Over the last several years, David Black's niche as a sports photographer has allowed him to cover the Olympics, the Kentucky Derby and the U.S. Open.
His career, however, began with legendary professional football coverage. During his 23 years on the NFL beat, Black could be seen ducking and dodging cameras, reporters and 300-pound football players. His office was the sidelines of a football field.
Black began by photographing gymnastics and figure skating events at the 1984 Olympic Games. When NFL rookie John Elway moved to Colorado to play for the Denver Broncos, Sports Illustrated magazine needed a local to document the newbie at games. Black was already known for his coverage of twirling ice skaters, which is very difficult to photograph. Magazine editors thought he could handle Elway. Little did they know the rookie quarterback would be one of the greatest escape artists in the sport and earn a place in the Hall of Fame.
On Elway's first day playing, both he and the photographer were rookies.
"That was my first football job. Luckily, I met a need. It was destiny," said Black.
Sport Illustrated appreciated Black's use of light and the fact that his work stood out from the sea of sports action. Then, Elway became a superstar.
"Elway was known for his throw passes and a scramble that eludes and dodges," he said. Black became the guy who could capture that on film. Then other NFL teams came calling.
One might think an NFL shooter has to be aggressive to scurry in and out of the sidelines crammed with humans and camera lenses, but that's not the case at all. While the job does require "hustle," Black is a rather easygoing fellow. Perhaps, that's what has enabled him to stay in "the game", as long as he has. He's befriended tons of people associated with the sport.
Over the last 20 years, the industry has changed. "It's reverted back to how it was. Sidelines used to be crowded with cameras and video and photographers," he said. "Now it's thinned out. There's more mobility. You still need to jockey for position but there's always room for more [on the sidelines]."
What sets Black apart from the hordes of others shooting the same game is his background as a graphic artist. "I tend to look at sports a little more artistically. I'm very aware of light. The light is the most influential part," Black said.
"I think this sets you apart. I'm conscious of not only great moments, but of great moments with great light," he added.
It's difficult to get original shots at night games but Black tries to use the artificial light creatively. "The low light creates great shadows and shafts of light can come off the subject as he runs comes down the field," said Black. When a player runs through the light, it creates drama and mood, rather than the ubiquitous shot taken from the end zone.
One benefit Black has gained from years of traveling to NFL games around the country is an intimate knowledge of the stadiums.
"I know what the different stadiums look like, where the good places are to shoot from, you get to know all the sections and where the light is at any given time," he said.
"You know the light will always be at the same place at the same time. You just hope the play moves in that direction," he added. Black uses all this knowledge to try to anticipate the play and the next great shot. He also uses what he knows about the players. He memorizes the way they move, so he is prepared if they are at the center of a play.
Although skilled at manual focus, Black has used digital since 1999. Currently, he uses a Nikon D2X.