Twenty-three players, 17 schools, one glossy high school football preview magazine.
As the lights power on, illuminating gridders across East Texas, fans can expect hard hits, big plays and our annual Pigskin Preview, inside today's paper.
The staff spent three nights on Pat Hartley Field at Tyler Junior College with a full lineup of extension cords, photo lights and a fog machine with some of East Texas' brightest players.
"The Pigskin Preview football magazine for ETFinalScore.com brought our photo staff together like never before," Staff Photographer Sarah Miller said. "It's rare that we have all three staff photographers working at the same photo shoot, but we really did a great job using each of our strengths to pull off these photos."
The product is a glossy 80-page magazine, but there were a few fumbles along the way.
Read on to get an inside look at how it all came together from Staff Photographers Sarah A. Miller, Herb Nygren Jr. and Victor Texcucano and Sports Writers Chris Parry and Travis Yoesting.
Where did the concept come from?
Sarah A. Miller: We had several ideas for themes for this year's football section, but once we found out we were going to print a glossy magazine instead of printing on newspaper, we decided we wanted to do something with dramatic lighting that would really pop off the pages.
Herb Nygren Jr.: Ben Huffine, the IN Magazine designer who did the great layout work, told us it would be a glossy magazine for the preview, and I said we need to have dramatic photos. Then Ben told us we had just more than a week to plan, organize, call the football players, shoot the photos and make the prepress adjustments to photos.
Sarah: It's hard to think of something different when there are so many guys, and many of them play the same positions.
How did it come together?
Herb: I told Sarah about my idea of lights and fog machine at night on a football field. She had the idea for using the gels on the lights, and Sports Editor Phil Hicks got us permission to use Pat Hartley Field. She is really good about setting the lights. Ben, Sarah and I came up with several ideas for the photos and layout.
Talk about the technical details.
Sarah: We did the shoot over two nights because we wanted to make sure the athletes could fit the shoot in their schedules. In past years, we traveled across East Texas to each school to do individual team shoots. This year was the players came to us. It was the most efficient way to do it.
The photo department as a whole really pushed their skills to pull this football photo shoot off. None of us had ever used a fog machine, and it didn't come with any directions.
It was also the first time we moved all of our studio equipment outdoors. We bought a lot of extension cords and watched a lot of YouTube tutorials.
Herb: Sarah brought a spray bottle to add extra sweat for the players' faces, which we didn't need.
Sarah: But it's always better to be overprepared.
How did you decide which players to feature?
Travis Yoesting: The players were chosen based on past performance and projected performance. Most of these players are key figures on teams that we think will have great seasons.
Was it hard to choose the cover story?
Chris Parry: We mulled over a couple of ideas, but kept coming back to Daylon Mack who is just a cut above the rest, not only in the state, but in the nation.
Travis: We've had a good idea Daylon Mack would be the cover for awhile. He's one of the most impressive players in the area, a highly rated recruit and on a team expected to build off last season's great playoff run. To top it off, he's an outstanding kid who deserves the recognition.
Chris: Daylon Mack impressed me so much. I was tasked to do the interview with correspondent Shane Stark writing the story. He was such a personable guy ... and then he waited until last (roughly two hours) before we took his pictures. Other players would've complained, but he patiently and graciously waited and the cover reflects that.
How did the cover shot of Daylon Mack come together?
Herb: Sarah and I did "rock paper scissors" to see who would take the cover shot. I won. When we were setting lights, Sarah added an orange gel light to color the smoke, but it changed Daylon Mack's skin tone. I had her get behind him and shine the light up to color the fog not his face.
Sarah: What you see is NOT Photoshop. We did it all live in the camera with orange-colored gels and lights. I'm actually standing directly behind Daylon holding a light and an orange gel (piece of plastic), but Victor had so much fog rolling out the machine that you can't see me.
Herb: If she had won, I would have been too big to hide behind Mack to get the finished image.
What was the funniest moment?
Victor Texcucano: When I got carried away with the fog machine and it was virtually impossible to see for about 30 seconds.
Sarah: Some of the kids were hard to pose, but others were easy. The two Whitehouse brothers came with their own ideas and really hammed it up for us.
Sarah: There was a point when we did start to panic. We had spent a little too long shooting some of the players at the beginning of the night when we planned to do the easy shots first and save the hard shots for the end. Our hard shot on the first night was the combined shot of Robert E. Lee and John Tyler walking through the fog together. It took so long to get the fog and lights and the players to walk just right when all of a sudden the power went out. We blew a fuse. We paced around for about 15 to 20 minutes trying to decide whether we could move the shoot someplace else or cancel it for the night. Thankfully a father of one of the players was a handyman, and he got the power up and running again. The problem was a faulty extension cord. By then, the REL and JT kids had left. We were lucky to discover that last shot Herb took before the power went out was actually the perfect shot we needed.
Victor: Whenever one of us got the shot we envisioned – with the perfect lighting and/or the right amount and placement of fog – and would freak out.
Herb: The shot of Kilgore's Kevrin Justice. I had him run through the fog and I did a pan shot, swinging the camera as he ran by the lights. You can see the fog being pushed by the air from his moving body. We threw the football to the receivers to get action.
Did anything go wrong?
Victor: Besides losing power for 20 minutes we had random equipment malfunctions every now and then, but we were able to work around most of those.
Chris: The smoke machine was hit or miss, but the power went out on our lights the first night. I want to thank all of the players who stayed much longer while we adjusted and got the power back on – thanks to a player's parent.
Sarah: Our second shoot was rained out, so we had to schedule a third shoot and rent the fog machine for an additional day.
Victor: I felt bad for the players who traveled from far away. I could feel some of them grow a bit restless.
Chris: Lee players deserve credit because they were the ones who were having their picture taken when the power was lost. I asked if they could come back again three days later and all three showed up.
How hard was the smoke to work with?
Victor: I was mostly in charge of the fog machine. It was tricky, especially because of the wind, but I think I was able to master it. Although, it was frustrating to have to wait on the machine every time it would overheat. It would have been nice to have two fog machines, but now we know.
Did it come out how you wanted it to?
Victor: This was the first shoot of this scale that I've done, and I was impressed with how we all got it done, and definitely with the results. I'm glad we were able to complete a quality product that some of these players and their families will keep and display, and hopefully the players might even show it to their kids one day.
Sarah: We're really proud of the work we did together as a photo staff. We're also grateful to Ben Huffine for designing the pages and attending our "staff meetings" at Don Juan's Mexican restaurant downtown to help sketch out ideas.
Herb: I think the photos came out great. It was fun to work with the football players they were real troopers and worked with us to get good images during the long photo shoot. As photojournalists we don't do a lot of studio work. We are photographers who critique our work very carefully. I think there are a few little things we might change if we did it again. But we won't tell you what they are.