THE PLAYERS for the PGA TOUR with my iPhone
Posted on May 24, 2016
Jason Day holds up the championship trophy after winning THE PLAYERS Championship on THE PLAYERS Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass on May 15, 2016. (©2016 Brad Mangin/PGA TOUR)
Looking back at the nine days I spent in beautiful Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida on assignment for the PGA TOUR covering THE PLAYERS at TPC Sawgrass with just my iPhone for their many social media channels I have so many wonderful memories. Catching up with old friends, meeting new ones, and having the chance to be creative with a camera- any type of camera- made me so happy. Having a client actually PAY me to take pictures for them because they wanted me to be a part of their team coverage meant the most.
Thanks to the vision of Caryn Levy, who manages the photo department for the PGA TOUR, I was flown across the country without my Canon digital SLR cameras. I only brought my iPhone 6S Plus and a spare Mophie battery to take pictures for all of the TOUR’s social media outlets. Caryn had already hired an amazing crew of freelance photographers to shoot the “real” pictures, to go along with the talented staff photographers the TOUR already has in place. Hiring me was a gamble. Something that the TOUR had never done before. Heck, it’s something very few major sports outlets have had the guts to do.
Caryn loves shooting pictures with her iPhone, especially of her awesome dog (and my new friend) Stella. She has been following the work I have been doing with my iPhone and Instagram over the past few years and thought this was the perfect time to bring me in to try and help out with the TOUR’s biggest event of the year. Both of us were on the same page about the limitations of shooting with an iPhone so that was a huge help as we made our plans how I would fit into their coverage. Since Caryn was an incredible sports photographer for several decades before she started running the photographic services department at the TOUR we both speak “old school” and have fun trading stories. Before the trip I told her I was nervous and not sure I could deliver what the TOUR needed. I hadn’t shot anything resembling a golf tournament in a long time, and quite frankly, my confidence was shot since I hadn’t been hired by ANYONE to take a picture in over a month. Caryn assured me everything would be fine and that she hired me for a reason. By the time I flew to Jacksonville I was ready to go. I couldn’t wait to get started!
I hit the ground running and started shooting first thing Sunday morning, May 8, 2016. This was several days before THE PLAYERS was scheduled to start but work had to be done. Caryn took me into the sacred locker room area inside the Mediterranean-Style, 77,000 square foot clubhouse at TPC Sawgrass. Wow. One of the two-letter codes on my credential allowed me in there, but man I kept looking over my shoulder for someone to throw me out! It was very fancy and quite stunning inside. My assignment was to go inside the champions’ locker room, and regular locker room to shoot interiors and details to be used later in the week. This was very cool.
I shot a bunch of stuff that morning and then spent a few hours processing the images on my iPhone in Snapseed and Instagram before the final versions were sent to the social media team. For each image that I liked I would sometimes turn in the same image four different ways: color horizontal, color square, black and white horizontal, and black and white square. I did this because I wanted to give them as much freedom as possible to post the images across the different platforms and keep the images looking their best. Squares are great for Instagram but bad for most other channels. Horizontals are not so good for Instagram but better for other uses. Many of the images looked great in both color and black and white so I liked to give them the choice. This was a new venture for all of us and I was trying to make our department look as good as possible.
By the time I was done shooting several days of practice rounds and other activities around the golf course I was ready for THE PLAYERS to begin on Thursday. In order to kick things off proper I knew what I had to do. I needed to channel my inner Darren Carroll and get my ass out of bed super early (5:15am!) and get to Sawgrass early so I could get a nice picture from the driving range (classy places like this call it the practice tee) at sunrise. Luckily Caryn rented an amazing house for several of us super close to Sawgrass so my morning commute was about seven minutes. I was on the course just after 5:30am. By myself. Waiting. I just had to take a selfie to prove I was there and send it to Darren (see below). Once the golfers came out after 6am and the sun started to rise it all became worth it. By 7am I was covered from head-to-toe by thousands of microscopic pieces of freshly-cut grass from laying on the turf to get the perfect angle, but I got the picture I wanted. I can’t tell you how good it feels to make a picture you really like so early in the morning. Such a great way to start the day!
While covering this event for the TOUR my job was not to go out and walk 18 holes with the leaders and make great action pictures of the leaders. Caryn had amazing senior staff photographers Chris Condon and Stan Badz, and new staffer Ryan Young on hand to work their magic. Staff image librarian/junior photographer Jennifer Perez was invaluable covering many of the non-action assignments/events. Staff senior graphic designer Rob Knox shot panoramas and never stopped smiling all week. They were joined by freelancers Cy Cyr, J.D. Cuban. Logan Bowles, Jessica Danser, and Scott Stevens. Each one of these shooters brought a different skill set to the team that helped fulfill all of the many needs that the photographic services department had to provide during this very busy week. None of this could have happened without the editors who sifted through the thousands of images that were produced every day. Chris Keane came in from Charlotte to run the picture desk powered by PhotoShelter’s Libris. Legendary shooter and current Reuters picture editor Hans Deryk came in all the way from Toronto to sit alongside Chris and keep everyone sane. Mary Schilpp was our third picture editor who also acted as my photo coach, giving me ideas that helped me tell little stories about the event. Mary was huge for me. I had never been to this tournament before, but Mary had been there for over ten years. She knew everything about it and knew what could and couldn’t be shot with the iPhone well. It was her behind-the-scenes ideas that helped me make some of my favorite pictures of the week.
Thanks to the help of Chris and the team at PhotoShelter my workflow was pretty cool getting images from my iPhone into the Libris system, thanks to the new Libris Uploader app I was testing out all week. I was able to send my processed images directly to Chris from anywhere on the golf course, with the goal of trying to get images to the social media team as fast as possible. It was very liberating being able to do all of my work on the iPhone and not having to rely on shipping cards or emailing files to a bunch of people. Sending pictures directly to the picture desk was so cool. Thanks to Chris we came up with a pretty good system that kept improving as the week progressed.
By the time the tournament ended Sunday night we were all pretty exhausted, but I was very happy with the results of my assignment. People with the TOUR seemed pleased with the pictures I had made with my iPhone. I had an amazing time and was sad for it all to end. Everyone was so nice to me. Spending Monday night having dinner with Cy and old friend Ben Van Hook was one of the funniest evenings of the year. I promise- you had to be there- right Hook? The rental house we stayed at was amazing. It was like living in paradise for a week. Catching up with old friends that I never get to see like J.D. Cuban and Fred Vuich was just priceless. I know I drove Fred nuts spending so much time sitting at his desk in the media workroom editing my pictures and charging my iPhone but it was just an excuse to visit with one of the icons of golf photography. J.D. was such a good sport and a universal punching bag as all of us gave him so much shit for so many things. One of the truly great people in the business, it was a real honor to be on the same team as J.D.
There are few photographers I have been around who are more professional than Chris Condon. Chris has been covering the TOUR for a long time. He knows everyone and everyone knows him. He is classy and respectful and loves the game. He gets it, and man can he shoot. He took me for a ride in a golf cart on Monday afternoon to show me around the course and it was amazing how many players stopped him to say hello. I had never had the pleasure of meeting Chris before THE PLAYERS and I was so impressed with his work ethic. Whether he was shooting a group picture of sick children in a tent at a charity event on Tuesday morning or shooting a portrait of winner Jason Day in the clubhouse Sunday night he gave it all the same effort. Inspiring.
Hans Deryk is a pro’s pro. I had such a blast swapping stories with him about mutual friends like Eric Risberg, Bob Galbraith, and Kevork Djansezian. I especially enjoyed smoking that Cuban cigar you gave me while sitting in those rocking chairs on our sweet front porch. Our business needs more people like Hans. Well, it used to have more people like him but not anymore.
Cy Cyr. You are one funny son of a bitch. But you know that already. When can we work together again? Besides making me laugh all the time Cy was super helpful and introduced me to a million people. The guy knows everyone- just ask him!
A little story came out yesterday on TechCrunch about my experience shooting the event with my iPhone. I didn’t write the headline, nor did I write the story. The theme sure upset many people in the comments section and on Facebook, and that’s cool. Most of those people don’t understand my background or realize that I am actually a “real” photographer just trying to make a living by expanding my horizons and looking for new clients.
Most of you know that the business of sports photography has gone to Hell and guys like me are becoming extinct. I had a successful business model since 1993 as a freelancer but it is all over. I have not signed the new Time Inc. contract, so I am not shooting baseball for Sports Illustrated for the first time since the 1993 season. That is a long time. Assignment work has dried up. I won’t work for one of those fraudulent, corporate, bullshit, so-called wire services that pay next to nothing and abuse your rights forever. No chance. The fact is thanks to Maureen Cavanagh and Nate Gordon at The Players’ Tribune, and Caryn Levy at the PGA TOUR I have billed out more in assignment fees for the 2016 calendar year shooting with my iPhone than with my 35mm Canon cameras. I ain’t kidding.
I hope I get the chance to shoot more assignments with my iPhone in the near future. I had such a great time in Florida, and I think the pictures were pretty good. I can help teach some of these young social media kids that good photography shot by real pros can make their brand look much better than bad photography shot by just anybody. The TOUR treated me great and paid me well for the job. I would do it again in a heartbeat. Who else wants to hire me?