Catching up with two photo pros who will be sure that all the action is expertly captured during the big game — assuming their lenses don't get taken out by a ball
With the Super Bowl just days away, we know the coaches, athletes and trainers are working all week to get ready for the biggest sporting event of the year. But there's also a whole army of people working overtime to bring the game to fans at home, including sideline reporters, event producers and some of the hardest-working photographers in the business.
Immediately after kickoff Sunday, you’ll be seeing the Internet completely inundated with all things Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers. Get ready for trending hashtags, live articles being updated throughout the evening and all those incredible action shots that will grace the front page of newspapers around the country on Monday morning. But do you ever stop to think about the people behind those photos?
There’s a lot that goes into capturing the most compelling moments of the game — like the viral photo of Patrick Mahomes’ cracked helmet during the freezing-cold Kansas City game earlier this year. From getting to the game early to walk the field to dodging players who are diving nearly into them, here is what two photo pros will be up to on Super Bowl Sunday.
Game day preparation
Emily Curiel, the photographer with the Kansas City Star who captured the photo of the helmet crack seen 'round the world, is heading to Las Vegas this week. She will be traveling with her three camera bodies, card reader, memory cards and lenses in tow.
It’s her first Super Bowl and she’s doing her best not to get too psyched-out. “I'm going in with the mindset of: It's just another game. But obviously a little bit more amplified,” she tells PEOPLE.
On any other game day, Curiel hits the field ahead of the game to scope it out. She plans to head into Allegiant Stadium around 11:30 A.M. and will get herself into position as she and her fellow photographers take their spaces, either in a designated media pit or on the field. Shooting in Kansas City lately has been cold (see top photo), so Curiel is looking forward to trading her five layers of clothing for leggings and a t-shirt for the 65° weather expected on Super Bowl Sunday.
Also on site at Allegiant will be Heather Krut, a technical specialist with Canon, who will be be handing out loaned gear from the Canon Professional Services room to people including photographers from Getty, the NFL Network, and 49ers official photographer Terrell Lloyd and his team.
“I will be in the room where people are going to be able to come and get either cameras cleaned, pick up a lens or a camera for that day, and handling tech,” says Krut. She and her team are getting into Vegas on Wednesday and will be on site from Thursday to Sunday, prepping for the sports photographers' Super Bowl — the actual Super Bowl. And it will be just as grueling a day for them as it is for the athletes.
“On the 11th, we will be there all day, start to finish. Loadout is around 2 A.M. If we load up by 3 A.M., it’s a good day,” she says.
What it’s like on the field
Capturing the perfect shot can be a sport in itself.
And it's not just trying to dodge an incoming football, Curiel says; she’s been bumped into by players (memorably, Marquez Valdes-Scantling collided with her and said, “Oh, sorry shorty!", she recalls.) She once had Tommy Townsend apologize for stepping into her frame post game, and has had equipment malfunction on the field, like her camera battery draining in subzero temperature games.
Before the game, she’s capturing player arrivals and celebrities on the field and then post-game she’ll be around for the big celebration (for the winner, that is).
While the game is in play, though, Curiel is crouching down, hopping out of the way of other photographers and setting timers on her camera. Then, after the shot is captured, she’s darting over to a booth where she has several minutes in between plays to send her photos of the moment over to her editors.
Krut has seen videos of colleagues getting knocked over, balls hitting cameras, lenses breaking off. “Our gear is extremely durable but when you have a lot of weight coming at you very fast, and the right way at the right time, those types of things can happen,” she explains.
That's why having the right gear on the field is key — "and knowing the gear is going to be coming down to how quickly you can pivot in real time. Because if a ball does come flying at you, you have to maneuver all that heavy gear out of the way," Krut says.
All that heavy gear (like this year's popular newly-released RF100-300mm F2.8) is worth it, Krut says, because "ultimately, it’s about getting the shot. That’s the most important thing,” she adds.
One note that will make the photographers' lives easier this year: Allegiant Stadium is a dome stadium, so once photographers get their settings right, they won’t have to deal with as much light variation and quick setting changes.
Representing the girls
Curiel, who is only two years out of college and working the dream job, says the industry is still very male driven. At 4-ft.-11-in., she’s often teased by the male photographers who joke “that camera’s bigger than you.”
But Curiel holds her own. “I usually say, ‘I know, right?’ or ‘No. This camera is only maybe two feet. I’m four feet!’” she says.
To be able to show the world that “girls can like sports too,” she says, is a dream – and she’s grateful to be able to represent as one of the few Latinas out there behind a lens.
“When I was growing up, I would watch sports games with my mom and tell her, ‘Mom, I'm gonna be on the field one day. I wish there was someone I could look up to because it's very male-dominated'," she tells PEOPLE. "So, I hope to be an inspiration for women and for Latinas everywhere."
And when it comes to the behind-the-scenes action, Krut is happy to report she sees more women stepping up. “When I started in the industry about 10, 11 years ago, it was very few and far between for women. And now I know more tech women than I ever had before,” she says. While arranging gear orders for this year, she was happy to see women on the list, shooting for the NFL Network and beyond.
Famous fans in the stands
You can’t Google “Taylor Swift” these days without seeing her decked out head to toe in Chiefs paraphernalia to cheer on boyfriend Travis Kelce. And just as much as we love looking at those photographs of her celebrating in the suite, the photographers love the challenge of capturing them.
“That's definitely one of our assignments, to get her reaction during plays, especially if it's 87,” says Curiel, referring to Kelce's jersey number. During Kansas City games, she’s been looking to TikTok to see if Swift is in the house and then using a telephoto lens to grab reaction shots of her. She’s especially proud of capturing one with Taylor’s tongue hanging out while cheering alongside Brittany Mahomes.
“It reminded me of my best friend and how sometimes we get excited about stuff. It was really cute like, oh she's just kind of like us; just because she's a superstar doesn't mean she's not allowed to be herself,” says Curiel.
The million-dollar question on Sunday is: Will Swift be in the house? If she is, Curiel will be ready behind the lens.
Krut is anxious to sneak away from her post and photograph from the sidelines. “I’m a concert photographer so I would love to do the halftime show,” she says. And yes, she’s looking to catch a T-Swift snap herself. In fact, a lot of people are bringing their long lenses, she says ... just "in case!"
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