Mary Lake dives to the ground, saving the ball that gives BYU women’s volleyball the win that takes them to the final four. *Click.*
Zach Wilson hurdles a player on the opposing team during a football game — twice. *Click.*
Yoeli Childs dunks over two players from Utah and wins West Coast Conference Player of the Week. *Click.*
Each time a goal is made, a ball is spiked or a touchdown is scored, it is caught on camera. These pictures draw attention. They evoke emotion and make the viewer feel like they are living in the moment. But who takes these captivating pictures?
BYU Photo team
BYU Photo is a team made up of not-so-typical photographers. According to BYU Photo Manager Jaren Wilkey, none of the students working as photographers are majoring in photography. Some major in public relations, marketing, astrophysics or advertising.
“Several (students) that I hire don’t know photography very well when I hire them, but they have an interest and they have an attitude,” Wilkey said. “I have had many learn and become great photographers through working with us. It’s definitely a mentored learning experience that happens here. It’s not just your normal campus job.”
The BYU Photo team has two full-time staff photographers and nine students, five of which are photographers and four office assistants who edit photos.
Nate Edwards, who is a full-time staff photographer like Wilkey, won awards for Best in Show in 2016 and Photographer of the Year in 2017 from the University Photographers Association of America.
Junior and student photographer Gabriel Mayberry said he began photographing when he was 12 years old. His first experience using a camera was when he and his father took a trip to see a sheepdog show in Colorado. Mayberry used his father’s digital single-lens reflex camera to take pictures of the dogs.
When they returned home, Mayberry’s grandmother said he should enter some of the photographs into a competition. He entered and ended up winning the grand prize.
“After that, I started to take a lot more pictures,” Mayberry said. “I read the manual and everything for the camera. (Soon) I was making money from it.”
Sophomore Tyler Richardson, Mayberry’s co-worker, said he started working at BYU Photo long before he decided to study advertising.
“I got really into photography through various opportunities,” Richardson said. “I got to shadow Jaren a couple of times and then my passion for it grew and grew. I decided to take it on as my passion project.”
Advertising senior Courtney Fairbourn had a different beginning with BYU Photo than her co-workers. Fairbourn started as one of the first videographers for BYU Athletics, essentially teaching herself everything she would need to know.
“(This is my) fourth year working with BYU Athletics,” Fairbourn said. “I kind of started the video program. After the first year (working for BYU), video kind of took off on social media and that’s when I switched and kind of just trained myself to accommodate it all.”
The sport of photography
Wilkey‘s work has been published in hundreds of books and publications including Sports Illustrated, ESPN Magazine, The New York Times, The Washington Post, NCAA Champions Magazine and HuffPost.
According to Wilkey, a great photo can tell the audience everything it needs to know. BYU Photo’s main focus is to train its students to be visual storytellers. This storytelling comes from planning ahead and thinking of the shots that are needed in a game, but also being open and ready to take different shots.
“We run through things that we want to get — close tight shots of athletes in action,” Richardson said. “As the game progresses, we can get creative and branch out with new things.”
Though the photographers try to plan their shots in advance, according to Wilkey, sports photography is a combination of preparation and luck.
“You try to put yourself in a place where you think something’s going to happen and push the button when you think the right moment is,” Wilkey said.
Each sport is different to photograph and some are harder than others. Mayberry said volleyball is the hardest to capture on camera.
“The ball moves so fast and it’s hard to anticipate the action (and) the shots that you need,” Mayberry said. “That’s why it’s really rewarding when you do get the shots.”
To get better shots, Mayberry moves around during the game. He goes into the “bird’s nest” with the video cameramen to capture good spikes and net action, then he sits down below the net to get dives and wide angles.
As for gymnastics, Fairbourn has to stand differently to get good movement on beams and bars. She is usually down low taking straight on shots to show the height the gymnasts achieve.
“We get all new angles where no one else can see so that you can get shots that no one else has,” Fairbourn said.
Video by Courtney Fairbourn
A typical shoot
Not only do BYU photographers need to know what position would look good for a shot, but they also have to make sure their camera is still to capture clear photos. That’s a little difficult when they have 10 pounds of equipment to carry.
“On a typical shoot, we’ll carry around two cameras with us and four lenses,” Mayberry said. “We put them on a backpack strap so that they don’t weigh too much, (but) it gets tiring after a while.”
Fairbourn said a previous co-worker did arm workouts specifically for this job so the camera wouldn’t shake.
Mayberry said photographers can take roughly 2,500 shots in one game. Only about a third of those pictures are kept and even fewer are actually used.
The cameras the photographers use have a wireless transmitter that will automatically upload their pictures to a live gallery, according to Wilkey. This live gallery is accessible to news media outlets for use on social media sites and newspaper articles.
“We installed a system to provide photo instantly,” Wilkey said. “Say a touchdown happens, we push a button on the back of the camera and that photo is sent to an FTP site and the social media people can have the photo up in 20–30 seconds (after the touchdown).”
The two full-time staff at BYU Photo, Wilkey and Edwards, teach their students to capture the essence of BYU.
“The goal of our office is to tell the BYU story visually,” Wilkey said. “To show to the world what BYU and BYU athletics are really about and who we are. That’s really what we’re after. We want to tell the BYU story.”