Summer 2015 & AFC Ann Arbor

I’ve been pretty used to media access for everything I’ve ever done, because I’ve only ever done it as part of the media. This summer, it’s as ‘part of the team,’ for want of better term.

Months ago, I grabbed a drink with a teacher from the high school I graduated. Somehow, after a few beers and a shot, he convinced me first to come speak to his class, and second, to spend my 2015 summer taking photos of the inaugural season of AFC Ann Arbor, and to start with a team meet and greet.

A few weeks into the season, here I am: Two home games, two travel games, and prepping to take a drive to Milwaukee for travel game number 3. But I’m used to all that nonsense.

What’s new and exciting (and ultimately a little frightening) is the idea that I’m somehow trusted to do more than take photos. I joke (mostly joke, anyway) that I get to play soccer mom. ie: pick up the suburban (which is a nice car, by the way, if you’ve never driven one. try it), pick up the food, pick up the players, and then drive. I get to know everyone by name (or at least I’m almost there), and they get to know me. I actually get to talk to players and pretty much go wherever I please, which is new. And exciting.

I can’t say I will ever go back to wanting only media access after this.

Goals and celebrations, action shots, reaction shots. It’s all the same. But there’s a whole new aspect of community building amongst wonderful people: coaches, players, owners, residents, fans. Everyone supports everyone. Everyone cares about making something good.

And I’m glad I get to be there.

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A colorful take

I’m slowly delving into other events apart from sports, just because the summer sports season is obviously a little bit slower. But I wanted to talk a little bit about last year’s Color Run, aka: Your camera’s worst nightmare.

I’d been warned of the dangers of taking a DSLR to a color run event. Starch-based powder flying everywhere, getting stuck in the tiny intricate parts of your camera, ruining your hard earned dollars and possibly your livelihood. So a few days prior to I read up on how to protect your kit from the powder disease.

I covered everything in plastic baggies and duct tape and kept everything in Ziploc bags and carried around a can of compressed air. I tried my best to keep my distance, but obviously that’s hard when the idea of it is to get in the middle of everything.




I’d never witnessed one of these things before, and neither had my D300. It’s safe to say that I was very lenient with the auto detailer when I returned to work that day.

But the event itself was difficult to photography. The flying powder pretty much tinted everything and gave some of the photos a bit of a haze. Some of them turned out to be really Walking Dead-esque — disembodied heads floating out of the mist.



But the interesting part of it was how everything was doused in color. Hair, hands, clothing, faces, glasses. People went dressed to snag a bit of the color on their way out.










This year I definitely have some things planned for when it gets covered — ways to improve on last year, ways to do something different. I definitely want to get there a lot earlier and stick around a lot later. And maybe cover my gear a little bit better so that I can get a little bit closer.



Let’s talk about hockey.

This isn’t really about one specific hockey game, or about one specific event. I sort of want to talk about hockey in general and more or less why I love covering hockey games. Whether it’s at MSU or elsewhere.

Let’s talk about flow. I spent a good fifteen minutes searching for this photo, because I had the perfect one. Meet winter sports best hair 2012/2013 season, now junior (!!! pretty sure he was a freshman here??) goaltender Jake Hildebrand:



Maybe it’s just because I’m generally too lazy to cut my hair, but I can grow a pretty solid flow for the hockey season if I want to. But just like baseball has chew and gum and spitting, and football has end zone dancing, hockey has flow.


Okay, maybe it’s not that. Maybe it’s the fact that most of my childhood sports experiences were through hockey games. My dad’s boss would get season tickets, we would occasionally buy them off of him and head out to the games. Yelling along with the crowd at the referees during a Bull Shit chant was probably my first swear word. Waddling through the locker room tours in a personalized Maltby jersey that was three sizes too big was my first Behind Closed Doors experience. My dream job would to be a team photographer for one of the NHL teams. Preferably the Red Wings. But I would settle for anyone (Yes, even the Blackhawks, though I would hesitate for a few seconds before saying yes and probably end up wearing Red Wings apparel beneath my external clothing).

Keep dreaming, right?

In all seriousness, coming here to MSU and finally being able to understand a sport — finally knowing how to photograph something and actually make a useable frame. It was enthralling. Covering hockey was probably the only time I felt like I sort of knew what I was doing (To a very small degree).

Sports photos are all about anticipation — not necessarily knowing where the puck is, but knowing where the puck is going to be.

I’m not kidding when I say that the MSU hockey team is the team I’ve “grown up with” here at MSU. I talked about it a while ago, where I got so used to writing “Freshman goaltender Jake Hildebrand” and “Freshman forward Michael Ferrantino.” Both of them are juniors, one of them’s a team captain.

Where the hell did all that time go?

It got tossed around at the rink. All of these purple tags? Last hockey season. If I didn’t shoot it, it wasn’t covered. There were two that someone else shot. Everything else was time spent ducking pucks.

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I’m not kidding when I say I maybe missed five home games this past season. I went from media day to senior night, barely missing a step in between. My photos grew, the team grew. I no longer had to pick up rosters on my way in. I could give names, nicknames, positions, numbers, and probably even where a few of them are from. I can still do that.

When you spend so much time with one team they become a part of you — you can anticipate them better. You know who to rely on for scoring opportunities, you know who is going to be the one that skates the puck down the ice in a breakaway attempt, you know when they’re going to pull Hildy out and throw Yanakeff in the net.

I could tell, as soon as I walked away from the glass, that Will Yanakeff was crying slightly as he skated off the ice in a comeback win against U of M.


The officials knew me by name.

Yes, even this guy.



People started to notice me. Players and refs would spot my camera and smile.



My absolute favorite story is from the 2012-2013 season. I was sent, as a last minute decision, to cover the CCHA tournament in Miami, Ohio. My first travel experience. Here’s an anecdote.

The first game — I didn’t have to send between periods, so I sort of wandered around one side of the rink looking for a place to shoot. The glass was rough — stained blue and moveable, so it would provide for an awkward reflection no matter how you tried to angle your camera.
I paused on Michigan State’s starting side to take in my surroundings and someone approached me.
“Hey. You should take pictures of number 20.”
“Number 20. On Michigan State….”
I nodded.
“He’s my son. You here for State?”
The man was Michael Ferrantino’s father — aka: Multibillionaire.
I nodded.
“Who do you work for?”
“Michigan State’s newspaper. The State News.”
“Got a business card?”
Of course not? Who was I? A professional? (Let’s just say I ordered business cards after this experience, because who doesn’t have those?) “No, but I can write down a website for you so that you can look at photos. It’s just”
We parted ways, the game finished. 
The next day: Same thing. I wandered around between periods, looking for any type of features of fans and, not going to lie, trying to spot the parents of the athletes.
Chris Chelios (Yeah, him.) had approached me. I had seen that man skate from the nosebleeds of Joe Louis Arena, I had eaten at his damn restaurant. If Ferrantino was a billionaire, Chelios had the name to back him up. And for some reason he was talking to me (All thanks to Mr. Ferrantino, bless his soul). 
“I’m Chris Chelios. I’m Dean and Jake’s dad.”
And this is too stupid to make up: “I know who you are…”
“I heard you shoot for Michigan State. Do you have a card?”
Alas, the lack of business cards returned to haunt me. “I don’t, I’m really sorry. I can write down TSN’s website and my portfolio site for you and bring it to you at the next intermission if you want? At the end of the game.”
“You can just give it to Jake or Dean if you want.”
An overestimation of how often I talked to his kids, but the sentiment was appreciated and almost made me laugh. I was a lowly photographer and Mr. Chelios thought I got to talk to his kids. In my dreams.

I did. I gave Chris Chelios a few websites, handwritten on a piece of paper. And as I walked away I awkwardly dialed my dad to tell him that Chris Chelios just introduced himself to me. And I freaked out.

Since then I’ve been to Michigan’s Yost Ice Arena ;



Comerica Park ;



and the Joe Louis Arena (!!!!!!!!) ;



All in all, the hockey experience has been the one that’s been the kindest. Between the people and the wonderful SID, the players as they grow and gain experience, and even all of the places and faces I get to see.

Plus look at these goofy humans. Just look at them. Look at how adorable they are in front of a camera.




(^ This is probably my favorite outtake photo ever, by the way)




So I practically joined the ROTC for a day…

The time: 0600 hrs.
The location: The middle of nowhere -- aka: the woods.
The slogan of the day: "Dude I play Call of Duty."

My love for shooting started with the original James Bond “Golden Eye,” eventually evolved into Call of Duty and Medal of Honor, and finally retreated to behind a camera. When I first started working for The State News I had absolutely no idea what I was doing or what I was getting myself into. After all this time, now as an editor, I’ve realized I probably would have hated me back in my first semester. I was probably the worst person ever, no secret. Somehow I got a second chance and fought to prove myself, eventually falling into an assignment that made me go “Hey, this is really freaking cool.” I trekked around in the woods with the ROTC for a few hours. I climbed a six foot fence. I tore my coat and cut my palms. I got rained on and I got covered in mud. I had to run to keep up with cadets so I didn’t get lost in the woods. I should have been miserable. But I wasn’t. So what’s wrong with me?


I have no idea. For some reason I enjoyed getting covered in mud and roaming around in the woods. For some reason I wanted to do it again. So I kept in contact with the media relations cadets and eventually forged my way into a relationship where I could text one of them and go “So what’s going on in the cadet world?” And get a slew of answers — all answers that I was interested in. One in particular stood out: “We’re going to a military base to do spring training exercises with a bunch of other schools.”

Sign me up. I was the person that, after running around with the ROTC cadets the first time, wanted to run off to enlist as a combat photographer. Even though that involved joining the military and probably dying or getting injured. It sounded like fun. It sounded like a story I wanted to tell. It sounded amazing. To tell a story that not many other people get to experience. Isn’t that the job of a photojournalist? To show and tell what other people might not see? We woke up early. I picked up my reporter probably some time before 5. I got virtually three hours of sleep or less. But I was still pumped and ready to go. We met my contact and she droves us the hour or so out to the fort. They checked our ID’s and let us in. It was still dark. If you know me, you know that I hate using flash photography. Natural lighting is so much more interesting to me and everything just looks better.






I’ve been really digging low-light, slower shutter photography. It’s just appealing to me for some reason, even with the grain and motion blur. I went with three cameras. One for video clips, one with a 70-200 just attached, and one where I could switch between a 50mm and a wide angle. It was cold, muddy, rainy, snowy, and I was still pretty tired. I wore hiking boots. One of the cadets, before I left, told me to bring extra pairs of socks. Like an idiot, I forgot them. My feet were soaked within the first hour or two of running around, my pants got little tears, and the three layers I had up top just made me sweat a little bit. It was double the experience of the first time I went out with the ROTC. And it was twice as fun. Apart from the car we were driving getting stuck — them using multiple military vehicles to drag us out, calling in civilian tows. We got to ride in the little (or should I say huge) military truck. It was more or less the highlight of the year for me because I enjoy that stuff. Thoroughly. We started by following one of the cadets around through his day.






And then we took off, eventually coming to mill around with some of the younger cadets — cadets that had never gone to the camp before.




I even got to eat an MRE. So now, when I see them mention it on NCIS:LA, I get super excited. All in all I wish I could have stayed a little longer. It was quite a bit of exercise and a very tiresome experience, but it was a one of a kind thing. Unless, of course, I somehow get to achieve my sudden goals of becoming a military combat photographer.

Even though they made fun of us all day.



The full story (which was featured on p1 of TSN), can be found here: Put to the Test

Basketball traveling (to Wisconsin)

Before I started my job in the news industry I could count on one hand the number of places I’ve been outside of Michigan — Ballroom competitions in Ohio and Indiana, stops in Pennsylvania, two night stay in upstate New York, weekend in New Jersey. I wasn’t a very well-traveled individual. But here I am, almost two years later, having driven to Wisconsin, Iowa, Indiana, southern Ohio, stops in Illinois and and numerous other places I can’t remember. I’ve shot at The Palace of Auburn Hills, covered a Big Ten Football Championship at Lucas Oil Stadium, climbed to the press box of the Joe Louis Arena, rambled through the tunnels under Comerica Park, and, as much as I hate to admit it, been to numerous University of Michigan athletics buildings.

I’m slowly becoming well traveled, and all in good fun.

Wisconsin is a very interesting place. We drove in a day early, bought a couple cases of beer, and played an olympic drinking game to pass the time. There are no turn arounds in Wisconsin. Miss where you’re turning, you get screwed. Don’t know where you’re going? Too bad. Sketchy hotel under construction? Sure. Kangaroo hop across the main road that attaches to the expressway? Just don’t get hit. Don’t know how to open the gas tank of your rental car at 7 AM? One of the nice Wisconsinites will probably help you with a smile.

The people that I had to pass the time with were without a doubt some of the more interesting people that I could have been stuck in a tiny Wisconsin town with, even if we did have to find a Rite Aid so that two of us could buy toothpaste because we were slow on the packing train.

The arena itself was interesting. I’m so used to Breslin Center athletics and knowing exactly where I’m going, knowing everyone I’ll see along the way, and stopping to “Awww” at the police dogs that I spent a couple days with once. It’s almost like a second home (after Munn Ice Arena, of course). In Wisconsin, I had no idea where to enter, no idea where to park, no idea who the hell anyone was, and the press box was strange.

But they had nice lights. The player introductions and practice times before the game? So much cooler than the ones at Michigan State.




It actually happens at a lot of sporting events. Yost Ice Arena spotlights the U of M hockey team in their huddle, providing for some cool shots, different basketball teams have different lights and entrances. It’s always an interesting part of the experience — “How will these guys run out onto the court?”

Overall, though, the one thing I enjoy about basketball games is that it’s one of the only sports in which the players always look like they’re suspended from strings.


The other reason is obviously coach Izzo. I could probably spend an entire basketball game (since I’m not a big basketball fan in the first place) only taking pictures of Tom Izzo.




And the games themselves have the ability to change within an instant. From happy reactions to sad reactions.




However, they quickly started losing. It was a game of points. It was intense.

The only part I didn’t like was when the usher told me I should be careful and get ready to run — just in case they rushed onto the court at the end of the game.


A different kind of face-off

So obviously sports seasons don’t last forever and I have to occupy my time with other things. In reality, the other things take up more of my time than sports do. I know the whole idea of this blog is to explore what it’s like to be on the bench during a hockey game or in the dugout of a baseball game, but it’s also about taking people to a place where they don’t typically get to go. Like a standoff following a shooting. How often do you get to deal with one of those?

The day started and I pretty much went into work thinking I was going to sit down at my desk, eat an avocado, and drink a cup of coffee to start the day. I wandered out into the newsroom and bam. My ideal day was over.

I ran into the photo studio to grab my gear, grabbed an extra camera, a 300 with a teleconverter, and ran out the door. I conveniently forgot my umbrella. As soon as I pushed the back door open it started to pour. Really?

I ran up the three flights of stairs in the parking garage to my (dad’s) car, since mine was in the shop, and drove like a speed demon down to the scene of the shooting — where, as my luck would continue to have it, it again started to pour.








I stayed for about thirty minutes, waiting to see if something more would happen. When it didn’t, I got back in my car looking like a drowned rat, and drove back to the office. I parked, dumped my take, and quickly put up a photo before editing another four or five to throw into a gallery (some of which aren’t here, but can be found here.

Until editors were running back again, telling me that there was a potential standoff. So the reporter snatched me up as soon as I posted the photos from Rite Aid, and we were again off.

“How do we know when we get there?” And as soon as you turned onto the road you knew. A huge police barricade in the middle of the road, rerouting traffic from both sides, cutting off a good mile and a half stretch of cement.



It was hard to miss. Most of the experience, once you get there, is to stand around and wait. The “hurry up and wait” slogan I’ve heard from multiple members of the armed forces. You snap photos when people move, and then you stand around waiting for something more to happen. Sometimes it takes thirty minutes, sometimes it takes an hour… Or three.

Regardless, you can’t leave for food or coffee or to use the bathroom, because what if something happens? What if they walk the suspect out in handcuffs? What if they start to shoot? Basically you’re stuck. Rain or shine.


You can chat with other members of the media, get a little restless, try to find the best spot to take photos. The action, when it happens, will only last a few frames. So you just have to find other moments to look for.



Oddly enough I knew these two gentlemen in the photo above. We had previously profiled some of the K-9 police on campus, and so I had happened to spend a good deal of time with them.





Apart from the action, the scenario can actually be pretty dull if you aren’t wearing a uniform and engaging in it. The humor of the day, at least for the media, came at the expense of one elderly gentleman that seemed to have missed the barricade and all of the officers that told him to stop and wandered into the action zone.

__11_051214They weren’t too happy about it.



The shootout experience against Minnesota

This goes all the way back to December of 2013, but the experience was almost surreal.

While shooting from the bench at Michigan State, oftentimes there’s a rotation among photographers and the university videographer. Two people down there at a time. Depending on the game, you might get to shoot two periods, you might get one. By chance I happened to grab the third period. I wandered around for the first 40 minutes of the game and then meandered down there during a break. The game hadn’t been too exciting, but the Spartans managed to keep a tie game for some odd 14 minutes or so in the third period.


A little pre-period action. Truth be told I didn’t make it down to the bench in time to avoid the locker room scramble, so I stuck around a bit longer in the hallway until everyone was out on the ice.



This happened at pretty much every game. Brent Darnell (oddly from my hometown) would always stretch out right in front of us. Generally I was always in the way, so I felt bad. But not bad enough to snap a quick photo without looking into the viewfinder.


This one wasn’t exactly a bench photo, but I didn’t put it into a gallery because I wasn’t very fond of the composition. I would have liked my frame to be a little bit lower to include the goaltender, but it is what it is. I’m pretty sure he also managed to kick my camera with his skate while hopping onto the ice during the game.



Going into overtime I was nervous. I’d seen it too many times. The team holds a tie well into overtime, appears to be on the way to a win, and then falls barely minutes into extra play. Amazingly they kept the five minutes scoreless and sent the game into a shootout against the number one team in the Big Ten.

Shootouts are intense. I’m not going to write much copy here because I think the raw take photos can pretty much speak for themselves, but it ranges from extreme celebration to very intense nerves.














It was and still is an extremely awarding experience (if not a fluke). I got to learn a lot about the personalities of some of the players and coaches. Their tension and their nerves and their excitement eventually trickled into my overall experience, immersed me in something I typically wouldn’t be part of as a spectator. I have to say it was one of the most interesting bench experiences to date, even though I didn’t nearly get taken out by a player or a puck or some kind of stick.

Clash at Comerica dugout

contactSo as you can see I got a little trigger happy with some of my work on the bench at the annual Clash at Comerica.

It isn’t often I get to head down to Detroit to do photo work, even though I’m from the metro area. I don’t think I’ve been in the baseball stadium since I was about ten or twelve. Barring the last Clash of course, which got rained out after a few innings of play. Talk about a miserable ball game.

This year I was shooting with another photographer who was stationed on the Central side of things for the first half of the game. I knew he would take some solid action photos, so I tried to really hone in on the dugout experience. Of course, since I’ve shot so many of the MSU games, the players recognized the camera and started to play around a little bit.

____01_051314 ____02_051314 ____03_051314I’m pretty used to photobombing in photos. Pretty much everyone I come across is really camera aware. But shooting the bigger MSU sports, like football or basketball, there isn’t too much room to breathe when it comes to player access. That’s why I volunteer to consistently shoot hockey or baseball. The players are super cool, super interesting. They’re pretty much ridiculous, and it shows in their personalities.

Typically when I notice it, I snap the photo and then give them an arched eyebrow look. Something that says “I see what you’re doing and it’s slightly amusing.”

But after the game starts their attentions return to the field. Only occasionally will I be shooting dugout features and have someone look directly into my camera, become aware that I’m taking their photo, and then look away awkwardly. I can pretty much turn invisible when I feel the need to. But when they are distracted by the game, the reactions and interactions are always very interesting.

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The one reaction I was upset I couldn’t run was between one of the outfielders and one of the boys of one of the coaches. No one could tell me which twin he was, but I thought the photo was almost comical.


The starting pitcher, Chase Rihtarchik, when he was relieved was the only one to react rather visually in the dugout. I missed the shot right after he walked off the field when he more or less banged his glove against the bench three or four times, but caught his reaction just before he sat down.



But after a while, reactions tend to get pretty similar and not very mind blowing. So I started to experiment a little.

BBCCentral BBCCentral


The photos that made the cut can be seen in the posted gallery here.