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He Shoots, He Scores!



COVER STORY

TEXT BY ALICE B. MILLER • IMAGES BY CHRIS COVATTA

Shaquille O'Neal in San Antonio, Texas, during L.A. Lakers-San Antonio playoff series. Shot with a Hass clamped to the glass backboard when Covatta triggered the shutter remotely from across the court.

Chris Covatta/NBAE/Getty Images

Background: Chicago's Frank Thomas in Minute Maid Park, Houston, Texas, for Sports Illustrated.

When it comes to capturing defining moments in the sports world, Chris Covatta's got it covered. With the spirit, energy, and grist of a champ, he's covered top-flight sporting events, such as the NBA playoffs and finals, the World Series, the Super Bowl, the Stanley Cup, and the World Cup for clients including Sports Illustrated, the NBA, NFL properties, and the Upper Deck Trading Card Co. He's also covered all major sports in the U.S.; hockey games in Sweden, the Czech Republic, Russia, Germany, Mexico, and Canada; and basketball in Taiwan and Manila for Upper Deck. Lance Armstrong relaxes in his agent's backyard in Austin, Texas, after his first Tour de France victory. New England's Terry Glenn making TD catch against Dolphins in Miami. With no time to switch to 50mm, Covatta shot with 600mm, creating a full-frame image. Johnny Miller and three golf-playing sons in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for Sports Illustrated. Simeon Rice in Orlando, Florida, for Upper Deck NFL Rookie Shoot, where top NFL draft choices are photographed in their NFL uniforms for the first time.

Antonio Daniels at Alamodome, San Antonio, Texas. Stadium's so large, the NBA clamps eight 2400w Speedotron packs & heads (2 in each corner) to the catwalk.

Chris Covatta/NBAE/Getty Image

Charlie Batch, Detroit Lions, shot for Day/Forbes Advertising billboard campaign. One of two Covatta photos that recently won Silver Caddy Awards from the Creative Art Directors of Detroit for excellence in advertising.

Carolina Pathers' Jeno James in Charlotte, North Carolina, during cold game last December. When Covatta noticed steam coming from his head, he sought a dark background to set it off from the background. When the coach approached James, his colorful out-of-focus parka did the trick.

Michael Jordan in United Center, Chicago, Illinois, during his last season as a Bull. The first time Covatta saw Jordan pull his jersey over his face, he missed the shot. He caught it this time during a time-out.

Chris Covatta/NBAE/Getty Images

A freelance sports photojournalist for the past 11 years, Covatta simply loves shooting sports. Why? Explains Covatta: "Each event, from a regular season game to the Super Bowl, is like a mini-play, with a beginning, a middle, and an end, with all the human emotionspathos, frustration, disappointment, redemption, joy, anger, love, and hate."

Game Plan

Covatta's strategy for capturing record-breaking plays and quiet moments on the sidelines is pretty much the same: "To do the job well, whether it's a portrait shoot or an event, the key is preparation and executionand most importantly, luck. Knowing the tendencies of a team (do they run or pass a lot?) or a batter (is he a power hitter?) come into play as you decide where to focus your camera or position yourself on the field."

During football season, Covatta is in perpetual motion, on the road every weekend from September through December, shooting at least 16 NFL games and six to eight college games. Case in point: the weekend he shot the cover photo of Kansas City Chiefs' Priest Holmes during the team's season opener. "September 13, Friday, I flew out of Austin to Denver, drove to Boulder Saturday morning, and shot USC at Colorado for Athlon Sports. After the game, I drove back to the Denver Airport, caught the last flight to Kansas City, arriving at midnight. Sunday morning I left for Arrowhead Stadium at 9 for the noon game, caught an evening flight back to Austin, and arrived home around 11 p.m."

Incidentally, the Chiefs lost that season opener to Jacksonville 23-16, despite Holmes, the Chiefs' leading rusher, running 22 times for 84 yards. Recalls Covatta: "Sports photographers always hope for nice light and great action. Unfortunately, that day we had great light, but not much action."

As a sports photographer, Covatta must make decisions about what might happen next during a game. "I might position myself downfield thinking the offense is on a roll only to watch the defense change the complexion of the game. By being prepared and taking chances, luck will follow. A photographer just has to be ready when it does."

Rules of the Game

Shooting sports today is more challenging than ever, according to Covatta. "Day rates have remained the same or decreased, while the cost of doing business has risen. To remain competitive, you have to be prepared to shoot assignments on film or digitally. More clients are accepting or requesting digital. Since last fall, I've shot almost all sporting events with a Canon 1D. At eight frames per second with a burst of 20 frames, this camera is pure joy."

Digital has dramatically changed Covatta's workflow. "Take the weekend I shot in Boulder and Kansas City. While I cooled my jets at the Denver Airport, I was able to download and start editing my pictures. Then on Saturday, after the KC game, I started editing that game while flying back to Austin. Can't do that with film."

Covatta is as clear about his own business strategy as his subjects are about their game plan. "Without a doubt, the best business decision I've made in a long time was setting up a website. Designed by my wife, Kim Hawk, a print and web designer, it's been my best promotion tool. I've averaged over one new client every month this year."

Just setting up a website won't get you work, he advises. "You need to be listed on the various search engines and organizational sites. A number of new clients found me on the ASMP website." Another valuable resource for sports photographers is the new web-based company Sportsshooter.com, founded by Brad Mangin, freelance photographer for Sports Illustrated and Major League Baseball, and USA Today staff photographer Robert Hanashiro.

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