I spent a day behind the scenes with the Colorado Rockies team photographers to get a first hand look at what it takes to work in the Major Leagues. Join me for a day in the life of a baseball team photographer.
My day with the Rockies photographers was a July 17th home day game against the San Francisco Giants, The final game of a four game home stand, scheduled to start at 1pm. I reported to Coors field at 10:00 am. Team Photographers Matt Dirksen (left) and Kyle Cooper (right) had already arrived at the field several hours before me and met me outside of the stadium near the press entrance. It was going to be a hot day at the ball park as the temperature was already in the mid 80’s some three hours before game time and expected to be in the mid to upper 90’s by game time.
Matt is a veteran photographer, having worked for the Washington Nationals from 2013-2015, prior to joining the Colorado Rockies in January of 2016. Matt is the only full time photographer the Rockies employ. Kyle Cooper joined the Rockies in January 2016 as a part time photographer. Kyle also does work for the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche and 303 Magazine as a photographer, as well as working for one of the local camera stores, Englewood Camera. Both are self taught photographers with a wide variety of professional photography related experience.
Not all MLB teams have a photographer, so both felt a great sense of pride working for the Rockies. It’s a rare job. Matt covers all home games and travels with the team to away games, about 35 times a year. Kyle, being part-time works primarily home games and does not travel with the team. Life as a team photographer is a long, hard, grind. As the team’s only full time photographer, Matt spends most of his summer working and traveling with very little time off between games. Kyle doesn’t have the arduous schedule that Matt does but his life is pretty busy as well, working other jobs and such.
As for the team photographers, I had assumed their work would be mostly sports photography, but as I soon discovered, they cover the venue of Coors Field, photographing events, concerts or anything else that may occur at the stadium. Being part of the organization’s marketing department, their photographs are used for a multitude of applications to promote the team and the advertising clients of the club. The Rockies marketing department is a very busy place to work and on top of covering games they produce a ton of promotional material such as The Rockies Magazine, a monthly glossy print publication which heavily features their photographic work.
As Matt Dirksen describes, “We photograph anything that relates to revenue generation. That includes advertising on the walls of the field or on the big screen. If it makes money, we take photos of it. Our clients like to see their advertisements and want to make sure they are getting what they paid for.”
Our first order of business on game day was assembling the camera gear for the afternoon. Matt’s kit is 2 Nikon D5’s and a lens selection consisting of a Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR, Nikon 300mm f/4 PF, Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR, Nikon 200-400mm VR II, Nikon 35mm f/1.4, Nikon 400mm f/2.8, and Sigma 135mm f/1.8.
Kyle’s standard kit is a Canon 1Dx and 1Dx mk II, with the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM, Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM, and the Canon EF 16-35mm L vIII. I packed light with a Nikon D810, the Nikon 24-120mm VR, and 70-200mm f/4 VR.
All things considered there was a small fortune invested in gear and optics. The Rockies do supply the photographers with base gear; however, most of this equipment is owned by the photographers themselves.
Around mid-game we made a visit back to the office area to swap out lenses. Nobody would want to carry that much gear during a game on a 100 degree day.
Matt preferred to carry his gear in a small pack while Kyle stuffed a waist belt with the tools he needed. Both lugged their cameras over their shoulder, always ready for the next shot.
The guys first order of business on game day was to take corporate partnership photos on the concourse.
The Rockies have many relationships with other organizations and it’s the photographers job to get photos of guests and groups in attendance before the game.
Once the corporate partnership photos were completed, we took a short brunch break in the team cafeteria. We would need that fuel for a full day of photography on a blistering hot day at the stadium.
To the Field
After brunch, we grabbed our gear and headed to the field.
Our first stop was in the photographers well, located adjacent to the Rockies dugout on the first base side of the field. The well is equipped with network connections and provides a close up look at the players in the dugout.
The guys formulated their plan of attack and then separated to take care of their business. I worked the field during pregame with Kyle and later joined Matt for the majority of the game action. These guys move about the stadium all day long and keeping up with them was no easy task for an old man.
Once on the field, we worked the home plate area taking photos of guests and pre-game ceremonies. One thing I had never experienced was the singing of the National Anthem before the game from next to the singer. Singing the anthem is not an easy job. There is about a half second delay from the singer to the stadium sound system. I could hear the young lady singing directly on the field and the delay to the loudspeakers was quite noticeable. It’s amazing that she was able to keep her cadence without letting the loud delay interrupt her singing.
For the first inning of the game, we positioned ourselves behind home plate. Matt and Kyle worked both sides of the backstop. There were other newspaper photographers as well. Everyone seemed to know one another and the atmosphere was quite congenial among the photographers.
While working with Matt, he explained to me a few of the challenges of working a baseball game.
“Shooting games over and over again, you eventually end up taking the same basic photos again and again. I’m constantly challenging myself to find new shots or a new approach. Sometimes working with different lenses or positioning myself differently. It can become repetitive so one must overcome that aspect of the job.”
I also found it interesting that they weren’t at all concerned with photographing the other team. Any shots of the opposing players were coincidental and not intentional.
Matt clarified “It’s not really my job to take photos for the other team. We concentrate on our players and advertisers.”
The photographers often send their photos back to the marketing department via network, be it wireless or wired. Matt often does quick in camera edits and transmits them using his mobile phone as a network hot spot.
They normally shoot raw and jpg images together and it’s the jpg’s that will be hot off the wire so to speak. Matt normally edits the raw images later for promotional material. He tells me that he has made a Lightroom preset that will create an identical color curve from either the Canon or Nikon gear. He gave me a comical grin when I asked him if he would share it with me.
We eventually worked our way to the right field stands and Matt began photographing the bullpen from above. I knew what he was doing so I tried to be a copycat and get the same shot he was taking. The image was of one of pitchers warming up and nothing but the catcher and home plate in view. Looking for a frame with the ball in it as it crossed the plate.
I can say this. Matt got the shot. I did not. Both our photos look identical, except you’ll never find the ball in my shot. A less humble man would chalk that up to Matt using a D5 and me using a D810, but that’s not the real reason I don’t have the ball in my shot.
Here’s the yin/yang of that effort. I got him getting the shot. This shot, his D5 didn’t get.
As for the game itself. I paid very little attention to the on field action and game progress. It wasn’t until I was taking photos of Rockies Shortstop, Trevor Story that I noticed what inning we were in or what the score was.
Being the last game of the series this would be the only chance the Rockies had of not being swept at home, as they had lost the previous three games, including both games of a double header earlier in the week.
The Rockies had tied the game in the 5th inning, but I was quite unaware of where it was until the Rockies late game rally in the bottom of the ninth fell short, with the Rockies losing the game 11-8 and being swept.
I can assure you that losing has an effect on everyone in the organization, but there was no wavering of unity among the team employees and everyone had a “we’ll get them tomorrow” attitude. No hint of defeat exists in that front office.
It all ended up being one heck of a day for me to get this opportunity. I’ve photographed college baseball, and tons of little league; but, this was Major League Baseball and that’s big business. Having the access and the willingness of everyone to do it was something I had to reach for, I would probably never had done this in my career. It was just not the circle my photography ran with. But one day, my circle crossed others and the gates opened up.
As for Matt and Kyle, they are off into the future. I’m sure our paths will cross again, but who knows when? I know Matt is in New York right now for a series with the Yankees. Kyle is probably at Englewood Camera trying to make a living selling cameras. Me, I’m writing this on my back porch on a warm summer’s afternoon in July.
What I now know is that this is a young man’s job. As team photographers for the Rockies, it can be grueling much of the time. These guys are major league and they put as much effort and skill into their work as the athletes on the field, and for nowhere near the pay. It’s their work that forms the basis of the public’s perception of a Major League Baseball team, The Colorado Rockies.
Here’s more from the Colorado Rockies team photographers at Coors Field.
You can also find Matthew on Istagram @dirksenphoto
You can also find Kyle on Istagram @kylecoopah
“All Images by Matt Dirksen and Kyle Cooper are used with the permission of The Colorado Rockies”