Getty Images’ Director of Photography explains how to shoot the Super Bowl

Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images /

The Super Bowl is America’s premier sports event, a reputation bolstered by countless iconic images. But who takes those perfect pictures?

The Super Bowl is a spectacle, one that captures the world’s attention for an entire day, and holds our memories for much longer. Those memories are often catalyzed in a specific photograph — a football desperately pinned to the top of David Tyree’s helmet, the front line of the New York Giants rising to try and block Scott Norwood’s field goal attempt, Kevin Dyson stretching for the goal line and coming up just short.

As we prepare for a Super Bowl unlike any other, Maxx Wolfson, Getty Images‘ Director of Photography for the Americas spoke with FanSided about how his team prepares for the big game.

Can you start by telling us a bit about yourself and your personal history with the Super Bowl?

I have been with Getty now for 17 years. I’m the Director of Photography for the Americas so I’m in charge of all of our content for North and South America and our photographers, our freelance photographers, the contributors, our editors, all that. And I’ve been to that last 15 Super Bowls, so this one will definitely be one like no other.

It’s my favorite event, I’m a huge sports fan. To me, it’s the pinnacle of sports events in the U.S. and it’s also an amazing opportunity to get a large part of our team together. Which, we all need, it’s a yearly thing we all look forward to. Unfortunately this year, it’s not going to be the whole team like it usually is.

How far ahead of time are you working on prep and planning? How much do you have to change and adapt year to year? Or are you just kind of dusting off the plan from the year before and making a few small changes?

It’s a lot of dusting off what we did last year and tweaking. We do a really good job of taking notes before, during and after the Super Bowl and seeing what worked and what didn’t work, and what we can change and what we can improve. Every stadium and every game has some unique twist to it, whether it be remote placements or open roof or not open roof, or certain access to certain areas, parties and things like that. And then the halftime show which is always different depending on who’s performing. But our kind of core team for the Super Bowl has been together for 10-plus years and so we all kind of know our role and our place. I think we all kind of rely on each other’s expertise in certain areas to make sure things go off without a hitch.

Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images /

I know every stadium has its own unique geography but how much of the challenge is the difference in physical variables — light, space, etc. — between the Super Bowl and say a regular-season game in the same arena?

That’s a great question. Everything for the Super Bowl is different. It’s an absolute show. The NFL does not spare any expense. Even just going from the NFC or AFC Championship game to the Super Bowl it’s such a different beast, when you’re bringing in the TVs and the production and the security. Every single thing about the Super Bowl is different from a normal football game. Which is fun, it adds to it. To me it’s like an Olympics in terms of how much people care. Media day with the thousands of journalists who are there, and the whole week and the buildup, it just amazes me that all this is for a three-hour football game. But if you really look at what the Super Bowl is, it’s so much more than just that game. It transforms the city for an entire week.

And for you all, it’s a week-long event too, right? You’re shooting everything that goes on?

Exactly, absolutely everything. We have our sports team. We have our news team and we have our entertainment team. And our entertainment team is typically more photographers and editors than our sports team. The Super Bowl is kind of the party of the year, although obviously this year will be quite different.

How much of a challenge is it just navigating the space with so many more photographers at a game like this? 

It’s actually not for us, the NFL has done such a great job over the years of giving us what we need to cover the game the right way. They look at us as capturing history and love that we’re able to bring in our photographers and our technicians and our editors and our remotes. They use us as a way to promote their game and we absolutely appreciate what the NFL has done over the years to give us that access. We have photographers all over the stadium typically, capturing every single moment and the NFL wants that because it’s capturing history. Some of those big plays, you can’t recreate that. You only get one shot at it and the NFL wants to make sure that we capture that moment and they can use that for years to come.

Photo by Elsa/Getty Images
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images /

When you’re going into the game how of the plan is about shooting everything and trusting that the iconic shots will be in there, versus focusing on specific variables that you want to try and target and look for?

It’s a mix. I trust our photographers to get the moment and they’re very good at doing that, having multiple angles of the moment is important as well. You know we try to have a plan and plans are great as you know you can predict sports and that’s why sports are so amazing, you never know what’s going to happen. Is Tom Brady going to have a big game? Is the opening snap going to go flying over Peyton Manning’s head? You can’t predict that. We try to plan some things, obviously. The coaches at the end of the game. The quarterbacks shaking hands. The quarterbacks walking off the field. But there’s always the star of the game that you can’t necessarily predict. And that’s where we leave it up to communication during the game. Checking to see what’s going viral on Twitter. If there’s someone at the game who we weren’t expecting, making sure we capture them. But at the end, we trust our photographers to capture the moment that the world is going to be talking about the next day.

What are you all focused on to make sure you’re capturing something unique each time, and not just this year’s version of the same photos we see every year? Or maybe that’s just kind of the players’ job?

Obviously, you hope there’s something unique, some kind of special catch in the game itself, a game-winning touchdown. But we get there a week early and we scout every inch of that stadium and try to find something unique about the stadium. This one, this year, obviously there’s no roof and it’s outdoors. It will be dark by the time kickoff is, but during the warmups it will be light. We’re setting something special up for that. Setting up remotes, putting people in different spots.

We always like to have a photographer who is a roamer, who when the game starts isn’t given an assignment and is just kind of free to go wherever they feel is different and unique and capturing something. It’s usually my favorite photographer to look at their stuff at the end of the day because it’s just different. Everyone else is set, they’re in a seat and they can’t move so they’re just shooting what’s in front of them.

Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images /

One of the most striking things for the Super Bowl is always the scale, how many people are there, how much the commercials cost, etc. I assume this will give us a big number: How many images would you expect your team to shoot during just the actual game itself?

Typically, in Super Bowls past, we’ve had 14 photographers, and we’re not having that this year, we’ll be scaled down, but we’ve probably shot over 100,000 pictures and moved a couple thousand of those out to our customers. This year, because our team is limited in terms of how many people we have, I’d say probably 40-50,000 pictures. Our goal is always to try and move those high numbers. We have the ability this year to kind of put all hands on deck with editing resources, because we’ll have limited photographers and we want nothing to change for our customers.

You know I watch games on a slight delay because I’m streaming. And I’m sure some of our customers are too. And our hope is always that we’re pushing out photos from those big moments and they’re arriving in their inboxes at the same time as they’re seeing them on TV.

The scale blows me away. And all of the thousands of images are all being sorted through by editors and they’re hand-tagging and selecting the ones that are going to go out?

Exactly. We have a program that we use that we built in house that we can have editors anywhere in the world pitching in and helping. Because of that, it allows us to put on plenty of editors.

Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images
Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images /

What’s changed over the years that you’ve been doing this from the perspective of your team? How has the job adapted?

We’ve gotten better. Like I said, we try to tweak and improve just a little bit every year. We learn lessons on what didn’t work and what we can do better. We’ve also gotten much faster, we rely on technology now. The cameras have gotten better. The internet speeds have gotten better. Our relationships with each stadium and the NFL have grown and they give us the freedom to do what we want to make sure that we get things out as quickly as possible. We have those big moments, that hasn’t changed, but the editing side has gotten better and faster. And now we can edit from around the world, we used to have to all be on-site and we can put more people on it than we ever could before.

Are you a fan of a specific team? Have you ever had to work a Super Bowl where you also have a vested emotional interest in the outcome?

Yes, I am. I grew up a Green Bay Packers fan. My family is from Wisconsin and I grew up going to Lambeau Field with my dad once a year, my uncle had season tickets. So 2010 when the Packers won the game, I was working the Super Bowl. I’m pretty professional. I know when the right time for things are, I could put my head down and work and nobody had any idea. But the second the Packers won that game, once the job was done it was time for me to enjoy it.

Do you have favorite images from Super Bowls you’ve worked over the years? Things you remember seeing in the moment and knowing it was going to be an incredible shot?

Yeah… the helmet catch from David Tyree back in the day was obviously memorable and we had some multiple angles. A lot of the celebration. Some of the halftime photos, it’s so visual, great for photos. There’s just so many. And the Lombardi Trophy. We had a cool one of [Tom] Brady from a couple of years ago where he’s holding his daughter and her face is reflected in the trophy. And everyone was taking her face out and putting other people’s faces in. It’s those photos you don’t expect.