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The Falcons’ New Home shooting THE mercedes-benz stadium & the falcons vs. packerS [scroll down to see more]

Last weekend I had an amazing opportunity.

My buddy Michael Benford, Creative Director for the NFL's Atlanta Falcons and a really talented photographer, invited me up to shoot their brand new stadium before their first regular-season home game ever in this amazing new stadium. Even though the game wasn't until 8:30, game day at the stadium is a very busy day, and that created a few challenges (there was always somebody on the field practicing something), but I was still able to make a few shots.

Above: This was a little earlier before I could see the light streaming in, like you saw in the previous image. Here my camera is just a few inches above the railing, which I'm using as my leading line into the image.

The stadium itself is an architectural wonder, with a retracting roof that goes from closed to fully open in 90-minutes, and it was pretty cool being there while they opened this roof, and you'll see the roof in its different stages throughout the images. After all this, I got to shoot my first game of the year with the Falcons, which is always a blast — they have such a great, solid team of shooters, and it's an honor to shoot with them.

The round center of the stadium is brilliantly designed, with a huge circular video wall (seen below) that wraps around it, and they use in such clever ways throughout the game. It's a marvel unto itself, and Mercedes (the sponsor of the stadium) used it for branding in really cool ways that made you look forward to the next one. They didn't run ads — they played cool videos in the round.

I'll share the rest of the story of the stadium, and the game, below, and in the captions.

Above: I used my iPhone to take this shot of my 5D Mark IV displaying a 15mm fisheye shot I took of the light streaming into the stadium from the open roof. I posted this on social and everybody was asking to see the final image. It's below. The fisheye is amazing for stadium shots like this.
Above: I sat there in this position for about 30 minutes waiting for the field to be clear enough to shoot. They were practicing with the huge teams of people who bring out the US Flag, and the Falcon's flag, and in-between I'd have a few seconds to snap a fairly clean shot.
Above: one of the things you spend a lot of time doing is waiting for the screens to have a cool graphic on it. They were running tests, running ads, testing the cameras, so a lot of time I would sit there — camera on tripod — waiting for the screens, and when something like this shows you up take a quick shot.

A blessing for fans, and a curse for photographers

When we climbed up near the top of the stands and got set up to shoot, the opening in the center of the dome created this really bright patch of light (see below left), which would be great when it moved over the field, but photographically, it draws your eye right over to it and pretty much kills the shot. Michael said at one point that I'd probably have to fly up and try shooting when the dome was closed, but son-of-a-gun shortly after he said that the sun moved into a huge bank of clouds (see below right) and stayed there long enough for me to quickly move around the stadium and get a few shots.

See that bright spot of light on the left? Great for games – horrible for photos.
Above: I walked to center field and used by 15mm fisheye to capture the entire screen at once. Even my ultra-wide 14mm couldn't take it all in at once.
Above: When I use my fisheye, I always just shoot it at 15mm, because otherwise at 8mm you just get this black border around a circle, but I thought in this one instance it might be worth trying. The jury is still out on this one. It was worth trying, but I'm just not a fan of that look, but the whole stadium fits in that one single frame.

I made a pretty big mistake that day…

As Michael and I walked around/up/down and throughout the giant stadium I wanted to "go light" so for the stadium shots I just took my 5D Mark IV, with a 14mm on the body, and the 8-15mm fisheye zoom in my hand. One thing I realized as soon as we started shooting is how perfect the cup holders behind each seat are for holding either lens. So, when I swapped out lenses, I had a perfect holder for my lens right there.

Of course, I'm totally capable of walking away and leaving one of my lenses sitting in that cup, so I asked Michael to remind me to check that I had both lenses when we moved to a different area. He did. Always. But when Michael had to shoot something that was previously scheduled, so he left me alone for an hour or so. I went to the opposite end zone to get that shot of the light streaming it. I sat there for around 30 minutes (as mentioned above), and when I was done, I walked away and left my fisheye zoom lens in the cup (as seen below).

When did I realize I left my lens way, way, way up in the stands? About an hour after the stadium doors opened, and the stands were filling with fans for the sold-out game. I got to center field and I'm standing there with my buddy Lynn Bass (one of the Falcon's photo crew) and I tried to take that shot of the roof, and I realize my 14mm won't do it, and it was at that moment that I realized I didn't have my fisheye and didn't even know where it was. I guessed that I had left it, way, way, way up high in the stadium — one heck of a long way from where we were at the center of the field, and I wasn't totally sure that's where I left it.

It was getting close to game time, but I felt I had to make the climb way up there to see if it was still there by some miracle. It took me more than 30-minutes to get up there. I started searching row-by-row about where I thought I was and no luck. I saw some fans a few rows up higher — I was pretty sure I didn't go quite up that high when I was shooting, but I guess they figured I had lost something and one of the guys points behind him, so I walk up there, and lo-and-behold, there sitting in a cup holder was my fisheye. I was so happy. It was totally worth the 30-minute climb (I love that stinking lens).

Here's the "100-yard club" which is a series of restaurants and bars that are so cleverly designed (by Michael Benford and the Falcons Design Team). It's set up to make you feel like you're right on the field with the players. Such a cool concept, and the restaurants are pretty cool, offering much better fare than you'll find at your average stadium, and thanks to Falcon's owner Arthur Blank, at lower prices than most any stadium, too!
Above: Top left: An iPhone shot (with some wires and street lights removed in post) of where my buddy Terry White dropped me off at the stadium, right by the media entrance. Top Right: Fan at the Mercedes Club have field level access, right behind the bench. Very cool! Bottom Left: Super fans! Bottom Right: I had to shoot one kinda artsy shot. The cables handing everywhere are from NBC's overhead cable-based camera over the field.
A view from the center of field, facing away from the huge glass windows facing downtown Atlanta.

You Know I Had to Bring a Remote Camera!

A big benefit of shooting with the team is that sometimes you can get to set up remote cameras, and I've been able to work with the pyro crew for the Falcons many times before, and they were very cool to let me set up a remote for their new pyro show during the player entrances.

The Falcon's coach decided that they would not have individual player intros like in the past (they would rotate introducing the Offense one week, and the Defense the next), so now the whole team comes out at once. I totally get why he chose to do that (team before individuals), but it really limits the photo opportunities because it's just a bunch of guys running by in like 15 seconds and then it's all over. Still, I had to take a shot at it.

This was my first time seeing the awesome new entrance unit (with a stylized falcon head on it), and this new layout, and I had no idea what to expect so I took a shot at where to set up my remote; where to aim it, and I focused it on the word "Falcons" on the pryo cart on the right, and then switched to Manual mode. I was afraid that with so many player running by at once, the auto focus might not know what to fuss on, so I used auto focus to focus on the cart, then switched the lens to Manual mode.It worked OK. I think next time I'd try the auto focus route and take my chances

Above: here's one of my favorites from the group player entrance. I'm standing on field shooting with my 70-200mm (more details below):
Above: you can see my remote set-up to the right of the flag. It's pretty much a blind guess of where it should go. I laid down on the ground to frame the shot, but without ever seeing the path or the players come out in this stadium, it was really a crap shoot. I put my 14mm ultra wide angle lens on my 5D Mark IV body.
Above: Here's the mount for my camera: A Platypod Max stand (btw: I give a new one of these away every Wednesday at 4pm on my photography talk show 'The Grid'). That's an Oben ball-head on top, which is pretty much the perfect size and style. They've discounted this particular model (I've had it forever), but the new updated one is better — it's an Oben BE-117 bullhead kit (B&H has these two as a bundle)
Above: I fire the remote camera with this PocketWizard Plus III transmitter. One sits on top of the remote in the camera's Hot Shoe mount, with a cable going from the remote into the cable release port on the camera. The other stays in my hand. When I press that "Test" button in the center, it fires the remote, from up to 300 feet away.
Above: Here's another shot from the remote. I'll find a better place for it next time.

Kick off: 8:30 pm. | Falcons vs. Packers

Spoiler Alert: the Falcon's trounced the Packers.

I had already been at the stadium, walking here, there, everywhere (and climbing up and downs many, many stairs) for 7-1/2 hours straight with a 30-minute break while I waited to get that fisheye shot with a clean field. By the time the game started, I was pretty whipped, but I was also pumped. This would be my first football shoot of the season (I had to give up shooting for Zuma Sports Wire this season because of my incredibly hectic schedule), so as tired as I was, I couldn't wait to get shooting. It has been nearly 7-months since my last football shoot.

I was darn rusty.

I could really tell I had been "out of the groove, " and that's usually the case for my first game of the season, but my first game is usually a pre-season game that doesn't matter, so it was more frustrating than usual not to be nailing the shots like you were doing last season.

If I had to give myself a letter-grade, it would be a D. Maybe D+ if I'm being generous. I was out of position a lot, and I seemed to always pick the opposite side of where the touchdown pass was thrown, or I was iso'd on a receiver when a big sack happened, and well…I'm glad to have that behind me. Here's a few of my shots from the game - none of them awesome.

Above: Well, at least I was in a reasonable position to capture this "jube" (jubilation after the touchdown) shot.

I still had a blast! Always do.

It's hard not to have fun shooting with these guys (that's Lynn Bass on the left and Michael Benford on the right — these guys making shooting football so much fun. Both great shooters and they love football, and they love their Falcons). It's also great shooting a team that has such a high-powered offense, so many weapons, such great talent, and an incredibly energized fan base. It's pretty much a perfect scenario for a football shooter, and I'm grateful and tickled that I get to shoot with these guys at all. We did take a group shot of the whole crew (including my buddy Jimmy Cribb), but Lynn never (read as: never!) actually sends me these group shots (I think he has them all plastered on his walls), but I insisted on getting this one with my iPhone, so at least I'd have something. ;-)

My humble thanks to Michael, Jimmy, Kara, and theFalcons organization for the opportunity to shoot their amazing new stadium, their NFC Champions team, and for a day I'll never forget.

L to R: Lynn Bass, Me, and Michael Benford.

Camera Info: Canon 1Dx with 400mm f/2.8 at f/2.8 - ISO 1,600. Canon 5D Mark IV with 70-200mm f/2.8 at f/2.8 - ISO 1,600. Stadium shots on 5D Mark IV: 14mm lens and 8-15mm fisheye zoom lens. In game stadium shots, ISO 800. Otherwise, 100 ISO.

Created By
Scott Kelby
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