Tag Archives: remote camera

Behind the Scenes – Photographing the Super Bowl

Last week we gave you a little insight into what goes into setting up remote cameras for the Super Bowl by speaking with photographer’s assistant Shawn Cullen. After the big event, we caught up with Shawn to see how it went and get some more detail about what it’s like to shoot one of the biggest sporting events in the world.

How Many Photographers Does it Take to Photograph the Super Bowl?

In short, the answer is a lot! And, it takes a lot to support them.  For USA Today Sports, there were 12 photographers, 10 runners, at least 8 editors and IT staff to make sure the network stayed up. The photographers were stationed as follows:

  • 2 photographers, one on each sideline
  • 2 photographers, one in each end zone
  • 4 photographers on the upper level, one level up from field
  • 1 photographer stationed in an upper level shooting position
  • 2 photographers roaming upper levels for action and beauty shots
  • 1 photographer dedicated to triggering the 6 remote cameras. (See last week’s blog for more information.)

When possible, the photographers are connected to the network to transfer images as soon as possible after they are taken.  When network connectivity is not possible, 10 runners are stationed to grab cards from the photographers and run them to the command center. The cards are placed in labeled bags and the runners are instructed to never take their hands off the cards. The command center was set up in an unused ticket office where editors review and select the best images to put on the wires.

Preparation is Key

On Super Bowl Sunday morning, USA Today had a staff meeting with everyone where they review the game plan and what to look for including players, coaches, half-time performers, singers, cheerleaders and the crowd. While this historic game did not have huge amounts of scoring action, there was still plenty to capture. While Shawn didn’t know exactly how many photographs were taken, he estimated around 75,000 or more.

Remote Trigger Radio Frequency and Interference

PocketWizard radios communicate wirelessly via radio waves. Just like any radio, they operate on certain frequencies and some frequencies are better than others. In North and South America (and some parts of Asia) we use the 340 – 354 MHz range because it is the least crowded frequency range for our class of wireless triggering devices. Other frequencies, used by our competitors, like the 2.4 GHz band, have many more interfering devices on them. These frequencies are getting more and more crowded as they are used by Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and wireless microphones. That makes the PocketWizard frequency the best because it is the least crowded which improves reliability and reduces the possibility of missed shots.

PocketWizard Best Practices to Minimize Radio Interference

While our frequency range is the most reliable, there are a few best practices that we can share to enhance reliability and Shawn has a few of his own tricks.   

  • Whenever possible, try to maintain a line of sight between the radios and keep the antennas parallel. While radio does not require line of sight, it does help dramatically.
    • When working in the catwalks of large stadiums, Shawn feels he gets the best reception by pointing the antennas slightly downward.
  • Make sure the radios are not near any large metal, concrete, or high water-content objects. People and trees are mostly water!
    • Hard to avoid any of this in a large stadium! To minimize interference, Shawn uses a long cable to keep the radios as far from the camera as possible and 2 of our non-metallic 4 inch mounting bars (MB4) screwed together to position them as far from the metal stadium supports as possible.
  • Do not mount the radios close to the ground – try to have them several feet above the Earth or building floors whenever possible.
    • In order to get that awesome low perspective, try and mount the PocketWizard above the camera if the camera is low.

Shawn swears by Long Range mode to extend the signal even farther. “Dead spots” have a number of causes, but the solution is usually the same: move the radio a few inches or feet away from the problem area.

Super Bowl Remote Photo

Test, Test, and Test Again.

The Super Bowl 2019 was played at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, arguably the best venue in the NFL. Some of its features include a 360-degree Halo Video Board that frames the roof opening – it is the world’s largest LED scoreboard at 63,000 square feet. Fans enjoy complete connectivity with 2,000 TV screens – even  embedded into bathroom mirrors and on the 101-foot-tall “Mega Column” three-dimensional video board. The venue has 1,800 wireless access points where 71,000 people can concurrently stream. Read more about the stadium here.

While all of these amenities make for a great fan experience, they can interfere with radio signals.  At the Super Bowl there is a frequency coordinator who manages all the frequencies to minimize interference.

Whether you are shooting your child’s pee-wee football game, or the Super Bowl, or best advice is to test, test and test again your set up and adjust where necessary. 

Want to learn more about radio waves?  Check out our Wiki!

Want to see some of the epic photographs taken by USA Today sport photographers?  Check out their gallery of their 100 best photos.

Super Bowl Photography!

Who’s ready for some football? Have you ever wondered what it’s like to photograph the biggest event in sports? We talked with Shawn Cullen who works as a photographer’s assistant with USA Today Sports and was setting up on Friday for Sunday’s big event. He explained how he sets up to captures this epic event.

Remote Camera Set-Up

Shawn has 6 remote cameras all set up in the catwalk aimed at key areas on the field.

  • Two at the 50 Yard Line – Both are aimed at the logo in the center to capture all the activity at the center of the field including the coin toss. One remote camera is equipped with a super wide lens to capture the end-to-end field overview including the scoreboard. Shots from this camera are helpful since capturing the scoreboard will give you an overview of the game at any time.
  • One at Each 25 Yard Line – Aimed at the roman numeral logo LIII.
  • One at Each End Zone – Pointing down the field poised to capture a field goal and the trophy presentation.

Custom IDs – A Premium Difference Only Offered by PocketWizard

PocketWizard Plus III radios are attached to each camera. The radios are tuned with a Custom ID which is a private digital code that ensures that only you can trigger your remote camera.  In crowded shooting environments, like the Super Bowl, Custom IDs give you the confidence to know that your remote camera isn’t going to be accidentally triggered by another photographer. While all the PocketWizards are set to Custom ID, they are programmed to different zones. PocketWizard Plus III units offer the ability use 4 different zones. All the cameras are connected to an ethernet cable so that the image editors can have fast access to the images to review and post online as quickly as possible.

Long Range Mode

The radios are all set to Long Range mode to extend the range. The Plus III Transceiver can trigger a remote up to 500 meters (1600 feet). An indoor football stadium is not an ideal shooting environment as there is a lot of noise. Using Long Range Mode nearly doubles the effective triggering distance in almost any environment. 

During the game, the remote cameras will be triggered by USA Today photographer and engineer James Lang. The cameras are all connected through a VLAN network and a video feed from the camera’s eye piece gives James the camera’s view. James remotely triggers the cameras when the action is right. 

On Friday, two days before the game, all the remote cameras are set and tested individually. In fact, USA Today photographers are required to participate in a “Burn Test” where the photographers fire all cameras at the same time to test the network. This is to simulate what might happen at any critical point in the game when everyone is trying to capture the action. This is done so that they can anticipate and correct any issues that might arise.

Shawn and James – good luck at the game, we can’t wait to see your photos!