A High School Football Game Changed My Photography

Yukon High School Football

I was standing on the sidelines taking pictures at a high school football game. I was there just for the fun of taking pictures of my son and our home town team. Little did I realize that what happened next would dramatically improve my photography.

Of course one single event rarely transforms your photography. But the right event at just the right time can send you down an unexpected path that over time can make a big difference in your photography. Or your life.

I captured an important play and I was the only photographer at that end of the football field. Jay Upchurch, the sports editor for the Yukon Review, walked up to me and said “Did you get the shot?” “I think so” I replied. “What are you shooting?” he asked. “High speed color slide film.” “That won’t help me”, he said. They finished the sports section right after the game and put the paper to bed. The paper didn’t process slide film. The Review would be printed overnight and out for delivery the next morning before the nearest slide film lab even opened.

He asked why I shot slide film. I told him that was my preferred film for photographing my son  and he played defense. Jay asked me if I had two camera bodies. I said yes. He made me an offer. “What if you shoot slide film while your son is on the field playing defense, and you shoot black and white film for the paper while the offense is on the field?” That worked for me. In fact it sounded exciting. He said “Meet me before the next game.”

Photo in the Yukon Review, October 4, 1989.

We met before the next game and he dropped three rolls of black and white film in my hand. He said “Fill them up and meet me after the third quarter.” I did. He took my B&W film and left for the newspaper office to write the game article and have the film processed. One of my photos was in the October 4 issue of the paper. This is my very first published newspaper photo! It was not much to look at (I learned newspaper photos are nothing like the clarity of slides or quality prints made from a good negative) but I did catch a key touchdown in the game. It was the first of many of my photos to be published by the Review.

The paper had a paid, full time photographer. The problem is one photographer can’t be everywhere around the side of football field, so if something happens on the far side or other end of the filed, you are out of luck. That is why Jay asked me to shoot for the Review. I made sure I was somewhere different from where the other photographer was to try and cover as much of the field as possible. When the game wasn’t going on I asked him questions. I learned a lot. Over time shooting for the paper dramatically improved my sports, action, and event photography and it helped my wildlife photography too.

Photo in the Yukon Review, October 7, 1989.

It wasn’t long before I started going to the newspaper office right after the games ended. Jay would be in his office finishing up the game article (he had someone fill him in on what happened during the 4th quarter). I loved the darkroom. The newspaper photographer would process his film and mine. Jay would look at the proof sheets and pick the images he wanted printed. The photos would be printed to fit the open spaces between the text columns and added to the layout. The sports page looked a bit like a big jig saw puzzle. When the sports section was finished the whole paper was sent across town and printed in time to be distributed early the next morning. Everything was usually in a huge rush. It was exciting!

Shannon Miller on the Beam

Shannon Miller, Olympic Gold Medalist

It wasn’t long before I was covering other events, like concerts and human interest stories. And then I started writing articles for the paper. I majored in instrumental music in college so I wrote articles about the high school band performances. I kept learning and honing my skills. My work at the paper inspired me to branch out. One thing led to another and hundreds of my images were published in books, magazines, newspapers, calendars, booklets, travel brochures, church bulletin covers, and business web sites.

Soccer at “Spectacular”, Graceland University.


With my press pass in hand, I photographed a little bit of everything from community events to parades to rock concerts to college sports. And it all started on the sidelines in a chance meeting with the sports editor.



Here’s a photo tip. Shooting sports prepares you for other kinds of photography from action events (think little kids at birthday parties) to wildlife photography where you have to think and make decisions quickly. It is good for your photographic reflexes and training your muscle memory. If you haven’t tried sports photography it is time to start. You don’t need a press pass or big games to go to. Head out for some children and youth sports leagues and photograph the action.

Army/E. Michigan football game.


The Yukon Review sports editor, Jay C. Upchurch, is now the editor-in-chief of the Sooner Spectator, a magazine about sports at the University of Oklahoma. He has a book out, Tales from the Oklahoma Sooner Sideline.


This article is part of the Events That Changed Me As A Photographer series.

The other articles in the series:

It All Started with a Stolen Camera

The “Teaching Thing” Started with a Gift

From Broken Ribs to a Book Contract and Teaching at OSU

Working with Models All Started with Sarah