As football fans begin to make their way back to the stands and stadiums, the photographers on the sidelines and behind the scenes are still experimenting with remote workflows.
For Ben Liebenberg, Todd Rosenberg and Logan Bowles of the NFL Photo Team, coverage of this year’s Draft took them across the country, through various projects including portrait sessions, live coverage in Cleveland, Ohio and special highlights for the top draft pick, Trevor Lawrence, in Florida.
With a multi-faceted, multi-state process at play this year, these three NFL photographers returned with great stories to tell and inspiring advice to share, too. One week after the event, we were joined by Ben, Todd and Logan for an Ask Me Anything (AMA) session to get an inside look at this year’s coverage and creative workflow. Watch the AMA play-by-play, below:
Creating Portraits on the Road
Every year, before the Draft at the NFL Combine, the photography team sets up a studio in Indianapolis, Indiana, where 15 to 20 player portraits are taken each day. While this is typically an accelerated process in one single location, this year looked a little different.
For Chicago-based freelance photographer Todd Rosenberg, COVID precautions and an updated agenda meant taking a road trip in organized pods from Santa Ana to Phoenix, then to Dallas and Pensacola.
Accompanied by his friend and assistant, Paul Morse, throughout this 14-day trip Todd created various portraits of an array of players to be used on social media and for promotional purposes as the players got drafted. Within minutes, each player would have their portrait taken and have access to the photos instantaneously.
“In that 3 minutes, I have to get to know these players, get them to respond and do what we want. We get some static, serious poses and then the players are allowed to have a little fun.”
Once these photos were taken and sent to various stakeholders, they were then repurposed for the fans and followers to enjoy. This year, Todd’s photos were reimagined by the NFL as trading cards and each portrait was given new life.
“With the NFL, we shoot on white [backgrounds] because we know the purpose of these images is to be utilized in multiple ways,” Todd mentioned. “And the creative team behind what’s going on here is awesome. I never know what they’re gonna use them for, but I always know that the more content I can produce for them, the more capabilities they’re gonna have to work with them.”
These fun visuals were then picked up by Panini, the world’s largest sports and entertainment collectibles company, and made into trading cards sold on the NFL Shop and elsewhere.
Live Event Coverage – This Year vs. Years Past
While creative visuals were produced remotely this year for the NFL Combine, the NFL Draft saw the return of live, in-person coverage. Ben Liebenberg, Director of Photography and Lead Photographer for the NFL headed to Cleveland, Ohio for the 2021 Draft. Taking a moment to reflect on the last few years, Ben first shared a few photos from 2019.
“That crowd went from the stage about 5 blocks back around Broadway. It was a pretty amazing sight,” Ben told us. As you can see from the coverage in Nashville at the 2019 NFL Draft, large crowds and green rooms filled with photographers and families were the norm only 2 years ago.
Last year, COVID-19 altered the event in a big way—there was no photo coverage at all. This year, crowds returned and Ben photographed the ceremony and several live musical performances.
“The NFL did a really good job of bringing fans back into the venue and into the stage area. And that was something from the get-go that they wanted to do and it was fun having that interaction and seeing fans back.”
With a lot of safety protocols in place this year, photo coverage was definitely different for Ben and his team. Instead of a crowded space full of photographers, players, media professionals and more, only 5 people were allowed into the green room to take photos and videos. Plus, a lot of the coverage had to be photographed through plexiglass, which created new challenges such as battling light reflections and finding the right angles.
“We don’t always know until we get somewhere how it’s going to be,” Ben stated. “There’s a lot of ups and downs and different things we have to work through on a daily basis.”
On Location with Trevor Lawrence
Logan Bowles, freelance commercial and sports photographer based in Jacksonville, Florida, got special access to cover the journey to the big leagues for the first overall pick for this year’s draft – Trevor Lawrence.
“We have a pretty good relationship with the Jags’ PR and they helped a lot to give us the access we needed,” Logan told us. As he entered Trevor’s home, Logan joined 60 to 80 of Trevor’s closest family and friends. He was tasked with photographing the moments leading up to that historic call, and all of the exciting media buzz that followed.
“It was really cool to be there and to witness the intensity and excitement from the family. He was genuinely excited to get that phone call and make his dream happen. It was really cool to be a part of that. And it was kind of a historic moment for that franchise, so it was cool to capture.”
The next morning, with a mirrorless Canon R5 in hand, Logan then joined Trevor, his wife and agent to photograph the next phase of this exciting career-making moment. As a fly on the wall, Logan was able to photograph the exciting behind the scenes moments in the jet and at the Jacksonville Jaguars’ stadium.
Putting the Pieces Together
With different visual projects at play this year, an effortless workflow and a centralized hub for organizing and sharing the photos was essential. In addition to Ben, Todd and Logan creating images, there was a large team of creatives in Los Angeles playing a part in the process, too.
When it came to delivering the images from several locations, Ben outlined that workflow clearly:
“A lot of it is ethernet drops, wireless packs and cell packs. And all of that funnels back and ultimately ends up in our PhotoShelter. From there, we can share links with the Clubs, PR, Events, Marketing, Social and whoever needs photography. And all of that is organized in different galleries and accessible within a few minutes of being taken.
Our process is pretty streamlined. Everything gets sent to editors, photoshopped and captioned in real time, and then it’s up in PhotoShelter within minutes.”
According to Todd, when comparing this process to the older methods of sharing, wireless packs and quick FTP delivery has been a game changer throughout the season. No more running into the press work room after a play to send photos. Now, with the press of a button, moments can be shared with anyone, anywhere – instantly.
What used to be 25 to 40 images per game is now hundreds, if not thousands, of photos. At this year’s Super Bowl, Ben was able to send over 2,500 images wirelessly, within seconds. With those kinds of results, there’s no doubting responsive, lightning-fast remote workflows are the way of the future.
Related content: How NFL Players Post Photos Instantly on Gameday
Dive into our full discussion with Ben, Todd and Logan above to hear more about their go-to gear, their best advice for getting into the industry and even their favorite drinks to sip on after a long day of photographing on and off the field.
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