Embedding with a Team to Make Great Images
Al SermenoSeptember 16, 2023; Berkeley, California, USA; Football: California Golden Bears vs Idaho Vandals at California Memorial Stadium; Al Sermeno (Photo credit: Kelley L Cox/KLC fotos)
Last week, when covering Cal Football vs Idaho overhead, I always have fun spotting other photographers and then tagging them on kreadivs. Al Sermeno, the KLC fotos photographer who covers all the home and away football games can be found on the field and even along the bench. That made me think to write a post about how valuable it is the be part of the team. Not only from the access it can grant you for better angles, but everything else that goes along with the team viewing you as one-of-their-own.
Working for the Team
I should preface that this is directed at those who work for a team. I wouldn't expect myself to EVER do this at a game where I am just working as general news freelancer.
Gaining their Trust
Deanne Fitzmaurice speaks on this often. You have to gain the trust of the team.
"I always have to earn the trust of my subjects so they'll let me into their lives. They have to know I believe in their story and want to tell it in the most truthful way I can." - Deanne Fitzmaurice
Working for a team grants you certain access, but earning the trust of the team, players, coaches, staff, security takes it to the next level. This is not assumed and it is not earned overnight. Even the great Michael Zagaris who is known for being embedded with the 49ers, had to earn the trust of Jim Harbaugh when Harbaugh was named head coach.
Know the Game
Just like sports broadcaster can be a seamless transition for a former player because they have the insight and phrasing that the pros use, knowing the game matters. Al knows the drills that they run in practice. He knows what plays during practice he can and cannot photograph. He knows when to be visible for players to "ham it up" and when to be invisible so that he's not a distraction.
Why This Makes a Difference
Sure, you can get great action photos from anywhere. But because Al is so embedded with the team and able to photograph from the bench it means his photos can be different from what everyone else on the field is getting. It means he can cover from closer angles for more dynamic photos because he's not stuck getting action from behind the end zone or only up to the 30 yard line.
And while this is all great and good for the images you create. I want to add another anecdote about why you want to develop this kind of relationship. In Cal's home opener, for whatever reason, service was terrible and Al could not deliver images via cell or wi-fi like we typically do. We asked Athletics IT to help but they were slammed with too many other projects. Yet football staff was able to get.it.done. and Al had a fiber ethernet line on the field. Easily accessed behind Cal's bench where other photographers aren't even allowed to pause as they pass from one end zone to the other.
I say all this as an outsider myslef. While KLC fotos has the Cal contract and I cover the media day for most teams and they are comfortably familiar with me in their huddles when I come out to games, I do not have the same kind of relationship that Al has with Cal football, with any team. So this is a bit of a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do shout out to Al for all the work he has put in to developing this relationship and making the images that he does!
What About You?
Are you embedded with a team? How has it helped you? Do you want to be embedded with a team? Do you know someone who is and want to shout out their work?
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