On the job training, one period as an NHL photographer

By Jim Diamond

Photographers who ply their trade shooting NHL games have incredibly difficult jobs. Just how difficult of a job it is was really impressed upon me Monday night.

For the first period of Monday’s preseason game against the visiting Columbus Blue Jackets, Predators team photographer John Russell and the team’s PR staff allowed me the opportunity of trying to shoot the action from one of the photo holes in the glass rinkside in Bridgestone Arena.

Russell is a genius and he’s been to the mountain, as one of his pictures has appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Before the game, Russell gave me my assigned location, on the glass at the bottom of Section 118, next to the new Lexus Lounge where the players enter the ice prior to the start of each period. The hole is close to the faceoff dot. I was able to sit on the last step of the stairwell, a perfect height to reach the photo hole.

More after the jump…

During the warmup skate, I make my way to the spot, where there is a plastic device covering the hole. No big deal, right? Well, after what felt like 20 minutes of wrestling this thing, I finally got it out, thankfully it was secured to the outside of the boards with a cord so there was no chance I could drop it onto the ice.

Putting my lens through the glass, I see that I can cover the middle part of the ice over to the far boards and just above the blue line. I realize that if the lens fits through the glass, a puck will fit through there as well.

I take a few test shots at the tail end of the warmup, and let’s just say, my confidence level is fairly low when I look at the results on the back of the camera. I was shooting with a Nikon D7100 with a 70-300 variable aperture lens, definitely not pro equipment, but not bad either.

At this point I am trying to remember all of the wisdom my photographer friends have shared with me over the years – Get the puck in the shot, try to shoot under the visor so you can see their eyes, don’t cut off important things like heads or feet.

The Game

As the Predators skate onto the ice prior to the start of the game, the arena is dark, but following the introduction of the players in starting lineup, the house lights come up quickly. And the lighting inside Bridgestone is excellent, especially for someone trying to photograph a game.

With the lights on, I get my camera settings where I think they should be and then take a couple of shots of Pekka Rinne going through his final routine before faceoff.

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Hey, not too bad.

The lighting is so good, there does not need to be a whole lot done with the photos in post production either.

Early on in the game, there was a major hit right into the boards in front of me. Thankfully I was able to pull the camera back and avoid a broken lens or a black eye.

Since the puck spent a lot of time in the Columbus end during the first period, there was very little action in the end I was shooting. Shots were 12-3 in favor of the Predators in the first, largely aided by the fact that the Predators did have three opening period power plays.

Columbus had two chances on the power play in the first, one courtesy of this Mattias Ekholm takedown of Michael Chaput.

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Even caught the referee as he started to raise his arm. It was nice of Ekholm and Chaput to make the exact same face as I took that shot too.

The Blue Jackets scored just 40 seconds after that penalty was called, so not a lot of zone time to get a lot of photos on that one. I did catch Tim Erixon’s shot from the left point to start the scoring play. Note Ekholm in the box and the photobomb from public address announcer Paul McCann as well.

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It’s not easy to hit a rolling puck

The Jackets scored not long after this.

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Time for hugs

A lot of the professional photographers set up remote cameras for the very reason that if a lot of play occurs away from their location, they will be able to trigger shots from their remote cameras.

Random Observations

Those Predators gold jerseys really pop against the white ice, boards, and the Blue Jackets’ road jerseys.

Jiminy Christmas the players skate fast. Not only do they skate fast, but they also move the puck fast, hit hard, and move around the ice a whole lot faster than they appear to from the press box. For a photographer, there is precious little time to try and find the puck, lock in focus, and take the shot.

Shooting an unfamiliar team is difficult. Not knowing the Blue Jackets and their systems very well, it was hard to predict where the puck would go on their power play. For outlets that regularly cover a team, it is no surprise that they usually try to use the same photographer since their familiarity with the team will enable them to get better pictures.

I took about 200 shots during the 20 minutes of game action, with about 20 of those shots being usable in some form.

And I had to keep telling myself, you could have everything right; player with the puck, he is in focus, and when you press the shutter button…

Preds-Jackets-6

C’mon stripes

… Brian Pochmara skates right in front of you and stops.

All in all, it was a fun experience and a huge learning opportunity. I have definitely developed an even greater appreciation for the photographers who shoot hockey knowing first-hand the challenges they face and what amazing talent they have to continue to produce high-quality images game in and game out.

The gallery has more images from the game.

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