They also wanted to push the story forward and would feature the winning teams who would play in the championship game the next week. That meant that half of the photographer’s work - and many good videos - would be left out.
At the games, each photographer was given two iPhone Xs so when they delivered photos throughout the game, they could drop a phone with on-site photo editors Jason Potterton and Miller Safrit. The second phone allowed them to continue shooting while the other video was downloaded. The editors were also editing traditional still photography of the games and moved the videos to the home ESPN offices for editing by Rob Booth.
For both photographers, the demand for vertical orientation was a challenge since most of their work is with stills and horizontals dominate their work. They also came into the assignment with some trepidation. Stazzante said he didn’t feel truly comfortable with the set-up until about halftime of his game. Litherland said he brought along his top-line Canon DSLR so he wouldn’t be “that guy” with a camera phone on the sideline. (In the end, he left the DSLR in his backpack and stuck with the iPhone).
Julianne Varacchi, a senior photo editor for ESPN, worked with the photographers and editing team to bring it all together. She said they make careful plans when taking on new approaches, making sure the technical and workflow issues are solved so the photographers can experiment. During the event, editors give some real-time feedback to the photographers but mostly let them work on their own.
She told the photographers to think of the images they grabbed more as still photos than video. As they started editing, they found that the brief moments of sound and motion added a layer of information that increased the sense of place. Even the wide-angle perspective of the iPhones that sometimes lead to awkward framing added authenticity.
“It wasn’t something I expected to love as much as I did in the end,” Varacchi said about the project. “The sound and the movement elevated it to another level.”
The ESPN crew has been doing these media experiments at major events for some time, and innovation is their standard approach rather than the exception. Because of their planning habits, a lot of variables are addressed beforehand, allowing photographers and editors to be very comfortable taking chances with creative choices during the event.
“You’re going to fail a lot, and some of them are going to look like crap but in the end if your client is happy, that’s all that matters,” Litherland said, adding at this point in his career, he is more interested in this kind of assignment than standard football game coverage.
Strazzante was also charged-up about the assignment and was especially interested in the hip-hop sampling feeling of the looping audio with the clips.
“It’s so fun of being on the edge of something like that,” Strazzante said.