From the Vault: The Friday Night Lights Project
As the anniversary of http://www.dsmithimages.com approaches, I wanted to continue my look back at my formative days in photography. The previous post I did covered a lot of the early styles I focused on with my camera, but it did leave off one style in particular. A big chunk of my formative days involved photographing football, specifically high school football in the Tuscaloosa and Northport communities. I have talked before about how photographing football prepared me for, of all things, working weddings, but today I wanted to look back at the initial reasons on why I wanted to cover the sport.
The year was 2007, and I was getting more and more involved with photography each and every day. Instead of photographing nature or abstract concepts, I wanted to start toying with the concept of doing a photo project. I wanted to pick a subject and cover it over a number of weeks in an effort to see how I would grow in terms of approach, style, and skill. I decided on high school football because, after all, I was a fan and would attend Tuscaloosa County High School games regularly. I had no affiliation with the school other than the parents of a good friend went there so we adopted that school as ours when we moved down here for college. I didn’t want to just focus on County High, though. Tuscaloosa and Northport had plenty of schools to cover, and, at the time, I lived only a few miles from two of them in Tuscaloosa Academy and Northridge High School. After all, the project wasn’t just going to be about football. It was going to be about the scene and atmosphere of a football game. It was going to be about the fans, the band, the cheerleader. It was going to be about everything that made up the whole concept of “Friday Night Lights”.
Where as that was the initial idea for the project, things did tend to focus on County High and football images in general that particular year and in the subsequent years I continued the project. I would still get shots of the crowd, and the band, and the cheerleaders, but I found myself more and more wanting to get that one good action shot. That one good tackle. That one good stiff arm or catch. I wanted those key shots more than anything. I didn’t get many that first year, but the goal stuck with me. The desire to capture that one key moment that stands out from the rest was a building block for my wedding photography approach. I know every photographer gets that desire at one point or another, but for me it came about on the football fields of Tuscaloosa and Northport high schools.
I don’t get to photograph a lot of high school football anymore due to other commitments, but it’s still something I hold dear to my heart because of what it meant to me at the time. It was my first real “access” to anything. I had credentials to get on the field. In fact, I felt like I had access to the best seats in the house, even though I was standing the entire game. I loved getting to a game before the sunset and watching the crowd trickle inside the stadium. I loved getting to know other photographers and media people on the field, some who are still friends of mine to this day. I loved the rush of watching a play develop and realizing I had to get out of the way because the action was headed my direction. I didn’t even get upset the one time a couple of players ran into me on a rainy night and took my legs out from under me. It was all part of the job I was doing. It was part of the job that prepared me for bigger things, including access to photographing football games at the University of Alabama. It was something that made me really love photography, and I’m so fortunate to have had the opportunity. I never played a down of organized football in my life, but a huge part of me is still defined by what I did under those Friday night lights.