It's not everyday you get a sideline seat to the winning touchdown pass in an instant classic National Championship college football game, so when the time comes, you'd better hope you don't screw it up.
Unfortunately, as many people on social media have come to realize there are at least four photographers who did in regards to the CFB National Championship game between Alabama and Georgia on January 8.
I think that there's already been plenty said already about how if you're a photographer covering these moments you need to be prepared. Have a prefocused wide-angle zoom lens that you can quickly pull up for this moment. Speaking from experience, even then, you're going to be spraying and praying a lot of the time unless you happen to see the play developing and have time to get your eye to the viewfinder, so even being prepared you're going to be counting on luck to get a great shot.
But, that's why you come prepared.
Let's get it out of the way now, anyone who has covered football has been in this situation. We missed the shot. And god, does it suck. Like, it really sucks. There's that moment of realization and in your head all you can think of is "F***! I'm never going to work again!"
The two women in the middle of the image appear to be students to me. Both appear to be rather young. One seems to be wearing a Georgia scarf, and the other appears to have a mid-level DSLR to compliment her telephoto-and-monopod set up, much as I would have looked on the sidelines when I was in college borrowing lenses from the photojournalism department.
And, I have no idea about the work history of the other people there.
So, I'm not going to bash these people for not getting the shot. It was a mistake and we all make them. I'm just happy that none of mine have ended up on national television.
Rather, what I'd like to discuss is an overarching issue and one that goes beyond a single play or a single game, and that is the simple fact that there are many "photographers" at these college football games that don't need to be there.
I have a friend who works a lot of NFL games and I remember once asking him as to whether he prefered that, or college games.
"NFL for sure. There's so much more room on the sidelines. You don't have a bunch of bloggers and sponsors clogging the sidelines."
If this isn't the truth?
Next time you watch a college football game, pay close attention to the sidelines. They're jam packed with people. Photographers, videographers, sideline reporters, recruits, sound crews and sponsors. So. Many. Sponsors.
These are the fans who paid their way onto the field, somehow. they walk the sidelines in their school colors often with their kids or significant other in tow. They take selfies, remarking about how "If we can just get a stop here, we'll be good." or "Our offense needs to pick it up!"
In theory, most college fields have two zones along the sidelines that should separate working photographers, videographers, etc. from the people who pay their way onto the field. One line that the sponsors can't cross, and a line in front of that marking how close the working people can get to the field. This is a lie. A blatant and awful lie.
Add to this the people shooting for blogs with an entry level camera with a kit lens (I'm not hating, just saying that you're probably better grabbing wire photos) and you're stuck with a sideline that is packed and makes things very difficult to navigate when trying to figure out when and where to claim a spot.
In reality, I think that's why there has been so much backlash against these poor people from the ESPN screen grab. There is probably an untold number of photographers who dreamed of shooting that game and were told "Sorry, we just can't fit you in."
They then turn on their TV to see this and in the back of their head they immediately start to imagine how many sideline passes were given away to random sponsors and bloggers with a readership of 250 people (still beating me) and it's easy to imagine why they would be angry.
"That could be me in that spot! And I wouldn't have missed that photo!"
Really, I'm not sure what could be done to fix these issues other than requiring certain amounts of subscribers or pageviews to get a photo pass (possible, many events do this) and telling sponsors to enjoy the game from a suite (never going to happen). Honestly, I'm just talking into the void now.
All of this is to say, we shouldn't be hating on these photographers for missing a shot, because we've all done it. We should be hating on a system that robs many very talented photographers (I'm not including myself her) from even getting that chance because there's just not enough space.