When sitting down to narrow a year's worth of photos to a manageable collection of "bests," I came up with 93 images. Ninety. Three. That's too many. And that's only looking at the big three.
We won't be doing things exactly the same way I did in those first two years of my DKPittsburghSports.com career, but that's not a bad thing either. I want to come somewhere in between showing you everything and only showing you a few.
The compromise? I thought I'd come up with some "awards" for various photo types so we could take a look through a lot of them without narrowing into an arbitrary set of "best" photos. So, let's get started.
THE BEST 'ALMOST HAD IT' SHOT
There are always a number of photographs that are either really great, because they show something incredibly close to happening (a puck on the goal line), or really not great because they look like something happened that didn't (a near catch).
In 2018, I've come across a couple of images that embody that in both directions.
First, and second runner-up, the Penguins nearly get a goal against the Flames, but Jon Gillies' reaching stick stops the rolling puck on the line:
In Oakland, runner-up JuJu Smith-Schuster's diving effort shows how close the Steelers were on a number of occasions, and in a number of cities, but they came up short. Just a little extra reach, and it's a different game and season:
In Denver, James Washington gave me the winning photo in this category -- narrowly, and also largely because of the accompanying metaphor. As close as the Steelers were at times, but were defeated, they were always good on paper. This photo is exceptional "on paper," but the truth is that Washington dropped the ball, no matter what the frozen moment tries to convince you. Just like the Steelers dropped the ball on the season. Again ... close:
BEST USE OF LIGHT
Sticking around in Denver for a minute, we take a look at the winner for a photo in which light did all the work.
In this one, Domata Peko Sr. is celebrating in the good light while Maurkice Pouncey walks to the sidelines behind him:
We skipped to the winner for that one to stay in Denver, but there is a runner up from Bradenton early on in the year. As always with baseball, I'm always looking for light to combine with the access of a baseball facility -- especially for black and white.
This shot of Josh Bell absorbing the light in the dark batting cage was a year-long favorite:
Second runner-up belongs out in Oakland where Stephen Ridley leaped through the light and into the end zone for six:
In every sport, there comes a point where a primal desire to roar like a jungle king takes over. In baseball, we see it a lot with pitchers. In hockey, the goal scorers. In football ... well, it could be anyone, really.
Second runner-up for best scream goes to one of those "anyones." Just a couple weeks ago, the Steelers had promise remaining in the season when they defeated the Patriots. If they could take down Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, anything could happen, right?
That's probably along the lines of what T.J. Watt was thinking when he flat out roared after sacking Brady:
The runner-up in this category goes to one of the mound screamer types -- Chris Archer. It wasn't a perfect set of starts for the former Ray after he joined the Pirates at the deadline, and it wasn't a perfect first start. But, a pitcher has to get into a jam to get out of one, and that's when guys like Archer let loose the scream:
And, of course, the winner ... Have you really not paid attention? It's Sidney Crosby in Colorado. Turns out Denver is a lucky place to photograph, even if it's not lucky for the Pittsburgh teams:
BEST PHOTO OF SOMEONE YOU DON'T LIKE
I'll spare any runner-up photos in this category and just use it as an excuse to use a photo of Brady I really liked from the latest Patriots meeting. In this shot, Brady rolled right and found James White on the sideline right in front of my position. When the ball was thrown, everything lined up perfectly for a pretty shot of the toss and catch:
BEST FIGHT OR "FIGHT"
The runner-up here is a recent attempt at a Gordie Howe hat trick by Phil Kessel. You have to love the effort, but he was robbed by the game's striped crew and wasn't given the major for the "fight." If you drop the glove(s) and land a punch, it's a major to me:
The winner here is a Jamie Oleksiak bout with Michael McCarron, where it looks like Oleksiak is sinking his teeth into McCarron's left arm as his lid goes tumbling. Nothing "fight" about this bout:
There are always a slew of celebratory photos because there's reason for them in every sport. Some upset the fan base, such as this second runner-up did when teams celebrate hard and either lose or nearly lose games.
The Steelers lined up this photo opportunity perfectly with my camera, but the defense pictured narrowly let the Buccaneers come back in the game. It was a controversial image with the readers after the game, but a celebration nonetheless:
The runner-up in this category goes to Bell as he crossed home plate to give the Pirates a five-game sweep over the Brewers. An incredible accomplishment for a team once considered unable to beat the "Brew Crew" at all. The game came in the middle of a remarkable run which gave the team and its fans hope if nothing else:
Sticking with the Pirates for the winner, we jump over to Adam Frazier's walk-off blast that ended with a Donnie Darko-like projectile of Powerade guiding the slugger home:
BEST USE OF FANS IN A PHOTO
Runner-up goes to eventual Stanley Cup champion Alex Ovechkin as he's teased by a local fan before a playoff game. In any other year ... this would likely be the winner with the eye contact and excellent lack of butter, sour cream, cheese, or really just about anything else for his baked potato:
But it couldn't win because of this Kessel gem. This winner could have gone in the celebration category, but it's the Flyers' fan who makes it so undeniably great. Kessel netted a goal in Philadelphia during the playoffs that displayed the "thrill of victory" and the "agony of defeat" better than maybe any photo I've ever taken:
BEST BATH, "BATH" or ... BATH?
Baseball has a lot of possible baths, and all of them are equally wonderful.
For instance, this second runner-up is of Clint Hurdle as he gets a sunflower seed bath while talking on a national network during a game:
The runner-up goes to the brave groundskeepers who waded through flooding to protect the field and eventually get it prepped to play baseball. No one should have to work in shoes they've showered in, worn on Raging Rapids or waded through whatever mixture of rain and dirt that is:
The best "bath" photo is another one that could have found a spot in the celebrations as well. Jameson Taillon threw himself a one-hit shutout and received the proper bath of Powerade and bubble gum while he was interviewed after the game:
BEST SNOWY ... BATH
Similarly to the "bath" photos, snow can be a great complement to a sporting event. Unfortunately for 2018, though, there were no snowy football games, so we had to get creative for the category.
Fortunately for Casey DeSmith in this runner-up photo, ice rinks are warmer than a snowy football field. Unfortunately, goalies don't wear ski goggles:
The winner in this category is an obvious one that you've likely forgotten about, however. It's OK if you did -- I did as well. But, that's why I spent roughly eight hours looking through nearly every photograph I've edited in the past 12 months.
In this case, Fernando Rodney gets the cake, and he gets to eat the snow too:
BEST USE OF FLIGHT
The second runner-up(s) goes to Josh Harrison from his diving efforts to throw the ball to first base. The former Pirate utility star had no issues giving up the body to force a bad angle throw while parallel to the dirt:
The runner-up belongs in the "best photo of someone you don't like" category, but it ended up making internet rounds during the playoffs to "prove" Tom Wilson left his feet to target Zach Aston-Reese. There's simply no other way he lands on his teammates:
The winner in this category goes to another hockey guy -- Jake Guentzel. Honestly not many times I've taken photos like this in hockey games, so it's difficult to even imagine how he managed to get into this position:
BEST KISS CAM
There are three types of people who get photos taken of them kissing in a sports environment. The first is the person who really hates the kiss cam during games. The second is the person who embraces it beyond measure. The third is the stud prospect making his MLB debut with his lady on hand to take it all in with him. Austin Meadows and his future wife fit the third category:
BEST HOCKEY HUG
Guentzel is arguably the luckiest guy in hockey. Well, it's not luck because he put himself in the position he's in. But, he gets to play alongside Crosby every night of the season. Or, most nights at least. Every time the guy scores it seems like Crosby is involved, and No. 59 makes sure he shows his appreciation. On the best nights, it's a hug like this one. The pure joy gives him the best hockey hug of 2018:
BEST STIFF ARM
You would think there would be a Vance McDonald photo here. And, there would be if I'd gotten a good image of his annihilating stiff arm in Tampa. Instead, there's not a football photo at all -- rather one of Crosby extending the arm to punish Torey Krug:
BEST DUGOUT SHOT
The dugout is the reason I love to photograph baseball as much as I do. At times, that means more than shooting hockey, which is my favorite sport to play, watch and previously to cheer on. "Dugout bangers" is what we'd jokingly call them in the photo well (we being myself and former Pirates' photog and now the main Marlins' guy Joseph Guzy).
This one of Joe Musgrove applying sunscreen is the second runner-up. It could have easily fit into the "light" category, but it belongs in the dugout where it happened:
Runner-up goes to Colin Moran, whose red bushy beard and serious demeanor make for some seriously rad "bangers." Not in this one, though. I caught Moran mid-smirk -- not something that happens often with the third baseman. And, I loved the framing of the Pirates cap on the left:
Top billing in the dugout occured not in Pittsburgh, but in Bradenton. Elias Diaz was leaning on the cage in the bullpen dugouts and allowed stripes of light to decorate his face. I waited for his right eye to catch some of the light and snapped away. This was always a love of mine in black and white, and I used it in the same feature the Bell photo appeared in, so that's how it shows up here:
BEST BACKDOOR PHOTO
Last year, the final regular season Steelers game brought a memorable Watt leap as he took the field. It made it into the "best of" list. This season was no different. This image from Heinz Field as the Steelers watched their season run out of gas belongs here:
BEST HOMECOMING PHOTOS
Homecoming. What an awkward time in my life. But, I imagine it's a lot better for others when they aren't pacing the room with their eyes looking for a dance partner.
For instance, in the second runner-up spot, this service member returning home to surprise the family at PNC Park. You have to remember that this feature is about the quality of the photos themselves, not the moment. Although the moment does have an impact. What I love about it is being able to see the joy of everyone involved, even though there is only one visible face:
On to the homecoming images you expected -- we start off with Marc-Andre Fleury in the runner-up position. To me, this was the better story between he and Andrew McCutchen, but again -- about the photo. I didn't choose one of him waving to the crowd or interacting with them. I chose arguably my favorite image of Flower I've ever taken, one in the darkness when he's attempting to gather himself after the anthem and before the puck dropped:
The reason the winner goes to Cutch, though, is because I planned, executed and loved an image I got of him in the on-deck circle before his first at-bat in Pittsburgh as a visitor. It's not often that the photography game works like that, and I've been happy since that moment that I was able to create something I loved of one of the most important players in Pirates history:
Second runner-up here is the Crosby scream. I know people probably thought it would give a run for the top spot, but it came up short. Surprise if you thought the main image was going to mean that was it.
Runner-up goes to the photo of McCutchen. It's an all-time favorite of mine and one I will be revisiting to put finishing touches on, print on metal and hang in the office.
The photo of the year is one that hasn't been seen yet in this feature, but it was easily my most popular photo of 2018 -- Thomas Greiss' poke check save on Crosby to send the Islanders into a shootout and eventual win:
Anything here you didn't expect? Anything you wanted to see? Any differences of opinions? Let me know in the comments!
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