Photographer Phil Hoffmann Makes
photo by Alison Harbaugh
a Job of What You Do for Fun
story by Nancy Hoffmann
All photos by Phil Hoffman, unless otherwise noted.
Phil Hoffmann Baltimore Ravens team photographer and director of photography for the Naval Academy Athletic Association spends his working hours photographing all kinds of sporting events from football to basketball to cross-country to gymnastics. It sure seems like every sports fans dream job. But is it all fun and games? We spent a football-filled weekend with Hoffmann to find out.
Friday, October 4, 2002
10am ~ The start of a football weekend
Hoffmann boards the Navy Football Team bus in Annapolis for the short drive to BWI Airport. Hell first travel with Navy to Colorado Springs, Colorado, where the Midshipmen will face the U.S. Air Force Academy Falcons. From Colorado, Hoffmann will fly to Cleveland, Ohio, to photograph the Ravens game against the Browns.
Hoffmann has been photographing Navy sports for almost 20 years and the Ravens since they came to Baltimore in 1996. After all those years, he enjoys the tension of entering another teams home turf.
I love going on the bus with the team into the enemy stadium, he says. The fans are yelling at you, shaking their fists and giving you the thumbs down.
11:25am2:45pm ~ Flight to Colorado Springs
Working on his laptop computer, Hoffmann finishes editing the pictures from Navys loss to Duke the previous weekend. Shooting with digital cameras, he takes some 400 photographs every football game. Thats the fun part. In the days after the game, he has to upload the pictures to his computer then edit, crop, sharpen and save them.
4pm ~ Falcon Stadium
Phil boards the bus.
photo by Alison Harbaugh
The Navy team is bused to Falcon Stadium.
College teams always go straight to the stadium from the airport, says Hoffmann. It gives the players a chance to walk around and check out the locker room. But the pros dont go to the stadium until game day.
5:25pm ~ Hoffmann arrives at the hotel
Players and coaches spend the evening in meetings and looking at video clips of the Falcons. Hoffmann and other members of the Navy staff find a Mexican restaurant for dinner and then gather in the hotel bar.
Theres normally a game on that we watch, says Hoffmann. And we talk about football and Navys chances the next day.
Unfortunately, Navys (1-3) chances against Air Force (4-0) arent good.
Hoffmann, a Naval Academy grad, doesnt want to give up on his team. He insists that in a service academy rivalry, anything can happen.
Saturday, October 5, 2002
11:45am ~ Hoffmann arrives at Falcon Stadium
9am ~ Wake up
1pm: Hoffmann walks through Navys locker room and the training room where the players are taped. The scene never fails to move him.
Players get taped, left, before heading out of the locker room and onto the field, right.
Guys are throwing up and sweating through their shirts, he says. Its the anticipation and the fear. Some players are kneeling at their lockers and praying. Theres a significant chance of injury and always the remote possibility of serious injury, he says.
A walk around the stadium allows Hoffmann to check the background and the light. Today, his problem is the bright sun. The players faces will be lost in the shadows of their helmets.
From his favorite position behind the end zone, Hoffmann can shoot most of the field. With my longest lens, he explains, a player standing on the 50-yard line looks like hes standing right next to me on the end line.
I see things the fans dont see, he says. Blood on the players, beads of sweat rolling down their faces, steam coming off them or their breath on a cold day. Its a very intimate view.
Two cameras, four lenses, a light meter, spare batteries and a flash nearly 60 pounds worth of equipment are what Hoffmann carries on the field.
Players stretch out on the field at Falcon Stadium.
In baseball, you sit in a box, and in basketball you can cover a game from one end line, he says. But with football, you move a lot more and walk or run up and down the field all day, trying to move during the huddle.
Hoffmann also kneels while he shoots the game.
Most people watch a football game looking down onto the field, he says. Kneeling lets me capture a view that people dont usually see. It also makes the players look bigger, and the background becomes the fans instead of the stadium wall.
All photographers must stay behind the dotted line that encircles the field, but the play can spill over the sidelines. Kneeling helps Hoffmann avoid getting run down by the players.
Theyre coming too fast for you to move out of the way, he says. The best thing to do is crouch down, and theyll jump over you.
3pm ~ Kickoff
One technique Hoffmann uses is to focus on a player and wait for something good to happen.
Ill stick with that player unless I hear the crowd roar, he says. If the crowd suddenly gets loud and I dont see anything exciting through the camera, I have to go find it.
Navy runs an option offense, and Hoffmann rarely goes wrong zeroing in on quarterback Craig Candeto.
Quarterback Craig Candetos 48-yard run.
The Midshipmen come charging down the field when Candeto breaks free for a 48-yard run. But the Navy drive stalls, and Air Force takes control of the game.
After the first quarter, nothing was going Navys way, Hoffmann says. Which also makes it difficult to photograph. I shoot facing Navy and, all day, my team is moving farther and farther away from me.
That doesnt mean Hoffmann can relax. I dont focus only on the big plays the way a newspaper photographer would, he says. Im working to produce a larger body of work that will be used for posters, game-day programs, media guides and promotional pieces.
Sometimes Hoffmann captures the action perfectly, but its not the action he wants.
Late in the game, Navy is driving, hoping to salvage some pride. Hoffmann is focused on Navys wide receiver when an Air Force player jumps up and intercepts the ball in the end zone. And that ends the game, with Navy losing 48-7.
Air Forces Interception.
6:30pm ~ Hoffmann leaves Falcon Stadium
7pm: With a police escort, the Navy team bus heads to the airport. Unescorted, Hoffmann returns to his hotel room.
9pm: After dinner in the hotel restaurant, Hoffmann uploads the photographs to his computer and watches football.
Sunday, October 6, 2002
9am ~ Wake up
10:15am ~ Arrive Colorado Springs Airport
11:55am4:20pm ~ Hoffmann travels to Cleveland, Ohio
More travel gives Hoffmann time to begin editing the Navy game pictures. On a two-hour layover in St. Louis, he watches the New England PatriotsMiami Dolphins game while waiting at the gate.
4:305pm ~ Cab ride to Cleveland Browns Stadium
The cabbie spends the ride telling Hoffmann how the Browns are going to destroy the Ravens tonight. He also offers his opinion of the Browns quarterback, Tim Couch: He stinks. Hoffmann listens, but doesnt say hes the Ravens photographer.
Once inside the stadium, Hoffmann walks through the Ravens training room, locker room and equipment room. He didnt travel with the Ravens, so he has to find out where the support staff ate dinner last night and the jokes everyone told.
Equipment manager Ed Carroll, who brought another of Hoffmanns lenses to Cleveland, heard the Navy score. Tough game, he says, and Hoffmann can only agree.
5:30pm: Hoffmann sets up his laptop in the press box and checks in with Francine Lubera, the Ravens director of publications and assistant director of public relations.
After a day on the field, Hoffmanns work continues into the night as he edits his pictures on a laptop.
photo by Alison Harbaugh
At the end of every quarter, a runner will meet Hoffmann on the field and take one of his compact flash cards the digital equivalent of film on which the photos are saved in the camera to Lubera in the press box. Working on Hoffmanns computer, Lubera will select a photo, crop it and have it posted on the Ravens website.
While Hoffmann chats with Lubera, his Naval Academy classmate Matt Lechleitner arrives at the stadium. Lechleitner lives in Cleveland and every year helps Hoffmann carry his equipment during the Browns games.
I try to find a friend in every city to help with my gear, says Hoffmann. I have another classmate in Pittsburgh, a coaching friend in Miami and Navys video coordinator hooked me up with a friend in Philadelphia.
6pm ~ Hoffmann and Lechleitner eat dinner in the press box
It was some kind of a chicken thing, Hoffmann says. The food is mediocre in every press box.
7:15pm: Hoffmann is on the field checking his equipment, watching the stadium fill up and chatting with the other photographers.
An hour or more before the game is a social time, Hoffmann says. I talk to the other photographers and other Ravens staff people. The players are going through their individual warmups, and the coaches are visiting. Its a relaxed time on the field.
8:15pm ~ The players are introduced
The Browns fans boo the Ravens, and the noise is deafening. Loudest of all is the infamous Dog Pound filled with the most rabid Browns fans.
The fans in the Dog Pound are the rowdiest and craziest Ive ever seen, says Hoffmann. They scream from the beginning of the game to the end. They scream at the officials, the visiting players and their own players if they make a bad play.
During the game, Hoffmann moves all around the field, including the opposing teams sideline. It requires precautions.
At away games, I never wear Ravens gear, Hoffmann says. If I wore Ravens gear, Im sure Id be pelted with beer and batteries.
Batteries, it turns out, are sometimes snuck into the stadium by fans to throw onto the field.
8:30pm ~ Kickoff
Knowledge of the game is extremely important, says Hoffmann. Years ago, an old Navy coach, who also played for the Washington Redskins, started teaching me about football. Ive been studying the game ever since.
It helps me anticipate whats going to happen on the field, he says.
For instance, when the Ravens are on offense, Hoffmann watches the linemen. As soon as the ball is snapped, the linemen will tell him if the play is a run or pass.
Ravens wide receiver Brandon Stokley awaits the ball en-route to a 30-yard touchdown reception.
When the linemen back up with their hands raised, its a pass. Then, taking his eye away from the camera, Hoffmann watches quarterback Chris Redman. As Redman focuses on wide receiver Brandon Stokley, Hoffmann goes back to his camera and finds Stokley through the lens just before the ball arrives.
Its a 30-yard reception. Hoffmann follows Stokley as he grabs the ball, pulls it in and dives for the touchdown. The Ravens are up 70 in the second quarter.
The Ravens dominate the game, and their lead keeps growing. Running back Jamal Lewis, who missed last season with a knee injury, is showing his old form.
When offensive linemen Edwin Mulitalo and Jonathan Ogden rush forward, Hoffmann knows its a running play.
Mulitalo and Ogden are so big and powerful that the Ravens tend to run Lewis behind them, he says. Lewis charges from the backfield, and Hoffmann is ready.
Ravens running back Jamal Lewis leaps over the defense.
At the end of the third quarter, the Ravens are leading 230.
But the Browns score three touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Suddenly, its a close game.
We assumed we would win, and then it got really tense, Hoffmann says. The players on the bench are getting tense, and Im exchanging nervous glances with other Ravens support people standing on the sidelines.
In the final seconds of the game, the Ravens cling to a five-point lead as the Browns drive down the field.
You get caught up in the emotion of it, says Hoffmann. The Ravens organization makes you feel like youre part of the team, that its a collective effort by everyone, no matter your role. But when the play starts, I have to be ready to capture whatever happens.
No matter how exciting the game or how close the call, a sideline photographer never cheers for his team.
Concentrating on the final play of the game, Hoffmann captures safety Ed Reeds game-saving interception in the end zone.
Ravens safety Ed Reed dances after a game-saving pick-off in the Browns end zone.
11:45pm ~ Game over
After the game, Hoffmann rushes onto the field where the Ravens players talk with friends and college teammates playing for the Browns. They all want Hoffmann to take their buddy photos.
Monday,October 7, 2002
12:0012:45am ~ Hoffmann packs up his gear, says good-bye to his classmate and heads to the press box, where he uploads the pictures to his laptop. He keeps his eye on his watch, because the Ravens team bus leaves for the airport exactly one hour after the game ends.
12:45am ~ The Ravens team bus leaves for the Cleveland airport
On the flight home, Hoffmann selects 25 photos to be uploaded to the Ravens website. After burning a CD of those photos and handing it to publicist Lubera, Hoffmann can relax for the rest of the trip.
2:30am ~ The Ravens plane arrives at BWI
3:30am ~ Hoffmann arrives home
10am: After six hours of sleep, Hoffmann heads to work at Navy. This afternoon, hes photographing the Navy basketball team poster; tonight hell edit the pictures from the Ravens game; tomorrow theres a Navy soccer game and on Wednesday
Bay Weekly regular Nancy Hoffmann, also a Naval Academy graduate, carries her husbands equipment when hes shooting at home.