Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Boys of Fall

A couple of weeks ago I went to a funeral here in my little hometown of Griffin, Georgia. It was for a man that I had known since I was a kid, a man who was good friends with my father when I was young. It was a good remembrance, lighthearted, as was the departed man, who happened to have been a great athlete in his school days. The thing that struck me about the gathering was that afterwards, while walking out of the church, my father, who was also a great athlete in his school days, and some of his old ball playing buddies started talking about the old days. They laughed and hugged and slapped each other's backs, and the stories flowed. Like the one about my father and one of his buddies driving in an old Nash car out to The University of Wyoming, where both were on scholarship to play ball...and then my father getting homesick and heading back south to sign a contract to play pro baseball with The Atlanta Crackers, and his buddy staying in Wyoming, for a little while longer anyway, and hanging out the window of the dorm building waving at him as he motored towards Georgia. The memories were still clear, and were the thread that tied these men, both living and departed, together throughout a large portion of their lives. Now in their mid-seventies the stories brought them great joy, and as the talk and laughter wound down, they promised to try and get together again. They then said a few more words of fond remembrance of their departed teammate and buddy, and went their separate ways.

This is the magic of playing sports in high school. Memories are made while you are still young, spirited, and unjaded, and the future is spread out before you. The vast majority of high school athletes will never again have a stadium full of fans cheering their every move as they fight for the honor and glory of their school. The vast majority will also likely never again work as hard physically to achieve a common goal. I am glad that I had the opportunity to play ball and to have these experiences while I was in high school, and even a bit in college; the memories and friendships from those times are some of the best that I have.

The guys in this photograph played football this year for Griffin Christian High School in Griffin, Georgia. I had the honor, as I have for several years, of being their defensive line and defensive ends coach. This year we were moved up into a bigger classification where we were often basically outnumbered and outmanned, and it made for a big challenge. They don't give points for excuses, though, so we went out and worked hard and fought hard and did pretty well, finishing the regular season with a record of 6-4. We made the state playoffs, where we lost in the first round to the eventual state champion, Deerfield-Windsor High School down in Albany, Georgia...and suddenly, it was all over.

There is a popular song that came out during this football season called "The Boys of Fall", in which country music star Kenny Chesney sings about football, about hard work and commitment, about dedication and watching out for one's teammates. It became something of an anthem for a lot of teams this year, but when you think about it, the thread of this song really runs back many decades and generations, back to the guys in leather helmets, through my father's generation, through my generation, and on up through the players of today, including these at Griffin Christian High School.

I think that these guys have made some memories for themselves, and formed some friendships that were cast in the midst of blood and sweat and competition, and in the end, some tears too. Bonds like that don't really come from too many other places. I hope that about 55 years from now, like my father and his buddies, they can come together and hug and slap each other's backs, and tell some stories about the old days. And when they speak of their coaches, I would hope they speak well of me, and remember that they always had my respect and admiration for their gallant efforts...and that I considered it an honor to be associated with them at this important time in their lives.

It's hard to be a coach and photographer at the same moment, the commitment required on each end is too great, which is why this photograph was lit and shot in a big hurry...I had to get these guys on the field for practice. I lit the photo with one medium Chimera softbox, with about 2000 watt/seconds coming through it from a Dyna-lite 2000 watt pack. I was having trouble balancing the light on the side of the photo away from the softbox - the sun was coming in on the shadow side of the faces but it was too side-lit to help much. I set up a Lumedyne with a bare bulb and reflector, at about 200 watt/seconds, and that gave me some fill light to help balance it out. What I probably would have done if I had been on assignment and had more time (and an assistant or two), would have been to set up a softbox on both sides, with another Dyna-lite pack, and balance out both the exposure and the quality of light...but again, the blocking sled was calling us. In other words, I think the photo worked out pretty nicely, but I wish I could have had the time to tweak it a little more.

I have shot some team portraits on assignment in the past, most notably the team portraits for the NBA All-Star teams. In a situation like that, I would usually use four softboxes, two on each side, one up, one down. When you have guys like Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal and their cohorts sitting there waiting for you to hurry up and just take the picture, you can't be quibbling with the light, because after a few minutes they don't really care. You want it even and without shadows, and you want everybody's face lit the same. However, that can get a little visually boring, so if you have some guys who will work with you it's always nice to make a group photo like this a little less stiff and a little more interesting.