NFL photographer Ryan Kang on lasers, postgame handshakes and shooting Tom Brady
The former Daily Emerald photographer is shooting his third Super Bowl this week.
I’ve never made a meme, but most Sunday afternoons I find myself doing a pretty bang up Pointing Leonardo DiCaprio when NFL postgame handshakes flash across my screen.
1Seriously, it seems like anytime there’s a meeting between two important quarterbacks or coaches, Ryan Kang is there in the middle of it getting the shot.
Kang, a 2016 UO graduate, is a photographer for the NFL. I first met him in 2014 when he was along for the Natty ride at UO shooting for the Daily Emerald. The ODE had a talented staff that year — Taylor Wilder is now with the Chicago Blackhawks and Joseph Hoyt covers SMU for the Dallas Morning News — and Kang’s images have always blown me away. So it’s no surprise to me that this week he’ll be shooting his third Super Bowl for the NFL.
He was gracious enough to let me nerd out with a few questions heading into Sunday’s Super Bowl.
We start with the important stuff.
How much planning does it take to get those laser shots when players are running out of the tunnel? They look like they’re taken in a studio, but that’s all happening in real time.
Those tunnel shots are hit and miss for every team. There’s only a few that actually do those lasers, so when I’m at one of those stadiums I try and do my best to angle myself to get those shots. A lot of times it’s dependent on security. We can only do as much as our access allows, so a lot of times it comes down to just talking to the guys who are in the tunnel, or if there’s a PR person in charge of the tunnel, talking to them and being like, ‘Hey, I’m shooting for the NFL and I’d really like to get some of these shots…,” and sometimes they say yes and sometimes they say no.
Then once you’re in there, you wait until the lasers turn on, adjust your exposure and such, and sometimes they’re cool and sometimes they’re not. Detroit has a really nice lasers setup. Philadelphia has a really nice laser setup. There’s a few that have one or two lasers that don’t photograph well, but if you’re watching on TV it looks pretty cool.
There’s 15 seconds left in a game that’s going to feature a big postgame handshake between the quarterbacks. Where are you and how are you preparing to position yourself for that shot?
If I know the game is over and there’s no chance of a comeback, I’ll usually put myself in position next to one of the benches. Usually, I’ll dash towards the winning quarterback and follow him from there, because I know the other quarterback is going to come shake his hand. But sometimes, if there’s a lot of media and I don’t want to deal with the scrum that’s going on with the winning quarterback, I’ll find the losing quarterback and follow him instead. There’s a lot less going on around him and you know he’ll eventually find the winning quarterback. And since I’m next to the losing quarterback, I usually end in a good position since there’s 20 people jogging around the other guy.
How many stadiums have you shot at now?
I’ve shot every stadium except for Jacksonville and Cincinnati.
When the schedule comes out, what games are you circling?
Every stadium in every city has its own perks. I love going to Seattle. It’s just a fun place to shoot and I get to hang out with some friends after. Games at places like Green Bay, it’s Lambeau, so it’s historic and you’re always hyped to go there — especially when it’s snowing. I really like going to Baltimore because it has bright lights for night games. Lambeau, Kansas City — they have really clean backgrounds. Each stadium has its own pros and cons. Some are good with security, and some stadiums aren’t so friendly with photographers so you kind of have to work around that.
What have you learned about Tom Brady through shooting him?
Shooting Tom Brady, especially in New England, was a nightmare. It’s one of the strictest places for media. You can’t do anything there that you could do at like a Rams or Seahawks game, where they allow us to get closer to the players. They’re very tight in New England. Brady has his progressions that he goes through before a game and they don’t want you messing with that. So covering him was tough. I mean, it was always exciting. It’s Tom Brady. But it’s always very tense situations with him. I never really got to cover him with the Bucs, so I didn’t really get to experience what it was like to cover him there during the regular season. But shooting in Foxborough is — I don’t want to say tough — but it has its challenges.
It’s a lot of homework if it’s your first time. But there were people who had been shooting there for years. They know what he does. They know his schedule. He’s very rigid in what he does — he has a pattern and a schedule and he sticks to it and that’s why he’s been able to play so long. But I mean, after shooting someone year after year, you start to learn and get used to their tendencies. He’s not like Lamar Jackson running down the field the whole time. You don’t really have to prepare for that.
How much did working for the Emerald and being able to shoot events like the national championship while you were there prepare you to jump into covering events like this?
It was everything. Shooting at the Emerald was vital to my success and also Taylor’s success. We were put in positions where we got to learn and grow with all these professionals who had been doing this for as long as we’ve been alive. Taylor’s really good at making connections, so I learned from her in that regard as far as reaching out to people and just kind of asking questions. A lot of these (professionals) are really friendly and so willing to impart some of their wisdom. All you have to do is ask. Getting to learn from Chris Pietsch, Thomas Boyd, Bruce Ely, it was extremely helpful as far as learning how to do this job.
And then getting to shoot big games, we’d meet so many more people from the Associated Press and Getty Images and the NFL. When I was in college, I was just meeting all those guys and talking with them and asking for tips on the sidelines and stuff. Getting to shoot those games, I mean, we were extremely lucky to be in a position where you’re shooting Marcus Mariota leading a team on a national stage.
What do you shoot with?
I use all Canon gear. Everyone on our staff has their own gear and a lot use Canon. Some of them use Sony and we have a couple guys on Nikon. But I’m on Canon and this past year I’ve been transitioning from the DSLR to all the mirrorless stuff. It’s been great. It’s awesome to see the new technology and just kind of cheating. Every year it feels like you’re cheating a little more and more with how good these cameras are at focusing and nailing the right colors and everything like that.
So how does a pro stay ahead when it’s so much easier for the average user to cheat?
Every photographer has their own style and you can’t duplicate a style. You can make it easier to get the exposure right and get a sharp photo, but when it comes down to creativity and what you want your images to look like, that all comes down to the shooter, not the camera.
— Tyson Alger
I have now made a meme.