansas City Star photographer David Eulitt began covering the Kansas City Chiefs in 1992, when he was shooting for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He now covers the team at home and away, and has earned a reputation among his peers as one of the best football photographers currently shooting pro football.
PDN: What appeals to you about covering football?
David Eulitt: The pace, the visual violence, the uniforms, the stadium, the lights, the weather. It’s super visual.
PDN: What’s fundamentally different about covering football from other sports?
D.E.: Baseball is a mixture of boredom and fast action that happens at random times, which requires a whole different mindset. When you go to a football game, you know you’re going to get something.
PDN: So what makes shooting football a challenge?
D.E.: There’s a whole dance of following the play, choosing the right field position, and anticipating what might happen on the basis of what you know about the team you cover every day. There’s a decision-making process on every play. It’s what if, what if? If something unexpected happens, you may get caught [and miss the image of the action].
PDN: What are the physical demands of the job?
D.E.: You’re moving up and down the field on every play, or every other play. You can’t shoot in the area between the 25 yard lines of each team, so there’s a lot of running behind the bench, and NFL sidelines are super crowded with TV guys, sound guys, and cable runners. I also kneel when I shoot. That’s tough on knees, but it cleans up background a lot.
PDN: What gear do you carry?
D.E.: I carry two cameras. A lot of photographers have three or more, but when I’m running up and down sidelines, it’s easier to keep two cameras from banging around, and I don’t have to spend time sorting them out.
I shoot with Canon Mark IVs. One has an f2.8 400 mm lens, which I use 90 percent of the time, and the other has a 70-200 mm lens. I also carry a 16-35 mm lens in a fanny pack that I will use for feature pictures.
I’m always shooting with available light. I do have a Canon hot shoe mounted flash that I use only in the tunnel, during the pre-game player introductions. I never have the flash mounted during the game.
PDN: What distinguishes a really good football photographer?
D.E.: Photo editors insist that I get key plays of the game, not just super graphic pictures of helmets popping off. I have to [anticipate] the action, and if I don’t do that well, somebody else is going to [take my job]. It’s a little like gambling. You’re hoping the chances you take are going to pay off. Once or twice in a season I [miss] and I think about it on the plane ride on the way home.
The one place I like to hang my hat is shooting [feature] pictures between plays, which might be witty, or funny, or sad. I love a good action picture as much as anybody, but I’m trying to show people who read our paper the emotion of the game, and what it’s like to be on the team.
PDN: What are some tips and tricks for getting the key plays?
D.E.: First, think about what the play could be. Are they driving on offense? Stalling out after third down and punting? Then think about what’s the best background, and what the light is like. You want to shoot with the biggest aperture you can get away with, because that helps blur out the background.
I try to anticipate whether the action will take place on the side of the field, or in the middle. When you look [through the viewfinder], the question is whether the players are coming into composition: you’re thinking, it’s going to happen. . . it’s going to happen. . .and there it is. There’s a poetry where everything happens. The best action happens at 1/1,000th of a second. The lesser stuff happens before or after.
PDN: Yeah, but how do you nail it on that 1/1,000th of a second?
D.E.: It’s a matter of knowing an eye blink before it happens. The best sports photographers are knowledgeable enough about their sport to know when something is about to happen. Shooting football is like looking through a paper towel tube. The best photographers have awareness of what’s coming from the sides of the frame. You can’t see it, but you know it’s going to happen. The hardest thing to do is shoot a sport you’ve never shot before. You don’t have any idea what the athletes are going to do, so you’re reacting rather than anticipating. If you’re reacting, you’re already too late.
PDN: What are some common errors that beginners make?
D.E.: At first I didn’t shoot tight enough. On my first job, for AP, Cliff Schiappa would [look at] my pictures, cut 60 percent out, and say, “There it [the picture] is.” After a while you develop an eye that eliminates distractions. Shooting tight is what you have to adjust to—getting timing and then eliminating as much distraction as you can.
PDN: What advice do you have for photographers who want to shoot pro football?
D.E.: It’s virtually impossible to learn how to shoot at NFL games. Access is so restricted. I started shooting high school and Division 2 games. They’re ecstatic to see you come and cover their team. It’s a great way to learn how to shoot football. You can learn a lot about the technique and approaches, and there’s an emotion at [those levels] that’s lacking in pro football, which is a business with a lot of grandstanding.