Text by Erin Harrington-Plonski
Images by Dave Black
He's frozen Monday Night Football touchdowns in time, captured 10 Olympic Games, and covered just about every sport you can think of (horse racing being his favorite). He's Dave Black, the go-to guy for sports images that draw you in to those heart-skipping moments.
Black's captured drama in the arena, on the field, the court, the mat, the track, even in the pool for Sports Illustrated, Time, Newsweek, Parade, and The Wall Street Journal. He's scored big hits for Chevrolet, McDonald's, Reebok, Hallmark, Coca-Cola, Visa, Johnson & Johnson, Nikon, Kodak, NFL Properties, and The United States Olympic Committee. And he's brought home the action for ESPN, ABC, NBC, and CBS Sports.
He Gets the Picture Sweeping coverage is the name of the game for Black. Speaking of which, early on in his sports photo career he was swept off his feet, in a manner of speaking. "I was hit pretty hard at a football game and it rocked me pretty good," recalls Black. "But knowing your sport and how athletes go about performing tends to keep you out of harm's way."
Fresh from a shoot for the Monday Night Football game the night before this interview, Black is pleased to say he doesn't get socked anymore. "I'm on the sidelines and guys run out of bounds all the time. If you're keyed in on the quarterback and he releases the ball, your job is to get your face out from behind one camera that looks at the quarterback and make sure you're not going to get clobbered. At the same time, you've got another camera around your neck with a wide-angle lens, so if the ball's coming right at you, you'll get that picture, too. You have to ask yourself, 'Do I run away or get the picture?' "
Black gets the picture. A Nikon loyalist throughout his career, he currently shoots with the D2H. He also uses the Nikon CoolPix 5700 because of its ability to shoot NEF files, Nikon's RAW file format.
"I also find the PocketWizard (distributed by Mamiya America) an invaluable tool. It's a wireless way to trigger the camera at a location you're not physically in, such as under a railing at a horse race. But setting up remote control cameras or even shooting from the catwalk doesn't bother me. I can be at the Arrow Head Pond in Anaheim, 136 feet up, no problem."
Ahead of the Pack A digital believer since 1999, Black recalls the days when magazines wouldn't even accept digital images. He cites the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games as a digital groundbreaker, a time when using digital became more common and accepted. Prior to that, he'd been transferring his digital pictures to film with a laser graphic Mark III home recorder and sending it off to clients. They loved the look and often called to comment that his images looked especially beautiful.
In contrast to those photographers who get in way too close, Black sits back a bit and observes the situation. "If I see an opportunity to come in closer, I'll step in and then step right back out."
This approach, paired with Black's rapport with his subjects, has paid off-in good images, as well as repeat business. "I've gotten to know a lot of athletes over the years," says Black. "I've shot them hundreds of times, gone to their homes, tracks, ice rinks, or gyms to cover stories on them [Michelle Kwan is his all-time favorite]. Sometimes for a team story of profile, they'll ask, 'Could Dave Black do it? We know him and he'll do a good job.' That's a reputation that carries a long, long way."
"I've known Bart since he was in eighth grade," he says. "I think a lot of photographers are really missing out when they're only into shooting the action, the smash mouth football action. They never get to talk with the athlete, or do something more personal. Get to know these people and why they're out there doing what they do and you'll find out what makes a good picture."
To become a master of a sport, advises Black, "Get to know everything about the organization, the stadium, all the quirky little places you can photograph from. Get to know the guy who takes the tickets, the guy who passes out the towels, and the trainer, because then you'll know who's injured and who's not.
"When you're inside the organization, you're likely to get the greatest moments of those games. You're like an opposing team coach. You've studied them so much that it's second nature for you to take that picture. You'll get the best pictures and always be one step ahead. That's what makes a sports photographer."
Equipment is another critical part of the equation. "You have to have good equipment because that makes for quality and quality is part of the sale."
And finally, you have to keep that passion. "I love to make photographs. It's as simple as that. I love to make photographs that draw the audience into a captured moment in time."