With every career one must start from somewhere. Every career has its own special quirks that make it special, tiring, thrilling. Well, Commercial Appeal staff sports photographer Mark Weber offers some insight into his world of sports photography and more in a sit down interview.
Q: So for starters, what is a day in the life like for a sports photographer? What is your job?
A: I mean I can tell you what I did today. I got a phone call last night telling me what time to be here [The University of Memphis], which was like 8:30. Telling me to meet Joe Jackson outside of the Carpenter complex. And this was, uh you know, we’re dealing with the sports information department, so sometimes the lines of communication are kinda crossed or um, or slow moving and so. So we met Joe at 8:30. And basically the story today was the day in the life of Joe, it’s what he does day to day, uh, for our basketball preview, which will be coming . So today I was just basically a fly on the wall to Joe and what he did today and I just went anywhere and everywhere with him, went to class, he was in the UC, for a little while, he went to study hall, he had a workout at the Finch Center, played videogames with his teammates in the locker room after that, and that was a full eight hours right there with him.
Q: Do you enjoy that aspect?
A: Yeah, it’s great, I mean, it’s nice to see these people as real people, because they’re somewhat looked upon as superstars. I don’t really see them that way because I’m around them quite often, they’re college kids just like everybody else, you know, and so I don’t get star-struck. It’s been a long time since I was somebody who got star-struck. I think with as long as I’ve been doing this, as many U of M players that have filtered through, I’ve been to so many sporting events that’s it’s just second hand nature to me.
Q: How did you get your start in sports photography?
A: Well you know that’s actually kinda funny, because I went to Western Kentucky University for their photojournalism program and I had never really looked at sports photography as something I would enjoy doing. It just never really dawned on me. I really wanted to be a documentary storyteller, which I still do for the paper, I do a lot of projects. So essentially I have the best of both worlds, but it turned out that when I, my first job was in Birmingham, Alabama and I just so happened to be in the football country of the world, I covered a lot of Auburn football for three years, and I actually was pretty good at it and I just got better and better. And working for a newspaper you start working more sporting events and it turned out I was pretty good at it and I came to Memphis and they said well, your gonna be a sports photographer for us, and so I essentially got thrown into the U of M beat and have been doing U of M football and basketball ever since I got here.
Q: So did you come to Memphis and apply at the different publications or they just said here’s your job?
A: No, I was transferred here from the paper I worked at in Birmingham. Memphis plucked me out of there and brought me here. So yeah, that’s essentially how it happened, and then I was handed the U of M beat . They looked at my portfolio and said “well okay, we really feel like you can excel in sports” and so that’s what they started to have me do. I go to every Memphis basketball game, and if the football team is decent I will go to every football game.
Q: With preparation, when you’re having to shoot on site, what elements do you look for? How do you prepare?
A: There are several things you have to think of, I can run down what it’s like for me to get ready for the Memphis basketball season. So before I came over here I was looking at flights, hotels, you have to know where the arenas are, essentially you need to know how easy it is to get into a city and out of a city. So essentially the work for sports photography is a lot more work besides showing up and shooting pictures. Deadline pressures have gotten more and more shorter in time, so basically by half-time and we can’t even get something in the paper, depends on the game schedule.
I can go in and set up 3 or 4 cameras that I’ll trigger throughout the game so that takes a couple of hours right there to get those ready to get them ready for the game. Then you gotta edit all your, so then you have to shoot the game, edit all your film, send it back to the paper, then you have to do a slideshow, so we do a slideshow once the game is over ,then I have to take down all the remotes. When I do a freelance job for like the Associated Press, I just show up and shoot pictures; it’s not that hard.
Q: Do you enjoy that freelance work?
A: Yeah, it’s not as labor-intensive, it’s just you go in, you shoot the game and you leave. A lot of people think it’s just fun and easy to be a sports photographer, and yes it is, but they don’t generally understand the work that goes into it to do it well, and you really do need to know the teams.
Q: You said you have to go and edit the shoots, how do you know, looking though your film, when you have the shot?
A: This day and age we have digital cameras, so you can look on the back of your camera and know if you got a good shot or not, so its pretty easy that way. You can even go as far as to mark the image on the camera, so when you go back to the editing room,then you can pretty much use the software ….and you can pretty much bring up those images that you marked in the camera. I generally don’t do that because I like to look through the whole take if I can do it. It’s much more stressful because you don’t know if you have the image until and you are hoping you have the image.
You just go and you do your job. It’s fun because it’s different weeks, its different teams, different personalities on the teams, but generally you’re just covering a basketball game or a football game or a track meet.
Q: In college did you major in photojournalism?
A: Yes, I have a photojournalism degree, a four year photojournalism degree from Western Kentucky University…It’s pretty intense. It’s very competitive.
Q: I know you have to keep up with the different equipment. What are expenses of the job?
A: For me it’s nothing because its paper-based work. But I can tell you I have a Mark IV, which is the latest film body that’s come out from Canon. I have the long glass, I have the short glass. I tend to shoot, when I’m at the Forum because it’s so many photographers at the games, I tend to stay right underneath the basket and try to shoot wide angle and long glass at the ends and whatever remotes I have setup I tend to do that. On the road I have more opportunity to move around, less people, depending on where you go, so I will generally go up in the stands and shoot from the stands, which is really nice. It depends where you are at on what lens you need to use.
I know the cameras are generally around three to five thousand, the lenses are fifteen to two thousand for the 16 to 35 or the 25 to 70 or the 70-200. I know the 300 hundred is probably in the several thousand dollar range. When I shoot football, I use a 400 2A which is one of those big ones and it’s probably an eight thousand, so at anytime I can have, easily, 20 thousand in camera gear on me.
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