Things are different when hockey comes to Heinz Field. It’s not the game itself. It’s not the points received for a win. It’s not the satisfaction of victory over your one true rival. It’s the feeling, for the players and the fans, of a smaller arena sport being played at the center of the most storied football team in the NFL’s big yellow venue.
For a photographer, it’s pretty special as well. Some of the guys and gals with cameras shoot along the glass as if the game were at PPG Paints Arena. The rest shoot as they roam the stands looking for chances to make different art than you’re able in the rest of a team’s 82-game slate.
In most cases, I’ll take the glass all day, even if photography chances are limited by what I can see. At Heinz Field, however, I’m going to make hockey players look like ants and find other ways to shoot a hockey game like you only can when it’s in the middle of a football stadium.
Going into the Penguins’ Stadium Series battle against the Flyers, I knew I wanted to use a fisheye lens to capture the full scale of the event in one frame.
As seen above, the ice rink is incredibly small relative to the football stadium, although I felt the upper deck (500 level) had a fantastic view of the action. I spent more than a period near the 50-yard line and had an easy time tracking the puck, deciphering players and following the flow of play.
Look how cute the little guys are! Ok, in all seriousness, I don’t get to shoot much puck from the PPG Paints Arena mezzanine level, let alone the 500-level at Heinz Field. This is a different view, and one which begs to stay wide. The tighter you shoot from this angle, the more undesirably ‘flat’ an image can look.
From this angle, you have less of the one-on-one hockey captured in a lot of my typical game stuff. There are more visible moving parts, so it helps when the parts line up in aesthetically pleasing manners.
Here’s where we wave ‘Hi’ to Pat Monahan, sing ‘Hey, Soul Sister’ in our heads, and then we move on to more hockey. This is another example of how photography changes from above, though. For most of my career, I’ve been more interested in concert photography than sports photography.
Normally, though, that means shooting musicians from a photo pit located below the stage, not above it. With the stage setup and the crowd, shooting from nearly overhead of Pat makes a nice photo you don’t normally see in the music scene.
As pointed out by Dejan Kovacevic, Matt Gajtka and Josh Yohe, Ron Hextall was the last good-to-great goaltender the Flyers allowed to mind their net, so isn’t it about time the former goalie changed that as general manager?
The answer is not Michal Neuvirth, and this photograph helps to explain why. Even though the puck doesn’t find the back of the net in this photo, Neuvirth was beaten by the shot. That means he was beaten at least five times in the loss to the Penguins. I mean, how much lower can this dude get to defend a shot over his head? I really dig the pads, though.
We all know what happens when a certain groundhog sees his shadow, but what about when the ‘Ghost Bear’ himself, Shayne Gostisbehere, sees his shadow at Heinz Field?
The view from above creates an opportunity to see shadows I normally don’t see or shoot when I’m at the glass level, or even just a section up at PPG Paints Arena. But, from the 500-level, I am able to see a full shadow in a lot of situations, and create some photos I normally don’t have access to.
In another example where shadows help an image, a less pronounced shadow of goal-scorer Chad Ruhwedel helps to fill space which would otherwise be unoccupied ice.
Arguably my favorite image of the day, but unfortunately one that lost a lot of significance when the Penguins overcame this disallowed Crosby goal. Sid scored his second of the game, but Neuvirth managed to dislodge the net mid-flop in his desperation save attempt.
When this photo was taken, I had moved to the ‘closed end’ of Heinz Field, still on the 500-level, and decided to shoot down ice. The reflections don’t make this photo, but I do enjoy seeing a magnified version of Crosby celebrating alongside him.
I have to say that despite the Heinz Field location, the Flyers fans were prepared to watch hockey. Mid-game, a couple photographers and I heard yelling, and crowds from 12 sections away stood up to watch what was causing the commotion. It turned out to be a Flyers fan ditching his shirt to match the bravery(?) of a shirtless Penguins fan.
If I’m being honest, the fan photos I really liked from last night’s affair involved the team’s fans who appreciate the hockey team in the east. Maybe they are just a little more bold and noticeable dressed in orange and yelling at all times, but I enjoyed photographing the groups of Flyers fans who stood proud for their team, even in defeat.
One of the additional advantages to being high above the action is being able to completely avoid interference when the NHL’s Top-100 snub goes sliding into the Flyers’ cage.
Or, how about when one of the Top-100 nearly scores a patented Sidney Crosby goal whilst out of control in front of the same cage? Again, the high angle allows me to see the action without worrying about where the defensemen, or anyone between me and the far net, are positioned.
This penalty kill photo is another example of being above and using player positions are part of the art of the photograph. When you shoot a little wider, these action shots take on more of a landscape role, and every visible body becomes more significant to the photo.
Celebrations get their special treatment from above as well. As seen here, Ruhwedel is grinning from ear-to-ear after his third-period snapper hit home.
When shooting from ice level, I have to worry about the player facing me as well as where each converging player is coming from. It would be easy to lose this photo to an arm blocking Ruhwedel’s face, or Malkin’s helmet owning the shot, when shooting from ice level.
From ice level, this photo includes the first row of players, and that’s it. Last night, I was happy to shoot the big picture, even if the players sometimes looked like ants playing in a sandbox way too big for their game.