Photographs by Al Tielemans/Sports Illustrated
Photographer Al Tielemans was lucky his Sunday assignment was to take photos of Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles, rather than Detroit’s Matt Stafford. And not just because the Eagles overcame a 14-point third quarter deficit to topple the Lions, 34-20.
Foles and company wore green uniforms. Stafford’s Lions wore white. “And there were some short screen passes from Stafford—actually a lot of passes—where you had no idea who he was throwing to,” Tielemans said.
Welcome to the Week 14 Whiteout—a photographer’s nightmare.
A driving snowstorm in a 20-degree windchill blanketed Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday. Forecasters predicted only some snow, and not until later in the afternoon—they were a bit off; eight inches piled up at the Linc, according to the Eagles’ website—but Philly and Detroit plowed through their 1 p.m. game anyway. And it was messy.
Lions running back Reggie Bush slipped during warmups and did not play. Stafford fumbled three snaps in the first quarter alone. Neither team attempted a field goal—in fact, the teams opted for 2-point conversions on seven of the eight touchdowns.
Things weren’t much smoother on the sideline. Mostly because nobody could see the sideline, which created a chaotic jam among photographers, linesmen and camera crews who normally rely on white lines to regulate where they can and cannot go.
“Complete and utter chaos,” Tielemans said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
And he’s been shooting NFL games since 1986.
Tielemans said he wasn’t cold; he never even put on gloves. The biggest issue was keeping his camera dry. If snow landed on his lens, the photo would turn out distorted. If snow landed on the viewfinder on the back of the camera, that would distort what Tielemans saw.
It was a tricky balance, especially as snow swirled from every direction and grounds crews tried valiantly to clear the yard lines with blowers. “When they walked past us, the snow would blow right into us and freeze up the lens,” Tielemans said.
On the technical side, Tielemans had to manually focus his camera the entire game. The autofocus (a preferred and more convenient setting) works on contrast, and there was no contrast on Sunday. And since he was locked in on Foles, he needed to stay as close as possible.
“Once they got to the 35-yard line, it became a lot harder,” Tielemans said. “But you just had to stay with him.” Because if Tielemans was five yards—or even one—further back, there was no shot.
The weather cleared up after halftime, and the shooting conditions improved—to the point where Tielemans could actually see his subject. He wasn’t even sure if his photos from the first half would be usable. “Some of the pictures are just ridiculous,” he said. But sometimes ridiculous can be pretty fun.