UPAA Blog 2022-23 #10 - 1/5/23 (text and photos by Matt Cashore)
Matt Cashore is the Senior University Photographer at Notre Dame and the editor of the UPAA Blog. Soooo...Matt is talking about himself in third person? Yes, yes he is. Matt's Sports Action category photo "Snow-Where To Run" was voted Best in Show in the December 2022 Monthly Image Competition (MIC). The MIC Q&A is a monthly feature on the UPAA blog to learn more about the thought and craft behind the UPAA's contest-winning images. -Ed.
1. Quick tech stuff—camera model, focal length, exposure data, lighting used (if any):
•70-200Z + 1.4X at 270mm
•1/2000, f4, ISO 1600
2. How did this shoot land on your calendar? Did you have a plan/vision prior to the shoot?
The game was a typical editorial coverage home football game. But... I'm almost never just doing one job. As I babbled in this UPAA Live video from 2020, I'm always, by my own choice, 'on call' for unique moments that tell the visual story of Notre Dame. That doesn't just mean odd hours and holidays, it's taking ten extra minutes to turn a professor portrait into a broadly useful capital-R "Research" photo, or, while doing editorial coverage of sports events, also thinking 'university visual history' if and when an extraordinary moment presents itself. So in the broad sense, I always have a vision of thinking 'big picture' (of course that pun was intended...) when it comes to Notre Dame's goals, mission and history.
3. Any unique logistics in making the photo? What sort of post processing (or not)?
The game against Boston College was Nov. 19, the last home game of the year. The weather was typical for South Bend in late November. It had snowed the day prior but the main concern for the game day weather was cold temps. There was no precipitation forecast during the game. My primary mindset was getting the key players, the key plays, hoping I didn't get any captions wrong and trying to stay warm. (Sidebar: When I become emperor of the world, I'm banning duplicate jersey numbers in college football...and mayonnaise...but I digress. Back to the story:)
The combo of unappealing weather and the upcoming Thanksgiving break kept the crowd pretty light. The EA-18 Growlers were just underneath the bottoms of the clouds on their pregame flyover.
A week before the game, I got a text from my friend Fred Assaf. Fred is a school administrator in the Atlanta area and has two sons who are former or current Notre Dame student athletes. So stemming from both a professional and parental need, he does a good bit of sports photography and is one of the few, the proud...the Nikon users. Fred had ordered the rare-as-unobtanium Nikon 400 2.8Z TC lens almost as soon as it was announced and after a nearly yearlong wait had finally received it. He wanted to know if I was interested in trying it out for the BC game. Uhhhh...Yeah!
(photo by Joseph Weiser) The Nikon 400 2.8 TC lens is...wow... Mini-review: It's lightweight and versatile. Adding a TC on a cold day without having to fumble around with caps and whatnot was one of those "I didn't know I wanted it 'till I tried it" moments. If you do add one of Nikon's excellent Z-series TC's in addition to the built-in TC, this lens can do the job of a 400, a 600 *and* an 800mm lens...which kinda sorta justifies its price tag. I never thought I'd get to use one for real, thanks again, Fred!
The game was looking like an easy Notre Dame win from the outset and I was staying adequately warm--and enjoying the exotic lens. The score was 37-0 at the half so I was not expecting to have to worry about game-changing plays in the second half. I came out from halftime editing and noticed snow in the air. I've seen that before and I didn't expect it to last very long.
But then the snow got heavier and started sticking to things...like that really expensive lens that I didn't have covered with a raincoat. Oops!
The flakes were so big they were giving the autofocus fits:
I had three simultaneous thoughts:
1-Sure, the 400 2.8 TC is supposedly weather sealed, but it's still expensive and it's not mine...I am not going to ruin Fred's lens!
2-Action photos are going to be darn near impossible in this snow...fortunately the game was such a blowout by that point there was unlikely to be to be any significant game action to worry about.
3-I've covered 180-ish Notre Dame home football games and I've never seen a substantial, sticking snow like this. This is extraordinary, this is historic. The weather is the story of this game as much as the stats or score. Time to shift gears to visual historian mode.
The Notre Dame Stadium press box has an outdoor deck and after safely stowing Fred's lens I made a beeline for it. First, a wide shot:
Then I noticed the players were leaving visible footprints. To me it made the field look like the live version of a diagrammed play, with the Xs and Os and dotted lines going this way and that. I immediately got a vision in my mind of fresh footprints in one of the less-trampled areas of the field. I hung out on the photo deck for a few plays to see what serendipity presented. When the BC quarterback got chased down by six Notre Dame defenders I knew I had a photo that was visually unusual and also told the story of both the weather and the shutout win.
Yup, I shoot JPEG. For my select I cropped in a bit and bumped the contrast a little.
4. Did your vision before you made the photo come through in the final product? What (if anything) would you do differently if you could re-shoot this today?
I certainly didn't envision this image before the game, but I'm generally happy with how this went. I was able to snap out of "Let's get this game over with and get out of the cold" mode and be fully engaged with thinking through the options and potential of this--for me at least--unprecedented visual moment. That said, though...One thing I regularly notice in my own photos is not enough faces...I do a lot of landscapes, wide shots, big overview-type stuff and sometimes I lose track of the personal experience of the moment. I had a student photographer helping for this game and I told him to pay special attention to the student section and he did get some nice student life tight photos but I need to remind myself more often that the Notre Dame experience isn't just the Golden Dome, it's in the faces of our students. (Also: If I could snap my fingers and have all the equipment and access I need for any occasion...how cool would it have been to get a drone up for a few minutes...?)
5. What do you do to keep yourself motivated and interested in your work?
A few things...You can correctly question the impact of an "always on the job" mentality. But...I'm lucky that my job is, for the most part, pretty much what I'd want to do anyway. I consider myself a visual historian first and foremost, and the moments that will be framed on walls and in books 75 years from now happen when they happen. I'm always amused when I hear people casually assuming our University Archives will have some photo from long ago. How do they think that got there?? (Your university archivists are under-appreciated...be sure to buy 'em donuts some time!)
Second, you don't have to be an alum of the institution you work for, but I think helps. It's certainly a motivator for me. On occasion I hear from Alumni and University friends when they are moved by a photo or feel connected to campus because of a photo I made and I appreciate that.
And of course, UPAA is a motivator. The quality of talent and images in this group keeps ratcheting up. All photographers are competitive (the honest ones admit it!) and the MIC is the best, most positive, most motivating photo contest out there.
Thanks for reading the UPAA blog! Send your comments, critiques and suggestions to editor Matt Cashore, firstname.lastname@example.org. Instead of a 'dad joke,' an announcement: There's an important change coming to the MIC Q&A that will hopefully make it a little more diverse and inclusive...stay tuned...And follow UPAA on Instagram!