Storytellers: Up Next - Sports Photographer Maddie Meyer Prepares to Take the Lead

By Amy Touchette

David Wilson, #22 of the New York Giants, celebrates in the end zone after scoring a touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, on October 6, 2013.

One might train as an athlete a lot like Maddie Meyer has been training as a sports photographer: at the heart of both are hours and hours of tried-and-true practice, fueled by a fierce love for the game. Smartly, ever since beginning her studies in Ohio University’s visual communications program toward a bachelor of science in photojournalism, Meyer has also been cross-training by diligently pursuing photojournalism internships and attending workshops, including the acclaimed Eddie Adams Workshop in October 2013.

Auspicious Beginnings

Washington Nationals relief pitcher Craig Stammen, right, dumps a bucket of Gatorade over Washington Nationals right-fielder Jayson Werth and MASN reporter Julie Alexandria, following the Nationals win over the Phillies at Nationals Park in Washington, DC, on August 10, 2013. © Maddie Meyer /Getty Images

But Meyer’s passion for photojournalism started long before college, when, at the age of eight, she had the great fortune to meet renowned photojournalist Doug Mills. Meyer had just joined a soccer team, and her teammate’s father was often on the sidelines photographing their games. That soccer dad turned out to be Mills.

Raised in an artistic family and continually enrolled in art classes and camps throughout her childhood, Meyer had already learned she was better suited to “the instant gratification of photography” than the patience required of painting, pottery, drawing and the like, so she approached Mills with her interest, and he effectively began mentoring her from this young age. Mills, who was working for AP at the time and is now a staff photographer at the New York Times, would let Meyer check out his camera and tell stories about photographing at the Olympics and on Air Force One. Considered one of the best news and sports photographers working today, Mills “was my inspiration for trying to become a photographer,” Meyer, now age 21, says, and “to this day, he is a great mentor to me.”

This fortuitous, nurturing beginning eventually allowed her to find the subject matter she’s most inspired to photograph: sports. Meyer explains that she’s “drawn mostly to loud, dynamic images,” so it’s not surprising to find her enthralled with the theatrics of sporting events. She enjoys “the intensity of the athletes, coaches and fans” and “definitely gets an adrenaline rush before the game-winning shot or as she races onto the field to find the coaches shaking hands,” she says. Meyer also takes pleasure in the team aspect of photographing sports, like “talking about a photographic strategy before a game in order to have the best coverage of an event.” Finally, and maybe above all, like a true athlete, Meyer is inspired to photograph sports simply for the challenge of it. “It’s easy to take a lot of OK sports pictures, but it’s really tough to make one great sports image,” she says, especially one that’s different from the photos of “the other ten people sitting on the baseline right next to you.”

Learning on the Job

Miguel Zuniga throws a right-hand punch to the face of Michael Perez during their junior welterweight fight at Barclays Center on September 30, 2013. © Maddie Meyer /Getty Images

One important way Meyer has been tackling the challenge of becoming a sports photographer is by doing internships (all but one of which have been paid). To date, she has had four, including her current intern position at Getty Images Sport, and has another already lined up at the Seattle Times for summer 2014. This varied photo industry exposure has allowed her to gain hands-on skills, develop mentors, network and travel, but above all, they’ve been, as Meyer puts it, a “safe place to say, ‘Help, I’ve never done this before.’ It’s nice to have some of those experiences before entering the ‘real world,’ where people might not be as helpful to their competition.” This experience has been particularly gratifying at Getty Images Sport, says Meyer: “Where else would you be able to have one-on-one instruction with Al Bello on how to shoot boxing? Or sit down with Melina Mara and Nikki Khan of the Washington Post to talk about their approach to daily assignments?”

Interactions such as these are what Meyer likes best. Working frequently with Getty’s Al Bello and Elsa Garrison, whom she calls “amazing mentors,” Meyer explains it’s been incredibly insightful to compare how they approach events and what each of them come away with after a game. “The most challenging part of my time at Getty has been the pressure to shoot a large volume of images at a high-quality level,” she says, especially when given the assignment to cover boxing, tennis, and hockey—sports she hadn’t photographed before. The fact that all the while Getty staff has been there for her, answering even “the stupidest of questions,” she says, has been invaluable.

Often armed with three Nikon D3s and an array of lenses from 14mm to 400mm, Meyer says she tries “to pick up on a player’s body language to show emotion and illustrate the joy or frustration felt by the athletes.” Because “sporting events are often really loud and chaotic,” she also tries to make images “that are more about how one athlete is feeling so the audience can connect with players on an emotional level.” It helps if you gather some background information beforehand, Meyer explains. “If you know someone is returning to play after an injury or a team is on a winning or losing streak, you can make some telling images between plays or by looking toward the bench.”

Forging Ahead

Eric Griffin of the Miami Heat jumps over Mason Plumlee of the Brooklyn Nets during the fourth quarter at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, on October 17, 2013. © Maddie Meyer /Getty Images

This steady stream of internships combined with obligations as an undergraduate student leaves Meyer little time for personal work, but in typical athlete fashion of never giving up and always pushing the limits, she has restarted a project inspired by her boss at Getty, who suggested at the start of her internship that, outside her regular workload, she take one picture a day with a film camera, “in the end producing a contact sheet to document my time in New York. I loved the idea,” she says, “but my pictures were terrible. I had a really hard time slowing down to shoot just one image. It seemed very stagnant to me, and it definitely came across in my images.” Yet, realizing how important it is for her “to be able to slow down and document this hectic time in my life,” she recently challenged herself to try the project again for an entire year.

In the meantime, Meyer is preparing to graduate from Ohio University in December 2014 by enrolling in her final capstone class, which happens to include video, a format she’s already familiar with. In 2012, as part of Ohio University’s “Soul of Athens” project, Meyer made “Finance vs. the Future,” a video about the rising costs of higher education and the adverse impact this is having on students. What resulted is a very human, moving portrayal of a problem deeply affecting those in Athens, Ohio, as well as nationwide.

While she doesn’t feel knowing video is required of all photographers today, Meyer does think it will make her more marketable, since most job postings she’s seen at newspapers require “multimedia experience.” Whatever Meyer’s medium of choice might lead to, it will likely be in her favorite environment: “where subjects are very focused on their own activities, life or job,” she says, allowing her “to sit back and disappear.”


Still from the video Finance v.s. the Future © Maddie Meyer

In the four-minute video, Finance v.s. the Future, Maddie Meyer investigates the issue of college tuition and student loans through candid interviews with students and administrators at her alma mater, Ohio University (OU). Says OU student Tonya Atha, “It’s hard to go from being poor to getting better, because the only way to get better nowadays is to have an education and to have that degree stuck up on your wall so someone can see it.” Watch the video in our digital edition or, to view it on vimeo, click here.

CAMERA: Nikon D3
LENSES: AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED
AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED
NIKKOR 35mm f/1.4
AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G
AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II
AF-S NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8G ED VR
COMPUTER: Macbook Pro 15”
SOFTWARE: Adobe CS5 Creative Suite, Photo Mechanic




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