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.
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.