With today’s auto-everything digital cameras people think they can buy a nice camera, slap a long lens on it and make great sports pictures.

Brad Mangin

Brad Mangin is a San Francisco-based freelance photographer and a founding owner of Sportsshooter, an online forum for sports photographers. He is a regular contributor to Sports Illustrated and Major League Baseball Photos. Early in his career, Brad worked for legendary sports photographer Neil Leifer.

Wayne: You have said before that your childhood friend Joe Gosen convinced you to take a photography class when you were in high school in Fremont, California. How did he manage to do that? How did you become so quickly passionate about it? And can you talk about the role of your high school instructor in developing your interest?

Brad: I grew up with Joe Gosen in Fremont. We met when I moved to town in the second grade, when we were seven years old. While attending Washington High School, Joe convinced me to take basic photography during my junior year from long-time photo teacher Paul Ficken. Up until that point I always wanted to call San Francisco Giants games on the radio as their play-by-play man.

After I started taking photography and using Joe’s Pentax ME-Super that he so kindly lent me [in 1982], I realized that this was something I might want to pursue. Little did I know that once I hit Ohlone junior college after graduating from high school that I would never look back on my radio career that might have been. My high school photography teacher, Paul Ficken, was instrumental in both Joe and myself pursuing a career in photography. Because of his passion for art and wonderful sense of humor we both took every photo class we could from him over our last two years in school and continued our pursuit to learn photojournalism at Ohlone College in Fremont and then San Jose State University. Our good fortune of having terrific photography teachers continued on the junior college level when Gerry Mooney was our photo advisor for the newspaper staff. That was followed up at San Jose State where we were fortunate to learn under the legendary photojournalism program founder Joe Swan and his successor Jim McNay (who later started the Visual Journalism program at Brooks Institute of Photography in 2001 and made Joe his first faculty hire).

I am a firm believer that so much luck is involved in how a young person chooses a career and I know for a fact that I would not have chosen to dive head first into photojournalism if it was not for the wonderful teachers that came into my life and encouraged me so much like Ficken, Mooney, Swan and McNay. I have been very fortunate.

Wayne: How much of an interest did you already have in sports at the time?

Brad: I grew up a huge sports fan thanks to my father. He was a high school basketball coach for 32 years and there was always a ballgame of some kind on TV while growing up. My older sister Paula and my dad were both San Francisco Giants fans, so I followed in their footsteps rooting passionately for the orange and black. When I was a kid I always thought the coolest thing ever would be to have Giants season tickets and go to every game. Well, now that I am older I actually do have season tickets to the Giants games, owning four lower box seats behind first base with three other photographer friends! I actually go to about 18 to 20 games a year as a fan and shoot about 40, meaning I actually see almost [three-quarters] of all the Giants home games, thanks in large part to my job as a sports photographer! I think that is pretty cool.

Wayne: What else were you doing to develop your photographic skills while you were in school? You've mentioned before [on Sportsshooter] the importance of the Cappon and Zannier book to you: what other magazines and books were you reading? What, do you believe, can–and can't–photographers learn from books?

Brad: While I was in high school and junior college starting out I read everything I could get my hands on. When I was just starting out I could not afford buying all the large photo books, but I made sure I bought and read every issue of Modern Photography, Popular Photography, Petersen’s Photographic, American Photography and Shutterbug. I constantly looked at pictures in magazines and especially newspapers. I learned who all the Bay Area news photographers were by name and grew to follow the work of certain shooters I admired like Nick Lammers and Dino Vournas of the Hayward Daily Review.

I believe that photographers can really learn a lot from looking at pictures in books, magazines, newspapers [...]. Of course, everyone is different in the way they learn. I really enjoy reading and studying the techniques that others are trying, and then going out and doing it myself. Others can’t stand reading or don’t have the patience for it and are completely self-taught and have accomplished a lot in the profession. I really enjoy being inspired by looking at the work of others. This is one of the reasons why I subscribe to five newspapers a day- so I can see the photography that all my friends and colleagues are doing so I can learn from them.

Wayne: How did you end up in the photojournalism program at San Jose State? Can you talk about which instructors were important to you and why?

Brad: I really lucked out having such a wonderful school like San Jose State 30 minutes down the road from my childhood home. My mother and sister when to SJSU and really enjoyed it so I figured that if it was good for them it would be good for me. Add the fact that they had one of the best photojournalism programs in the country at the time (started by Joe Swan) and it was a no-brainer. My transfer from junior college to SJSU as a junior could not have gone smoother. The classes we took from Joe Swan (and later Jim McNay) were so valuable in our progression as young photojournalists. However- the best part of school to me was learning from the other students, especially the upper-classmen who were seniors when we were juniors. Veteran students like Ken Lam, Richard Haro, Julia Tranchina and Scott Nystrom were so helpful in teaching us the ropes. We learned so much from our peers about getting internships, putting our portfolios together and working on deadline. These wonderful students, along with the regular National Press Photographers Association Student Chapter meetings we had rounded out a wonderful educational experience that culminated in my internship at the Contra Costa Times- who ended up hiring me upon graduation.

Wayne: Can you talk about how you got your internship at Contra Costa? What did you think did during your internship that helped you clinch your permanent position? What lessons can you still impart from that experience to today’s student photographers?

While attending San Jose State as a photojournalism major we were all required to have a minimum six-week paid internship before we graduated, so it was natural that I would try to get one the summer after my junior year. Our professor Joe Swan recommended I try the Contra Costa Times in Walnut Creek, California, a suburban paper about 50 miles away from San Jose where one of Swan’s grads Bob Pepping was working. I simply sent them a portfolio after calling Pepping on the phone and I was lucky to have chief photographer Randy Becker hire me in April of 1987. I immediately started working weekends until school got out and then worked full time during the summer, all nights and weekends.

The staff at the Times was terrific to me. I will never forget Dan Rosenstrauch taking me on my first ride along and Jon McNally taking me to my first Major League baseball game in Oakland. I loved working at the Times as an intern that summer, and I guess they liked having me around because they invited me to stick around for the entire school year once the summer ended as a part-timer shooting high school sports on Friday nights and also working weekends. This was a lucky break for me as I did not have to get a real part-time job in some place like a grocery store to pay my rent. I was then able to go back full-time for the following summer in 1988 as a full-time intern again and was hired as a staff photographer by the time the summer ended at the San Ramon Valley Times, a 15,000 circulation daily that was the smallest paper in their chain at that time.

Needless to say, I was thrilled to have a staff job in the Bay Area. I worked part time during the fall semester and went full-time as soon as I graduated from San Jose State in December of 1988. Looking back on things I was quite lucky never having to leave the Bay Area for employment. Our teachers at school, first Joe Swan and later Jim McNay, always preached to us how important it was to make a good impression during an internship. They always told us how newspapers liked hiring people they knew whenever they had a job opening and how they often would rather hire an intern instead of an unknown person from outside the company. I was living proof that this theory was true!

Wayne: You started your career in newspapers. How important was that in your early professional training, and what do you think were the advantages and disadvantages of starting there, instead of at a magazine or one of the wire services? What kind of assignments were you primarily covering, and which ones were most educational to you?

Brad: All I ever wanted to do was work at a newspaper. As it turns out the training I received from my bosses and fellow staffers was very key in my growing as a photographer. In my opinion there is no better way to learn how to be a photojournalist than to shoot three to five assignments a day over a period of a few years. You will get some bad assignments and some mediocre assignments, but you will also get to shoot some great things and learn how to produce under deadline pressure every day. Of course I am very biased because this is the way I learned. However, it is also the way many of my friends learned to be successful photojournalists. While working at my first newspaper job I had to shoot everything from ads at the local florist to plays to awards banquets to car accidents to tons of little league and prep sports. This is where I learned so much about photographing sports and telling stories with my sports images on deadline. Working for my first boss Bob Larson was so helpful to me. Larson was a former wire service freelancer for UPI, AFP and AP so he had a tremendous storytelling background and taught me so much about telling the simple story of any ballgame and making sure I made pictures that told the readers who won and who lost.

Wayne: How did you make the transition to the National Sports Daily? How different were the lessons you learned there from the ones you learned from your newspaper days? What were you doing to build your sports photography sense of timing, composition and technique?

Brad: The transition to The National was actually pretty smooth due to the fact that I had so much support back in the office in New York as my boss Neil LeiferCanseco, Mark McGwire, Rickey Henderson, Dave Stewart, Bob Welch and Dennis Eckersley on a daily basis. I was living my dream going to the ballpark for work every day at the age of 25. It was by far the best job I would ever have as a staffer. The National was a daily paper with tight East Coast-based deadlines, so my newspaper experience paid off allowing me to get pictures back to the desk in New York on time. The big difference from my old job was that back when I worked for the local paper I had to drive my film back to the office and make prints on deadline. While working for The National I was able to work out of the AP darkrooms with an editor (Alan Greth) who developed my film, edited and transmitted my mages via Leafax to New York (8 1/2 minutes for a black and white analog transmission and about 28 minutes for an analog color transmission). was so encouraging and so full of great ideas on how to cover a game or a feature story. I started in June of 1990 just as the Oakland A’s had the best team in baseball. I was covering Jose

I had learned the basics of sports photography before I started at The National, however being able to shoot nothing but sports every day really improved my timing and my eye as I couldn’t help but make better pictures than I ever had before. When you are shooting as much sports as I was at such a young age there is such a steep curve of improvement.

Wayne: Can you talk about what it was like to work alongside a legendary sports shooter like Neil Leifer?

Brad: Working with Neil was an unreal experience that I wish every photographer could experience at one time in their lives. Neil was always so positive. He would call up all the time and tell me if he liked a picture I had in the paper (he still does this today as he recently called me up congratulating me on a Sports Illustrated cover I had of Barry Bonds). He fought so hard for us and our pictures in the newsroom back in New York. Working for Neil was the first time I got a taste of what it must be like working for a magazine because that is how Neil treated us- as magazine photographers. We worked on feature stories besides shooting ballgames and had the time and the freedom to shoot the job until it was right. We were able to shoot chrome for the non-deadline stories and got the chance to work on some cool stories with some terrific writers.

Wayne: Which other photographers have you found influential on your career (in terms of developing your eye, your sense of discipline, and so on) and why?

I have had the pleasure to work with so many talented and kind photographers over the years—all of whom have taught me so much. The Contra Costa Times staffers I mentioned earlier: Dan Rosenstrach, Jon McNally and Bob Larson were so giving of their time when I was young and taught me so much. Once I joined The National it was our Los Angeles-based West Coast chief photographer Chris Covatta who took me under his wing and taught me how to take my work to another level. Covatta hammered on me constantly and taught me how to hard wire remote cameras for shooting baseball. Later on it was the legendary Sports Illustrated staffer V.J. Lovero who taught me how to really appreciate the game of baseball and how to look at the game in a different way so I could make some pictures that were different yet meaningful. Finally, I must mention my good friend Eric Risberg of the Associated Press here in San Francisco. Over the years I have admired Eric and his positive attitude that exudes from him every day at work. As I get older I appreciate more and more how upbeat Eric is at the ballpark after working at the AP for almost 25 years. Eric brings with him a genuine enthusiasm for the job and I try to have as much of that enthusiasm rub off on me—especially when we celebrate a fun day at the ballpark with a nice post game cigar and dinner at the Acme Chop house at AT&T Park in San Francisco (home of the San Francisco Giants).

Wayne: On Sportsshooter, when you and other experienced photographers judge student work, you often point out the importance of strong captions. Besides the simple “blockling and tackling” of identifying people properly, and getting the spelling and grammar right, what else should student photographers do to make sure their writing is up to par?

Brad: I think the students really need to focus on the facts in their captions. The simple stuff we all learned in journalism school: who, what, when, where, how and why. Since I am a sports freaks and a sportswriter at heart I tend to get rather lengthy in my captions, often throwing in classic sports cliches. Luckily for me and my editors I generally don’t have to write captions, thus saving my editors the time from having to read a lengthy diatribe like I used to write for my AP photos when I was a stringer in 1991. I remember when I first started at AP I was scared to death about messing up a caption when I started shooting baseball by myself at Candlestick Park. Luckily my friend and AP veteran stringer Alan Greth gave me the great advice to carry around an AP Laserphoto in my camera bag from a Pirates - Dodgers game shot by former AP staffer (and current Reuters staffer) Bob Galbraith. Bob always wrote great captions. I always followed his style when I wrote my baseball captions—always remembering to put the final score in the second sentence (“…the Dodgers went on to beat the Pirates, 5-3.”)

Wayne: What kind of person is drawn to sports photography instead of, say, war photography, documentary photography or general photojournalism?

Brad: I can’t speak for others, but in my case my natural love for sports and the human drama that takes place on the playing field every day made it so appealing for me. People jokingly call the sports department at the newspaper “The Toy Department” and that is okay by me. My idea of fun is not photographing people sick or dying. I like to shoot pictures of people doing what they love and playing a game. Shooting a sporting event every days means you are bound to come back with some unique images. I know the game starts at 1:05 and will end around 4:00. What I don’t know is what will happen during that three hour window. The other day that three hour window contained Barry Bonds hitting his 715th career home run.

Wayne: What misconceptions do non-sports photographers have about sports photography? Why do you think sports photography resonates so much with consumers?

Brad: Most non-sports photographers think shooting sports is easy. With today’s auto-everything digital cameras people think they can buy a nice camera, slap a long lens on it and make great sports pictures. These people might be able to make in focus (thanks to autofocus) and properly exposed digital pictures. However- without the proper training and experience it will take them quite awhile before they can capture meaningful and storytelling images with nice composition and great light on deadline.

I think consumers love shooting sports because so many people played sports as a kid and are sports fans. As they get older their kids play soccer or some other sport at a young age and it is easy and fun to go out to the soccer field at 9am on a Saturday morning with a Canon Digital Rebel and make really nice pictures of their kids. It is a completely different story trying to make a story telling and unique image of Barry Bonds hitting his 715th home run while you are surrounded by 30 other photographers.


Follow-up discussion with Brad Mangin. Talking to Brad, who co-founded the 2,900+ member Sportsshooter.com, what comes through is his passion for photography. As I talk to more photographers, this is what seems to separate top-notch phototographers like Brad from run-of-the-mill photographers who think of photography as just work.

Every day, Brad leafs through the photography of five different newspapers. Those of you who read my previous interview with Brad were probably struck by his statement that, as a teenage aspiring photographer, he bought every magazine and book about photography on which he could get his hands. He looks through every member update on Sportsshooter.com in search of a different gallery to feature on the site’s front page. When I mentioned to him that I had gotten hold of (former AP photo director) Hal Buell’s latest book, Brad immediately said: “I have to get the book!” He seems to be always absorbing images. “It is what I do,” he says.

Brad is as much a fan of baseball and the San Francisco Giants as he is a photographer who covers them for a living. Even if he is not shooting a game, he’s usually at the ballpark. He holds season tickets for the Giants.

I am also struck by how much thought and effort Brad puts into his photographs. Earlier this season, when Barry Bonds was getting closer and closer to breaking Babe Ruth’s home run record, Brad said he spent months thinking about how to best capture the historic moment. He ultimately decided to set a remote camera with a very wide angle lens behind homeplate, because he pictured capturing the scoreboard, Bonds and a good swathe of the stadium (the image is currently the opening page of his website). That kind of preparation reminds me of Neil Leifer’s overhead shots of the Ali vs. Williams fight. Brad worked for Neil at The National.

Obviously, the meticulous photographer does his best to learn the venue where he shoots. In Brad’s case, because he regularly covers Major League Baseball, he has learned the angles of the ballparks where he shoots. He recounts one assignment for Sports Illustrated where he wanted to show players colliding against the outfield wall in Candlestick, and how he parked himself in parts of the ballpark that would normally be considered poor places from which to cover the game. He thinks more photographers should be willing to shoot sports like football and baseball from above the field. “Shooting from an overhead position, be it an official photo basket or a luxury suite, can clean up backgrounds and give an editor a completely different look.” Brad notes how important it is to work with editors who have the courage to go beyond the conventional shot.

How loose you shoot during a game depends on for whom you’re shooting. Wire service assignments are more restrictive, because they are looking for straighter news shots. Magazines allow you to shoot looser.

“Magazines like Sports Illustrated will often look for a wider view of a big moment that shows the entire scene,” says Brad. “An image like this works well in a glossy magazine that can run such a picture two full pages (doubletruck) that allow the reader to take in the entire moment and get a sense of place.”

Assignments like the Super Bowl, where every moment has the potential to be crucial, might also require more caution, but Brad says he admires photographers who go beyond conventional coverage. Be willing to move around the field.

Walter [Iooss] used to always say at some assignments he would look to see where the other photographers are shooting from—then he would go someplace else,” says Brad. “If the assignment allows and the editor is supportive I love to be able to make pictures that no one else has. I want my pictures to be different—however, I cannot have this freedom without the wonderful support of an editor like Nate Gordon at Sports Illustrated or Paul Cunningham at Major League Baseball Photos. These editors allow me the freedom to try and get different looks at the action while I am shooting baseball for them and their trust in me really pays off when I am lucky enough to capture a nice play from a unique angle.”