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Frozen Moments: What It's Like to Be the Preds' Team Photographer

John Russell Has Been Snapping Photos of the Predators Since Day One

by John Russell @PredsNHL / Predators Team Photographer

I hope this blog finds everyone safe and well. We are all missing our beloved Nashville Predators and the greatest sport on earth. It is a difficult time for all of us, but we will get through this together.

I have been the team photographer since July 1, 1998. I miss game nights as much as anyone. So, in an effort to think about the game, I thought I would take a moment to talk about what goes into capturing moments - both on the ice and off.

The best photos are ones that capture a feeling, an emotion, a personality, an action. It's a moment that happens and is gone in a blink of an eye, impossible to reproduce. Sounds a bit like a challenge, and it is. It's what I enjoy most about what I do. I'd like to share with you the process and the things I look for when trying to capture the moments I have been sharing with you for the past 22 seasons.

Moments occur often during a game as you might imagine. Hockey is a fast game, and it seems even faster when looking through a lens. To capture these moments, I rely on the knowledge of the game I have acquired over the years and a fast shutter speed. Generally, 1/800th of a second is what I have my game camera set on to freeze the action. Even at that speed, a slap shot will still have a bit of motion blur. 

New LED lighting technology in Bridgestone Arena this season has allowed me to photograph games with just the available light. My game action exposure for available light is 1/800th of 5.6 3,200 ISO. I like to have a bit more depth of field for the action photos. Occasionally, I will put a specialty lens on with a very shallow aperture (f1.4) for the effect it gives on the subject. For the 21 previous seasons, I employed eight studio strobe lights mounted in the rafters to flash in sync with my camera to freeze the moments I was capturing. Shooting game action on strobes required quite a bit more patience as it allowed you only one photo every two seconds at its fastest recycle time.

Lighting is critical in all photography. You can't capture a moment if you aren't prepared to expose it correctly. In tough-lighting situations when I am on the move, I will set the camera to Aperture Priority or A-mode. This takes a bit of the guesswork out and allows me to concentrate on composition and capturing the moment. You do need to set an ISO high enough in this mode that will give you a high enough shutter speed to achieve sharp images. Typically, I prefer to keep the shutter speed at or above 1/125th of a second for these behind the scenes photos. My ISO setting in these player hallways and Lexus Lounge is between 4,000 to 6,400.

I arrive two or three hours before puck drop. I use this time to get my equipment sorted and setup along with any remote cameras I may be using for game action. Once I have everything ready I begin to look for those moments.

It's a bit of a walk for players to get to the locker room when they arrive. I position myself with a telephoto lens in the back hallway or event-level concourse and wait for the players to arrive. The best images here are usually when two or more players arrive and walk in together. I like the natural interaction between them and that is what I am looking to capture. 

The lighting in these areas can be a bit low. To make this work, I'll raise my ISO on the camera to 4,000 or even 6,400. There are still areas I have pushed it to 12,800 ISO to make a sharp image. In situations like this my lens aperture is always wide open (f2.8 or less depending on the lens I'm using).The wide-open aperture gives a nice out of focus background making the subject pop in the photo.

Fan interaction is an opportunity to capture moments. Players leave the locker room and walk to the ice through Lexus Lounge, and fans line the ropes to high-five players, as they make their way onto the ice. I look for excited fans, young and old. Maybe it's their first time being this close to the players. You can see it in their eyes. The anticipation. The connection.

With player interaction and game readiness, I look for that focus, intensity or maybe just a quick laugh or smile between teammates. It shows their personality. It connects us to them. I want to show the fans what they can't see from their seats.

Moments are the goal with photos, whether it's a game-winning overtime goal or your child achieving a milestone in their life. We want to capture those moments to relive over and over. There is a reason pictures are worth 1,000 words.

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