Early in my photo career I was a newspaper staff photographer in Florida and one of my favorite assignments was shooting big time college football. We covered Florida, Florida State and Miami games and they always had exciting teams. That’s were I learned the sidelines were packed with guys shooting the long glass but only a few who could get that great shot week in and week out, rain or shine. Faster forward 20 years and little has really changed. Most people can get a decent action photo some of the time but the shooters that were the real deal were few and far between. Rod Mar is “Real Deal”.
He was a sports photographer at the Seattle Times newspaper for nearly 20 years who now makes his living as the official photographer for several sports teams: the Seattle Sounders FC (that’s pro soccer for the soccer-challenged), and the Seattle Seahawks. His photos also appear in Sports Illustrated.
He has just started a new blog called– Eye on the Hawks, (http://eyeonthehawks.seahawks.com) which will be the proof to my earlier claim that he is the real deal. Being the team photographer, he has amazing access and his pictures really stand out.
I wanted to ask Rod something kind of off the wall, something to see how his brain works. So I gave him a theoretical assignment: Imagine you are at a game with only one lens. You only have to bring back just one picture but it has to be great. What lens do you use for capturing that “GREAT” picture. I knew Rod has all the latest gear — Nikon D3s, a 600mm F4, 400 2.8, 200-400 zoom, all the latest equipment. Still, he surprised me with his answer.
‘If I have an entire game to shoot, and I’m going to make one picture that’s memorable, I’m going to take the risk and do that wide angle,” Rod told me. “I think a lot of people with auto focus can run a 600mm, 400mm or a 300 2.8. But the pictures that are special are the ones that are unusual.”
“I’m going to take that wide angle and work the end zones and the sidelines and try to make something really cool within 10 yards of me.”
His use of the term “run” brought me right to my next question. How has modern technology changed sports photography? He answered by drawing an analogy to school. In Rod’s view, auto focus allowed more shooters to take up sports photography. But auto focus alone can only get you so far.
“In the manual focus days there was a big separation between the people who could follow focus and those that couldn’t,” Rod said. “Follow focusing was a skill that made you a great sports photographer along with your ability to know the game and capture moments.”
“So without some skill and practice, manual focus meant pictures that would earn a D- or an F”. Rod said, “Auto Focus has allowed a lot of people to get a C+. The ability to get that “A” grade is what separates the top pros from everyone else. Auto focus is a great equalizer but there will always be that separation. There is a reason why the top guys at SI, the top guys in the world, are still the top guys in the world. Even with all this technology they have just upped their game even further. They are just brilliant, visually, the way they think and their work ethic.”
Maybe there is more to sports photography than 9 frames a sec.
Here is a photo by USA today photographer Robert Hanashiro showing Rod Mar on the sidelines of a Seattle Seahawks football game with his trusty Nikon 600mm F4 lens. If you have an extra $10,249.95 you can get one from B&H Photo. Anyone (with the cash) can own one but being able to shoot great photos with one—that may take some practice. The lens alone weighs over 11 pounds so you might need to get to the gym so you can run up and down the sidelines with this for three hours a game.
In this photo, Rod has made a very nice clean action shot with the runner and ball visible but the runner was clearly having a rough day.