The speed, finesse and physicality of hockey is unmatched in the world of sport. The game won’t slow to give anyone a closer look. But since 1998, one man has done his best to give Nashville Predators fans a plethora of frozen moments of the game played on a frozen sheet.
The team photographer since Day One, John Russell is the man behind the lens, capturing Pekka Rinne’s jaw-dropping saves, Shea Weber’s 108.5 mph slap shot and the interactions between the Preds and their fans that make Smashville truly unique.
It’s been said that a picture is worth 1,000 words. If that’s the case, Russell could write an entire series of encyclopedias. NashvillePredators.com recently chatted with the man with his trigger finger always at the ready.
Q&A with Preds Team Photographer, John Russell:
How did you first get involved in photography?
“I went to school for it, I went to Western Kentucky University and majored in photojournalism. I went into the newspaper business after that, after getting started in photography in high school. I just love it. Sports came naturally to me as far as shooting them. I wasn’t very good at playing them, so I had to take pictures of them. I went to Buffalo and got my first taste of the NHL shooting photos of the Buffalo Sabres for the Buffalo News. That’s where I kind of got into shooting hockey. I moved to Nashville and just kind of fell into it.”
“I worked for the Associate Press (AP) here in Nashville, and when the team came in 1998, the Predators organization reached out to the AP to ask for photographers. I was contacted for an interview after the AP gave them my name. I came in and interviewed with [Predators Senior Vice President of Communications] Gerry Helper...and I’ve been here since July 1, 1998.”
You’ve worked for the Predators for nearly 17 seasons now, how has your equipment changed over the years?
“The first couple of years we were shooting slide film, Fujichrome 100 and shooting about 10 or 11 rolls a game dropping them off in the dumpbox at Chromatix and picking them up the next day. There were already digital cameras out at that time, but the quality wasn’t what we needed. It was so new that most of the digital cameras were only two megapixels. It quickly picked up, and in the start of the 2000-01 season, we switched over to digital.”
What’s your normal game day routine?
“It varies depending what’s going on, but usually it’s around three hours before game time or and hour and a half before game time. Our strobe system here has to been manually turned on; we don’t have a switch down by the ice like some places do. You have to go up and turn each pack on; there’s eight of them up there. Just walking up there and turning those on is about a 15-minute process and you have to turn them off after the game too. We send all the pictures to Getty Images, which the League has a deal with them. Pregame, I come in and get a test out to make sure my transmissions are correct with them and to make sure all the information is right on all the photos. Then I’ll shoot guys warming up, whether it’s playing soccer in the hall, taping sticks or sharpening skates. I’m trying to show fans scenes that they can’t normally see on their own. I’ve gotten feedback from fans that they really like to see that stuff that they normally wouldn’t get to see otherwise when the players are on the ice. I’ll move out a couple pictures before game time and then I’ll move pictures during the intermissions, anywhere from five to eight pictures, and then after the game I’ll finish up with any good shots I have for the gallery.”
What are some top moments in your career that stand out in your mind?
“I’ve been doing this for so long that there aren’t many that really stand out quickly. The locker room stuff, pregame suiting up, that’s always really cool to see. The comradery between the players before they take the ice, it’s just fun to watch that. The fans don’t get to see that and I try to capture that for them. There’s one shot that kind of stands out is Wade Belak lacing up his skates. It’s one that I’ll always remember. It’s just a simple shot, but with the situation, it was kind of cool to have that photo.”
“How do you come up with what shots you’re going to take?
“I just try to mix it up as much as I can. Sometimes I get into a situation where I feel like I’m shooting the same stuff every game, so I try to change things. Like the other night, I went with the 600 and shot down ice for a different vantage point. We have holes here that we shoot through on ice, and a lot of times you can get stuck in one spot and everything starts to look the same. So I’ll do a remote overhead or just different angles to mix it up...not necessarily from game to game, but month to month for sure.”
How do you balance planning and reacting to the game?
“Timing is critical. It’s such a fast game that timing is definitely something that I try to work on. I look at other team photographers and see what they are doing, it gives me ideas and inspiration. Just good sports photography in general helps. I’ll see a shot and think that I should try to do something similar with our guys, because some of the shots are pretty special. There’s still some things that I haven’t tried yet this season that I want to try, like putting the equipment in certain places for remotes. I’d like to do some overhead shots with the players walking out to the ice. There was a shot during one of the Chicago games that there were a ton of fans leaning over the rail and I think that could be a perfect shot from above with the angle where the strobes are. I haven’t done that yet, but I’ve got to get a game where the fans are in the right spots.”