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All Good Things… (A Look Back at My Career Covering UW Athletics)

Husky Football

The Washington Huskies kick off their 2022 football season under new head coach Kalen DeBoer tomorrow. Which means this is the perfect time to look back on an important period in my photography career.

A few weeks ago, I received my yearly summer email from University of Washington Athletic Communications reminding me about requesting photo credentials for the upcoming Husky Football season. Even though I haven’t been officially connected to UW in over a decade, and I don’t shoot for any major publications or news outlets, Jeff Bechthold and his media relations team have always been kind enough to invite me back into the fold each September. And each year I gladly accepted the opportunity to return to my favorite sideline, getting yet another chance to provide Husky fans with a more intimate view of the action than what they’d get on TV or in the stands.

This year, I dreaded this email. 1.

I had known since last fall that I was unlikely to accept the invitation. Despite the fact that I’ve missed a lot more football games in recent years with a busy nature photography travel schedule and COVID, I still tried to squeeze in as many games as possible each fall. Several years into my full time photography career, we suddenly threw parenting into the mix. But even after becoming a dad I still tried to make it to Husky Football games.

It has been, in certain respects, an obligation, despite the fact that shooting sports didn’t resemble a job any more. I haven’t been paid to shoot a football game in over a decade. I didn’t have to meet deadlines, aside from those that were self-imposed. All of the pressure associated with photographing games was that which I created for myself, but more recently the pressure lessened. You could see the signs from a long ways off. Back in 2015, I penned an article detailing my waning love of sport. This blog entry is sort of the spiritual sequel, or perhaps just an inevitable conclusion to that piece.

During recent Septembers, my knees and back would protest a bit more loudly every time I returned to kneel on the sidelines. I’d keep cutting my workflow post-game to see if I could avoid another 1am drive home following the increasingly common night games. And I’d find myself hustling up to the press box with a few minutes left in games that were out of hand, or downright fleeing the field if the weather turned really foul in the second half. There’s no question my enthusiasm for the experience has waned, but ultimately it was the pull of family that spurred me to write Jeff back and tell him that, for the first time in 22 years, I wouldn’t be shooting Husky Football games.

Finding the right balance between family and work has always been a priority for me, and I’ve consciously cut back on my travel and photo opportunities in order to spend enough time at home. But it doesn’t make the absences any easier, and each work outing is still accompanied by a tinge of guilt about not being able to spend more time with my son 2. Husky Stadium isn’t half-way around the world, but last year I really started to feel a longing for spending weekends at home. He’s still young enough that he can’t do all these night games anyway (and, frankly, he’s not nearly as enthused about Husky Athletics as he is obligated to be), so I’d rarely get to see my family at pre-game tailgates, nor track them down in their seats before a game.

So the decision was already made last year, and was reinforced when I looked at the calendar and saw wildlife trips coming up in both September and November this season. As I previously wrote, we evolve and priorities change, so the end of this chapter in my career isn’t a surprise. And I can take comfort in the fact that the actual motivator that drove me to cover so many games—giving folks a better view of what’s out there—still drives a lot of what I do on the nature photography side.

I may return to the sidelines at some point if the invitation is there, family obligations aren’t as pressing, and my body won’t incite rebellion. Goodness knows that for me, sitting in the stands as a Husky fan pales in comparison to the sideline experience and is difficult to endure, so the temptation to request a credential again will linger for years, I suspect. For now though, it’s a good time to look back at my tenure covering Husky sports. It was hugely important for my career development, and this is a perfect excuse to scour the archives and pull out some of my favorite and most significant UW memories created behind the lens.

 

Mighty Are the Men…

My sports photography career began… in Pullman? Yes, that Pullman. Home of the rival Washington State University Cougars (like so many others, I’ve always just referred to them as the “cougs,” but I purposefully employ the lower case C as much as possible 3). As I was about to enter middle school, my mom took a job teaching at wazzu. The move from Seattle to dreary Pullman remains the most traumatizing moment of my life, but there was one positive that came out of it: I was forced to take a music class at my new school.

Given the choice between choir, orchestra, or band, I opted for the latter, picking up a trumpet for the first time. Later, back in the Seattle area for high school, a friend talking me into converting to sousaphone in the marching band, and at some point someone convinced me more tuba playing is what would really complete the college experience. So I auditioned for the Husky Marching Band. I was a solid but unspectacular musician, and the only way I got into the band with a number of superior players that year is because the HMB was under new leadership. Its new director, Brad McDavid, was an ex-Ohio State sousaphone player. He would’ve likely told you at the time that the only prescription for what ailed the Husky Band—even if there was nothing actually wrong with it—was more tuba players.

The band experience carried me through college. I walked away with a degree despite sleeping through half my classes (though failing only a few) only because I was enjoying band enough to stick around. And it fed my Husky Football obsession. It was during this time that The Streak was born. Following a second-year road game at UCLA, I didn’t miss another Husky Football game, home or away, until well past college 4. Somewhere during that time I settled on an art degree, and finally was able to take a photography class… which was a blast. Following graduation, I was looking for excuses to keep my game attendance streak alive. It was one thing to just buy tickets and travel as a fan. But I figured out a better way to do it.

Captain Husky in 2004 and 2019

Time Capsule: Captain Husky (former HMB member Barry Erickson) in 2004 and in 2019 (played by his son).

The band already had a full time photographer for home games. Louis Figueroa preceded me in the sousaphone section and on the sidelines at Husky home games. But Louis didn’t travel with the band to photograph them on the road. So I asked Brad if I could get credentialed as the band’s “traveling photographer.” I wouldn’t be paid, but I’d be able to satisfy my football hunger and feed my budding passion for photography.

Back then I was shooting on my dad’s Olympus OM-1, a small but solid film camera that I still miss to this day. Being a poor college graduate, I was mostly sticking to cheap print film (which I’d develop at Costco). And no, I won’t bother trying to scan and dig up old band photos for this article. They’re somewhere around here, though.

Things went about the way you’d expect. I’d shoot the band, I’d photograph the cheerleaders… and maybe I’d occasionally peek over my shoulder and snap a few photos of the football action. Soon, I was doing more than peeking, spending half the game hoping that the Huskies would drive down to our end of the field so I could try to somehow capture a moment or two using the manual-focus/no-motor-drive relic in my hands. Sometimes, I’d get lucky, and my first memorable sports photos captured on film were taken during the magical 2000 Rose Bowl season.

Early in the year, the Huskies traveled to Colorado. This game was mainly hyped because it was UW head coach Rick Neuheisel’s return to Boulder, where he had coached prior to taking the Husky job. It was a low scoring game, and the Dawgs weren’t at their best, but they were able to grind out a win. I distinctly remember capturing a couple of key moments during UW’s second half comeback: the winning Wilbur Hooks touchdown grab that I had no business freezing in time with that camera, and this backlit celebration following Willie Hurst’s go-ahead touchdown run.

Willie Hurst, Jerramy Stevens (14), and Joe Collier celebrate a touchdown against Colorado.

Willie Hurst, Jerramy Stevens (14), and Joe Collier celebrate a touchdown against Colorado.

Another game later in the season stood out for different reasons. Husky games at Stanford back then were a little weird, and stood out for producing bad weather and worse moments. In 1994 (my first year in the band), we rode busses for 18 hours down to the Bay Area, only to get absolutely drenched during a Washington loss. My hat shrunk three sizes, and from the stands I witnessed a now infamous-melee that ensued when HMB members “playhoused” (dogpiled) the Stanford Tree. This, according to the band members involved, had all been agreed to during the previous night’s possibly-inebriated get-together with the Stanford Band. Ari Mervis, the Tree, later claimed not to remember said agreement. Nor did the rest of the Stanford Band members who raced across the field and began brawling with the Huskies. Eventually an unnamed HMB member was singled out by police and led away in handcuffs. Alongside those old photos, I still have the UW Daily article detailing the fracas.

Six years later, there was another rain storm when the Huskies and Cardinal faced off in Palo Alto. And somehow, the on-field incident in this game was even worse than in ’94. This was the game in which UW safety Curtis Williams was paralyzed making a tackle. It cast a pall over the stadium (and much of the remainder of the season), but the game still had to be completed. Stanford managed to claw their way back in the rain. I think I remember at least two recovered onside kicks, and the Cardinal ended up taking the lead in the waning minutes. But UW’s captain, quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo, engineered a trademark comeback, driving Washington down the field in only three plays. The drive was capped by a 22-yard touchdown grab by Justin Robbins, with only 17 seconds left on the clock.

Justin Robbins touchdown

Justin Robbins caught the game-winning touchdown in the rain against Stanford.

It’s a distant, grainy shot (yes, on black and white film!) which accurately depicts a typical Stanford football crowd, but given the significance of that game it really stands out as one of the more important moments I was privileged to capture during my career.

 

Dawgman Days

Eventually all that sideline peeking translated into a real, full time football shoot. In the 2001 season, Washington was slated for an early season showdown with the University of Miami at the Orange Bowl. This game was a big deal. The previous season, Washington had upset what was turning into a historically-elite Hurricane squad in Seattle (it’s still one of the last Great Husky home games of the past quarter century). The rivalry was kindled a decade prior, however, when UW and Miami split the national championship. A few years later, the Dawgs traveled to the Orange Bowl and halted the Canes’ NCAA record home winning streak.

Miami Week was a huge event, and a couple of cruise lines enticed Washington fans with Caribbean cruises leading up to the game. I was on one of those ships when we woke up at our first stop: Key West. The date was September 11, 2001.

There was a lot of speculation in the days that followed about whether the game would be played following the horrific events of 9/11. It was difficult to pretend life was normal (and tensions were only heightened when, on September 12th, a small plane of Husky fans crashed during a sightseeing flight from the other UW cruise ship), but we did our best to get through the rest of the week while waiting to hear what would happen with the upcoming slate of sporting events around the country. I happened to be on the same cruise ship as the crew from Dawgman.com (the long-time leading Husky recruiting and news website), and got to chatting with them a fair amount during the week.

Dave Samek (“Dawgman”) was still heavily involved with the site back then, and he happened to be a fellow Husky Band alum. We hit it off, and at some point I mentioned my interest in photography. When news finally broke that the UW-Miami game would be postponed until the end of the season, Dave invited me to come back and cover the game for Dawgman. The season eventually resumed. The Huskies had come down to earth following their Rose Bowl year. Meanwhile, Miami was proving to be an all-time team filled with an endless supply of NFL draft picks.

The game was ugly. Miami may have had payback on their minds… or they were just that much better. They crushed UW, 65-7. I shot the game at night on, again, cheap print film. There weren’t any winning photos, but some time later, Larry Tripplett (UW’s All-American lineman) did order a print from me.

Larry Tripplett against Miami

Larry Tripplett’s photo, along with my first-ever credited photo (in Sports Washington).

That experience kicked off my Dawgman career. I continued to shoot for the band at the occasional away game (graduating to slide film at one point!), but by the 2003 pre-season I was asked to cover events for Dawgman. During this time I landed my first magazine cover, a truly forgettable training camp shot used for Sports Washington, DM’s print publication.

Running back Chris Singleton somehow landed on the cover of Sports Washington in this photo.

Running back Chris Singleton somehow landed on the cover of Sports Washington in this photo.

Still obsessed with my game streak, I traveled to the season opener against defending national champion Ohio State. It was my first visit to the vaunted Horseshoe, and the host fans immediately lived up to their reputation as the “Oregon of the Midwest.” I remember something about the light during that game. I had switched to digital cameras for sports earlier in the year, and while my gear struggled with night games, I distinctly remember the colors and uniforms glittering with a lovely sheen all night long.

Reggie Williams vs Ohio State

Reggie Williams and the Huskies traveled to Columbus in the 2003 opener.

This helmet shot was clichéd, but somewhat iconic. I still see it popping up on social media time and again as Husky Fans use it in their avatars.

Husky helmet

This helmet photo remains popular in the age of social media.

By the time the Apple Cup rolled around, the Huskies had fallen below .500 and were in danger of having their first losing season in 27 years. Cody Pickett and Corey Williams managed to avoid that by conducting a late game-winning drive against a top ten cougar team 5.

Corey Williams wins the Apple Cup

Corey Williams leaps for the game-winner in the 2003 Apple Cup (red jacket, Softy, really?!).

Around this time, I also started dipping my toes into the world of basketball photography. The football program was trending downward, but special things were taking place inside Hec Edmunson Pavilion, where Lorenzo Romar’s team (led by several local products) was suddenly creating a buzz on Montlake. In late 2003 I attended my first men’s basketball game as a photographer, right around the time that the team was scraping their way out of the basement of the conference standings. Among the highlights that year was an inspiring victory over the vaunted Arizona Wildcats. An alley oop pass to Nate Robinson, capped by a thunderous slam, remains one of the most famous plays in UW hoops history.

Nate Robinson alley oop against Zona

Nate Robinson’s alley oop dunk brought the house down against Arizona.

The Huskies continued their hot streak to the end of the season, when they handed #1-ranked Stanford their first loss of the year, and eventually the Dawgs landed in the NCAA tournament. For the Big Dance I traveled to Columbus, OH, covering UW’s tight first-round loss to UAB. My primary memory from that trip, made with Dawgman intern Henry Han (who was doing the writing), came from the drive back to Indianapolis for our flight home. Henry and I witnessed a dramatic blue fireball blaze across the night sky. To this day it ranks up there with the aurora borealis and the 2017 solar eclipse as the most fascinating and dramatic celestial phenomena I’ve seen.

The next year, the Huskies were feeling good about themselves, and I followed them all the way to Alaska to watch them kick off the season at the Great Alaska Shootout. I was accompanied by another writer on this trip… Jenn! We convinced the Dawgman crew to make it a family affair (to be fair, we’d only been dating a year, but Jenn had been an English major at UW, and tackled the reporting with aplomb). Washington took care of business, taking home their first hardware of the season. Along the way, Brandon Roy and company toppled future #1-pick Andrew Bogut and Utah.

Brandon Roy dunks over Andrew Bogut

Brandon Roy and the Huskies won the Great Alaska Shootout.

Other highlights from that trip included Thanksgiving dinner at… Denny’s, and watching a squirrel catch a bird in its jaws (out of midair!) at the Eagle River Nature Center. Where was my camera for that?!

Lorenzo Romar’s crew had a magical season, capped by an exciting run through the Pac-10 tournament. There, they faced off against rival Arizona… and won!

Lorenzo Romar

During the post-game interviews, Arizona’s Hassan Adams was asked about the loss. Adams insisted the Wildcats were the better team. He was quickly admonished by Zona head coach Lute Olson, who reminded Adams that UW had beaten them three times that season. I respected Olson a lot more after that.

Following their tourney success, UW landed a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament, but were unlucky to be paired with a very strong Louisville team in the Sweet Sixteen. The Dawgs lost in the altitude of Albuquerque, but the magic of that season has not been forgotten.

My years partnering with the Dawgman team were incredibly important. The experience thrust me into the sports media world, which was a mostly-positive learning experience. I was surrounding by long-time veterans from local publications, like Rod Mar and Dean Rutz of the Seattle Times, and had a chance to travel to some big events (strangely, I never covered a football bowl game, but the NCAA tournament games had a bigger feel and more electric atmosphere anyway). I joined the Sportsshooter.com website and forum. At the time, before social media took off, it was still thriving a thriving community. SportsShooter was a place to learn all manner of lessons about the industry. It was this exposure that formed my personal guidelines and ethics for faithfully capturing the game experience, and not overly-manipulating my images in post processing (something I addressed in my article on black and white photography). I still adhere to these “journalistic” ethics in my color work, abstaining from creating super glossy or smooth images, removing elements, or adding canvas in PhotoShop.

Jimmy Lake in 2004 and 2019

Time Capsule: Assistant coach Jimmy Lake in 2004 and head-coach-in-waiting in 2019.

The other thing I learned was to value my own time and work. In general it was a lesson that was easy to absorb, through the way it was imparted by some of my new peers was a little hard to swallow. At the time, old school print journalism was decaying. Newspapers were giving ground to websites. Again, this was before the onset of powerful social media outlets, but the damage from the internet was already being done. Print subscriptions were drying up, too many papers were offering up their news for free, and sports photojournalists were feeling the pinch. The press world I entered at that time was filled with grizzled, anxious, and often paranoid professionals, who were at best (rightfully) concerned, and at worst lashing out at anything that may have been contributing to the demise of their current careers and future job prospects.

At the same time that their employers were often giving away their content for free, photographers would constantly remind each other to not diminish the value of one’s own work. When I happened to mention my circumstance at the time—I was shooting for Dawgman for free 6—that drew their ire toward me. I understood and respected their motivation for getting on my case, but at the same time felt they didn’t quite grasp my particular circumstance: even if I refused to shoot for Dawgman (something that not only gave me my first real experience in the press setting) without getting paid, I wasn’t stealing work from a contracted or paid professional. To this date, I don’t think Dawgman has ever paid a photographer to shoot for them. 😉

So I was comfortable that this unique circumstance was an appropriate way for me to gain the experience (and connections, as it turns out) that I needed to take the next step.

 

Making it Official

Prior to the 2005 season, I lost my ability to shoot for Dawgman. It was a decision that was out of my hands and those of the DM crew. The head of UW Athletic Communications at that time, Jim Daves, told the Dawgman team that he wouldn’t issue them a press credential in my name… because he wanted to hire me to shoot for UW. This came during a transition in the way the athletic department was handling photography. It remained largely informal and pretty disorganized, and there was very little in the athletic department budget for a sports photographer. But Daves wanted to get away from film, and he appreciated my work. Plus, he probably knew it would be my first consistent paying gig and that I’d represent my alma mater without raising much of a fuss.

Cheerleader

Reason to cheer?

In some ways, I felt like the luckiest guy in Seattle… but I was unlucky in one significant respect. My tenure shooting for the UW athletic department coincided with the absolute low point in the 100+ year history of Husky Football.

Todd Turner introduces Tyrone Willingham

This moment didn’t age well.

This was the Tyrone Willingham Era, a time we’d all like to erase from our memories. It was a tough gig… trying to find bright spots while enduring a winless season and countless blowout losses. There was a time when matchups against Ohio State, Oklahoma, and USC would bring some excitement and thrills. This was not that time.

The 2005 SC game was notable, however, from a professional standpoint. Prior to that game, I dropped my camera and Sigma 50-500mm lens onto the track that encircled the field at Husky Stadium. They were toast. I had to shoot the game and the Trojans’ back-to-back Heisman Trophy winners Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart, as well as future Seahawk coach Pete Carroll, with only my 70-200mm and 24-70mm lenses.

Craig Chambers catches a touchdown against USC

This touchdown by Craig Chambers was one of the few plays (and perhaps the only highlight) within range of my 70-200mm lens.

This marked a turning point for me. With my first “big” lens on the trash heap, it was the perfect time to upgrade to my first professional long glass. But which lens? Most pro sports photographers used the hefty 400mm 2.8 lens (which let in a lot of light… ideal for the ever-increasing afternoon and evening kickoffs). I was partial to the slightly shorter 300mm 2.8 lens, something that let in just as much light but gave me a wider view of the action. It was also significantly lighter than the 400. Or I could go longer. A 500mm or the monster 600mm were options I had to consider, because this was right around the time I was turning my focus more to wildlife photography. I had been getting more serious about making frequent trips to Yellowstone, and I had completed my first serious international wildlife trip (Costa Rica) earlier that year. Trips to South America and Africa were on the horizon.

It wasn’t an easy choice. Sports photography was the better-paying gig at the time. But I looked at the long term picture, and knew that nature photography was ultimately going to be my final destination. I bought a 500mm f/4 lens, and continued to rent a 300mm for the occasional sporting event for a while.

Husky Football really bottomed out under Willingham, but things got a bit more exciting with the arrival of quarterback phenom Jake Locker.

Jake Locker

Yes, Jake Locker was running for his life during much of his career.

It wasn’t all about football, of course. Taking on the official mantle of UW Lead Photographer meant I had to cover other sports. For the first time, I got to try shooting some of the “Olympic” sports like tennis, soccer, and gymnastics. Crew and volleyball quickly became favorites. Crew races on the Montlake Cut brought open spaces, history and pageantry of a program that has been even more successful than UW football. Volleyball was a joy simply for the sheer emotion on the court.

Kelly Holford

Kelly Holford gets fired up during a volleyball match in Hec Ed.

 

Going Out on a High Note

Mercifully, the Willingham Era ended. The cloud over Montlake began to dissipate a bit, and I entered a brief period in 2009-2010 that was a lot more fun to cover. Washington hired Steve Sarkisian as its next coach (I still remember following him down the tunnel following his initial introduction to the UW hoops crowd… “that was… Awesome! Awesome! Awesome! Awesome!”), and the mood on lower campus swung dramatically. Sark’s Huskies, with Jake Locker still at the helm, put up a nice fight again the vaunted LSU Tigers in their ’09 opener.

Jake Locker against LSU

Jake Locker and the Huskies were chased down by the bigger, faster Tigers… but still signaled that a change was coming to Montlake.

A couple weeks later, #3 USC came to town. The Huskies pulled off a stunning upset against Pete Carroll’s team. Erik Folk kicked the game winning field goal as time expired.

Erik Folk beats USC

Erik Folk kicks the game winner against #3 USC.

A large placard featuring this shot still hangs inside Husky Stadium with a number of other legendary moments from the program’s history. The crowd mobbed the field, of course, and I quickly followed the team down the tunnel. It was my first (and only) time in the team locker room following a game. It was pandemonium, as you might expect.

Jake Locker and Jermaine Kearse

Jake Locker and Jermaine Kearse celebrate the upset.

That wasn’t the last memorable moment for me from Sark’s first year. Against Arizona, Mason Foster returned the “Immaculate Interception” (a ball that bounced off a Wildcat receiver’s foot) for the game-winning score.

Mason Foster's Immaculate Interception return

Mason Foster returns the game winner against Arizona.

Ultimately, my proudest memory from that year occurred at the end of the season. The vastly-improved Huskies were already out of the running for a bowl game, and the Apple Cup was approaching. A project had been brewing in my mind in the weeks leading up to the game. I had been digesting the tilt-shift time lapse videos of Australian photographer Keith Loutit. They were impressive, different, and fun. “Why couldn’t that be done at a Husky Football game?” I wondered. I approached the new media relations director, Richard Kilwien, with my idea for a video showing the full Washington game day experience. He gave me the go-ahead.

With only two weeks to go before the Apple Cup, there was only one problem: I had no idea how to pull off the feat. I had never shot a time lapse before. I didn’t have a tilt-shift lens. And I certainly didn’t know how to edit a video on the computer (the last time was using two VCRs back in high school). There was a lot of homework to do in very little time. I first scoured the internet for tips on creating time lapses. Next, I needed to find an intern. I wasn’t going to be able document all of the footage I needed on my own. There were too many potential angles and viewpoints to use, and each “shot” required standing in place for 5-15 minutes at a time while the camera clicked away every second or two. Much like Saul Goodman, I scrounged up a school kid with a camera to help with my amateur video project. James Hart was actually part of a family I’d become casual friends with during some recent summer vacations at a mutual friend’s rental cabin. This high schooler was eager and willing to help with my crazy experiment.

James and I took an afternoon to scout potential shooting angles and locations. I had a list of stuff I wanted to cover, but we had to see what might provide the appropriate high vantage points we needed. We also had to break down the approximate time needed at each location, and then divvy up all of the spots between the two of us for game day. Around this time I also had to make a trip over to the IMA, to speak with its director to request access to their roof on game day (hoping to capture a view of the tailgating crowd in the nearby parking lot). This all got squared away pretty quickly. I also checked with Richard to make sure the stadium facilities crew was aware of this project and that they’d grant us access to all the spots we had picked out.

With that taken care of, I had two days to learn how to edit video. I chose iMovie, which was the easiest way to go, and by Friday night I felt pretty comfortable with how the next 72 hours or so (our deadline was the following Tuesday) would go. As it turned out, things did go relatively smoothly that weekend. The one major hiccup occurred when an assistant facilities director quite vociferously barred me from the stadium’s West tower (despite the assurances I’d received that they’d be welcoming). It was a long day, but James and I felt we had acquired enough decent footage to put something together. I parked myself in my office over the next two days and began compiling shots. That required:

  1. Downloading 29,000 photos from our cameras (I was shooting Canon and James was shooting Nikon… the color balance was noticeably different in our shots)
  2. Stringing images into sequences using Quicktime Pro (1 shot taken every second for game action and streamed at 10fps; 1 shot/2 seconds streamed at 12fps for everything else)
  3. Importing these sequences into iMovie and editing them in some sort of order.
  4. Oh, and don’t forget music!

That last step was super important. I love the part of the video editing process that allows me to put movie clips to music. In this case, we had a semi-official production on our hands, so we actually had to license a song. I had convinced the athletic department to budget a small amount for music licensing. That was great, but the selection remained slim 7. I scoured a number of paid music licensing sites trying to find something that a) offered the right tempo and song length, while being b) affordable. I couldn’t get picky about genre or lyrics… tempo and length were far more important. Finally, I landed on History by the band Anthem In.

Using my newfound iMovie skills, I put it all together in what was surely record time, and we got it published on UW’s official feeds by Tuesday morning as planned.

It even went a little viral among the Husky community. The following weekend I caught some folks sharing it at the Ivar’s game day brunch, so I knew it was a hit. Regardless, it was a project I remain immensely proud of to this day, and is among the favorite things I’ve ever produced during my sports photography career 8. James and I even got together and shot footage for a Husky Softball time lapse the following spring, but I never finished that video because I couldn’t find the right music for it. Some day, I may explore the idea of tilt-shift time lapses again in my nature work (I’ve dreamed of a Yellowstone version for years).

By the way, the Huskies won that Apple Cup 30-0. It was Sark’s first, and I don’t think he was too happy that the official photographer wasn’t around to cover the game action that day (he ended up getting some prints from Rod Mar to hang in his office).

Husky basketball was still going strong, by the way. The Dawgs, led by Isaiah Thomas and Jon Brockman, managed to claim the regular season conference title that year, which set off a raucous celebration in Hec Ed.

Isaiah Thomas celebrates the Pac-10 championship

Isaiah Thomas celebrates the Pac-10 championship.

It was also the year Husky Softball won the national title, riding the arm of Danielle Lawrie all the way to the championship. During those days, the athletic department budget only allowed for me to cover one or two Olympic sporting events per season per sport, so I think I only shot one softball game. And I certainly didn’t go to the World Series (an event I previously attended as part of the first-ever Softball World Series pep band). Missing another trip to Oklahoma City didn’t make me particularly sad.

Danielle Lawrie

For my money, the greatest female athlete ever at UW.

There were more highlights from crew, including the always-fun Class Day regatta.

Throwing the coxswain in the water

The coxswain for the winning crew goes in the water… even on Class Day.

As late summer rolled around, I got some unsettling news from the athletic department. They were revamping how they were handling media and photography. It was a step in the right direction: the football program especially needed to step up their media and online presence, rather than paying a single photographer to cover just a couple games every year. So they opened the photographer position up for bid. Suddenly, I was competing against industry veterans, and not just one at a time. I put in my own joint bid with another photographer, which not only included increased coverage but also official athlete portraiture and other events (something Stephen Brashear, my colleague, was very experienced with). We came in second, however, losing out to a team of four ex-newspaper photographers.

I certainly couldn’t blame the UW for their choice. They went with the seasoned crew of proven professionals. The irony, of course, is that that team of four was whittled down to only one within a year or so, as the other three wandered off to other careers and business opportunities. The remaining photographer, Scott Eklund, continued to produce outstanding work for the department, but he couldn’t be everywhere (especially while juggling his portrait side business), so he ended up farming out assignments to other photographers. My tenure shooting for UW wasn’t quite over after all.

The first couple games in that 2010 season were the last time I covered football for the school, however. This memorable shot of Mason Foster was one of the lasting final frames I took in an official capacity.

Mason Foster vs Syracuse

Mason Foster, er… flew around the field this day.

My adventures around Montlake were far from over. Jeff Bechthold (now acting head of Athletic Communications) continued to issue me credentials, and he and assistant media relations director Brian Tom would occasionally refer visiting schools to me to cover their teams in pre- or post-season games.

Jimmy Lake in 2004 and 2019

Time Capsule: Assistant coach Jimmy Lake in 2004 and head coach in waiting in 2019.

It was also around this time that I was put in touch with FanCam, a South African company that was producing interactive, high resolution images at sporting events and concerts around the globe. I traveled to North Carolina for a training session, and was soon on the road a few times a year cranking out a few hundred photos in a limited time span, all while using a precise panoramic tripod head into order to create the accurate overlap needed to stitch together a massive, zoomable image of each crowd. At one point I was assigned the Michigan – Notre Dame game that attracted the largest crowd in college football history. So it made sense that I’d be the one to shoot the FanCam at Husky Stadium in November of 2011. It was the final home game at the “old” stadium, prior to its renovation.

The FanCam was a success, but one thing I wanted to do after my panoramic duties were over was to get one final shot of the old stadium. So in the third quarter I left… and wandered over to the arboretum. From there, I captured one last reflection of the old building.

Last game at old Husky Stadium

The final game night before the stadium remodel.

I ultimately made that shot available as a limited edition print (it looks dynamite on metallic paper), and it sold pretty well. Which planted the seed for what I would do in two years time, when the new Husky Stadium opened up. I had bigger plans for that date, though as seems to be the case with many of these projects, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to pull it off. I really wanted to capture the stadium from the air. I feared, however, that either a) the department might ask me to shoot for them (potentially costing me a profitable private venture) while their own photographer was shooting aerials, or b) if they had their own photographer already in the air, I might not be able to get up there myself.

As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about. I was able to charter my own helicopter for game day, after receiving FAA approval. I purposely timed my flight for the second quarter, worried I might interfere with Scott’s aerial shots for UW. I needn’t have worried. There were at least four choppers over the stadium that evening. I did make it up in time to capture dusk, and came away with what I feel were some really lovely shots of the inaugural game in the new stadium.

Husky Stadium on opening night

Husky Stadium on opening night

Husky Stadium on opening night

These ended up in a limited edition metallic series (and are also available in my Pixels store), and continue to sell even now.

 

On My Own

I tried sitting in the stands after my time shooting football for UW ended. I really did. That experiment lasted all of one game. I hated being “just a fan.” So eventually I returned to the sideline. I was still motivated by that early inspiration: sharing a close view of the game that the fans might not otherwise get. I was still having fun doing it and my body wasn’t complaining too much. Along the way I’d raise funds for various charitable causes by auctioning off some Husky prints (and would still do so today, if anyone remembered to ask!), and continued to fill in for Scott here and there in other sports.

Aliza Vaccher

Aliza Vaccher’s teammates celebrate her triumphant final floor routine.

Katy Beals

Katy Beals serves it up during a match at Hed Ed.

Of course, I still tried to cover as many football games as possible each fall.

Jaydon Mickens

Jaydon Mickens fires up the team before the season opener against Sacramento State in 2015.

Sidney Jones

Sidney Jones trips up an opponent.

Salute to Service Night at Husky Stadium

Salute to Service Night at Husky Stadium.

Vita Vea

Vita Vea was the most dominant defensive player I covered during my career.

Dante Pettis

In one of the loudest recent moments in Husky Stadium history, Dante Pettis set the NCAA punt return touchdown record against Oregon.

Ben Burr-Kirven

Ben Burr-Kirven was one of the biggest surprise performers for the Huskies during my tenure.

Husky Fans

The students were often immature, vulgar and occasionally slurred in their chants and cheers, but they always brought passion to the game.

Aaron Fuller

Aaron Fuller snags a one-handed touchdown against Eastern Washington.

One thing I immediately appreciated was some newfound freedom. I didn’t have to capture “stock” images of as many players as possible for the department. Instead, I could go pick my spots on the sidelines, and get creative. I’d experiment with motion blurs or throw in the occasional black and white image.

Keishawn Bierria and Azeem Victor

Keishawn Bierria and Azeem Victor share a private moment prior to the big game against Stanford in 2016.

Myles Gaskin

Myles Gaskin celebrates a score in the Apple Cup.

Ryan Bowman

Ryan Bowman looks for a path to the quarterback.

Husky Cheer

The cheer squad celebrates a victory in Husky Stadium.

Chris Petersen

Head coach Chris Petersen shows his usual game day intensity.

Zion Tupuola-Fetui

Zion Tupuola-Fetui waits to get back on the field.

Husky Fans

The party deck was in full swing during one of my final games last year.

Over the next decade I found myself shifting focus more and more toward my nature work. Coincidentally, the year I stopped working for UW was also the year I went full-time as a professional photographer. But that’s mostly in the wildlife field, and a big part of that work involves leading photo trips in far-flung places. Sports took a back seat. These days I would much rather be exploring the inlets and fjords of the Great Bear Rainforest, trudging through a jungle, or bouncing along in a safari vehicle in Zambia than cramping up on a rainy sideline in Husky Stadium. Plus, I was getting paid to do it!

Nate Robinson over the years

Time Capsule: Nate Robinson in 2004, 2009 (celebrating the USC upset on the way to the locker room), and 2019.

Now we’ve arrived at the eve of another Husky Football season. I’m actually in town, but I won’t be going to tomorrow’s game. Instead of heading down well before the game to claim one of the few unassigned seats in the press box 9 (I always preferred to avoid the cramped photo work room in order to give the paid professionals more space), I’ll get to spend the entire day with my kid, and wish him goodnight. And I’m looking forward to more freedom during my ensuing weekends at home. Maybe taking my son to games as he gets older will train me to tolerate the fan experience.

First Husky Game

My son’s first Husky game, back in 2018.

At this point there are few regrets about the way things played out the past 22 years. I certainly wish I had shot for UW during the Petersen years rather than the Willingham years, but it was still fun. I never followed through on the promise I made myself to cover the Rose Bowl (or the Playoff for that matter), but by that point my intense passion for the meaningful moments on the field had passed, so I can live with that. I was fortunate to have covered stars like Lawrie, Locker, Williams, Thomas, and Roy 10 And I think I fulfilled my goal of giving the fans the best view of the game. However, I don’t feel I ever gave it everything I could. I’m a far better wildlife photographer than sports photographer, in part because I’ve always been reluctant to push personal boundaries. With human subjects, I’d rather keep my distance, and when it comes to sports, this has prevented me from testing my creative limits and capturing more intimate moments with my subjects.

It’s possible, of course, that I’ll get the itch again at some point—maybe I’ll be a better sports photographer by then—but for now I’m content stepping away from the field, giving my back and knees a break (they need to rest up for Mongolia this winter!), and watch the Huskies from afar. I suppose it’s just another project… another experiment. I have no idea if I’ll be able to pull this one off either, but I’ll enjoy trying.

Before I forget, I do want to thank all of you who followed my sports journey over the years. If you supported my business by buying some of those stadium prints, I greatly appreciate it!

As always, Go Huskies!


Big thanks to Dr. Brad McDavid, Dave Samek, Kim Grinolds, Chris Fetters, Scott Eklund (DM), Jim Daves, Richard Kilwien, Ebbie Thomas, Jeff Bechthold, Brian Tom, and Scott Eklund (RB) for their support and the opportunities they provided over the years. Thanks to the coaches and occasional players or ex-players who occasionally signed prints to raise funds for charitable causes over the years. I’d also like to give a big shout out to a few peers who made a stronger connection than just the occasional passing nod on the sidelines: Louis Figueroa, Scott Cohen, Stephen Brashear, Rod Mar, and Dave Sizer. And finally, thanks to Jenn for putting up with all the late night returns from the press box.

As a reminder, I continue to donate a portion of my annual store proceeds to the Husky Marching Band Scholarship Fund. You can help support the band and my business by purchasing prints and gift items here and on Pixels.

Husky Stadium Photo Prints

Notes:

  1. Though not for the first time… the year following my angry letter to UW athletics about the erosion of Husky Football traditions, I wasn’t sure I’d be invited back!
  2. The good news is that he’s almost old enough to carry my gear, so maybe I’ll get a sherpa soon.
  3. There’s a tinge of irony here, in that actual cougars are now one of my favorite and oft-photographed wildlife subjects.
  4. 73 straight games!
  5. Of course, a losing season was right around the corner in 2004, but at least the Dawgs weren’t done upsetting favored Cougar teams!
  6. I had another full time job.
  7. Something like “Such Great Heights” from The Postal Service was perfect, but probably out of our budget even if they had offered me a local discount… after all, UPS was using the song in a major ad campaign at the time.
  8. Also important to note was that after the music license ran out and UW had to remove the video from their site, I contacted Anthem In, which gave me permission to keep using the song on my own YouTube channel… I’ll always be grateful for that!
  9. Maybe they should name the last chair in the corner the Max Waugh Memorial Seat.
  10. There is a slight tinge of regret not photographing Tim Lincecum, but that would’ve meant sitting through my least favorite college sport to cover.

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