If you told me as a freshman that over the next four years I would go on to photograph every Michigan sport for The Michigan Daily, I would’ve called you crazy. I started at The Daily as a staff photographer, not knowing much about sports photography. But as I finish my time in college, I find myself in a very different position. During my time at the University of Michigan, I fell so in love with sports photography that I ended up photographing nearly every Michigan sport – 22 to be exact.
About midway through my sophomore year, I realized I had somehow managed to photograph nearly half of the sports. So I made it my mission to photograph all of them. Unfortunately, the athletic department’s COVID-19 protocols prevented me from capturing the last two sports I needed to complete my mission: golf and cross country. But while the pandemic may have prevented me from reaching my goal, I want to celebrate these sports teams that have shaped my college career.
Softball often gets overlooked at the collegiate level. However, this is not the case at Michigan; Michigan softball has a notorious reputation of being a strong performing team. I followed the team during their 2019 season when they went on to win the Big Ten Tournament. Their energy on and off the field made it clear that they were one of the most enthusiastic teams to represent Michigan athletics.
The first time I photographed Michigan baseball, I never would have guessed that the same team would make a historic run in the College World Series just two months later. Their season culminated in one of the coolest experiences I’ve had as a photojournalist: covering the College World Series.
There is a lot of moving around in lacrosse. Not just for the players, but for photographers as well. Moving up and down the field can be a hassle at times, but it allows for some very cool photos that show just how intense the sport is.
I’ll be honest, when I set out to photograph women’s lacrosse, I didn’t expect to find the sport as exciting as I did. From the moment the team ran out onto the field, you could feel their excitement — regardless of the chilly temperatures in the middle of February. I was surprised by how physical of a sport lacrosse was, and I learned a lot of the technicalities of the sport in the process of photographing it.
Volleyball was the second sport I photographed as a photographer for The Daily. The atmosphere at collegiate sporting events was still new to me, and I remember how taken I was by the sheer excitement of the fans. Volleyball opened my eyes to the excitement surrounding Michigan athletics.
My understanding of tennis was quite limited before I shot this meet. But photographing this meet provided me with the opportunity to learn more about the rules of the game and the emotions associated with them. The meet happened to be part of the Big Ten Tournament, so the stands were full. The fans and athletes were pumped up, and I was able to get up close to capture this team.
The first time I photographed this team, they were nearing the end of their 2019 season. This was when the Michigan women’s tennis team had two seniors leading the way: Kate Fahey and Brienne Minor. Watching the team rally around these two seniors to cheer them on for senior night was an exciting experience. The ability to photograph the match courtside allowed me to get some great shots that really captured the emotion of it all.
While the sport itself is enjoyable to photograph, there’s nothing like photographing a football game in the Big House. It’s unlike the experience of a sports writer, who sits in a box atop the stadium with a bird-eye view of the field or that of a fan in the stands. Photographers are at the center of it all, surrounded by over 100,000 fans. There is a lot of pressure to make sure you capture all the key moments and key players of the game. Football is sometimes tricky to photograph as you are tasked with capturing action hundreds of feet down the field, often having to use the longest lens possible.
Basketball is my favorite sport to photograph — for both the men’s and women’s teams. The fast-paced action of the game always keeps me on my toes. There is always something to capture, whether that’s a shot on the court, a player yelling from the bench or the coach’s reaction to a play. The women’s basketball team brings great energy to the court in every game they play.
Something unique about The Daily is that the beat reporters and a photographer typically travel together for every Michigan basketball game. I have been fortunate enough to photograph Michigan basketball in ten different cities. While the game doesn’t change, each city and each arena brings with it its unique challenges that make shooting basketball such an exciting thing to do.
Men and Women’s Swim and Dive
While these teams compete on their own, their meets are held at the same time. The Canham Natatorium houses swim meets as well as water polo matches. It’s often difficult to capture this sport as there is a precise angle you need to be at in order to capture a swimmer’s face as well as the action in the water.
Being in the Canham Natatorium for water polo was a very unique experience. It was an early Saturday winter morning. I’d never seen a water polo match, in person or on TV, so I had no idea where to stand or what to expect. In the corner of my eye, I noticed Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh in the stands, later realizing his daughter Grace is on the team. New to the sport, I found water polo to be an incredibly competitive sport that demanded incredible strength and endurance.
Gymnastics is interesting because there are many different events happening all at once — and it all goes by quickly. Whether it is the vault, bars or a floor routine, there was so much going on that I didn’t know where to point my camera. This was one of the first sports I photographed as a freshman, and it was a great way to prepare myself for the multitasking that is inherent in sports photography.
Women’s gymnastics operates in the same way as men’s gymnastics. I had to be on my toes and ready to move between events at a moment’s notice. If I had to choose one sport to be able to photograph again, it would be this one. Team spirit was at the center of the women’s gymnastics team. Their love for the sport and support for one another radiated throughout Crisler Center, which led to some really fun shots.
In soccer, there is always an angle for you to capture something. Having the ability to move between the four corners of the field allowed me to capture more action between the teams. This access to move is inherently important when photographing certain sports as there is a dynamic of the game you look to capture as a photographer. When there are rules and restrictions put in place, it becomes a lot more difficult to capture that emotion.
My experience photographing this was very different from covering the men’s team. This was one of the few sports I did not cover until this past semester and when COVID-19 protocols were put into place. Having a higher angle is great for being able to capture more of what is happening, but it did restrict the ability to capture the reactions of players on the field.
Home rowing meets take place at the Michigan Boathouse in Belleville, Mich., which is about 30 minutes outside of Ann Arbor. While it is rare for a Michigan Daily photographer to make it out to Belleville Lake, I was fortunate enough to do so in summer 2018. It’s not easy to capture boats from the dock, but I could easily see the enthusiasm the rest of the team had while cheering on their teammates.
For me, hockey has always been a tough sport to photograph. Photographers shoot through holes in the glass, which puts you at the front and center of the action. But these holes only allow so much room to move your camera, so it’s difficult to capture the entire rink. But there are many moments throughout a game where you have action going on right in front of you (as well as flying pucks coming towards your lens) that make for some pretty incredible shots.
When photographing wrestling, you are right in the action. You are at ground level with the athletes capturing the emotion of the meet. Sometimes it can be difficult to capture an athlete’s face or not be blocked by an official, but there is always an opportunity to capture a moment of intensity.
Although it was a cold and windy day with the temperature hovering around 40 degrees Fahrenheit, the Michigan field hockey team was ready to play. Photographing their first home match in over a year, I could tell that there was an amped-up competitiveness among the team. Although COVID-19 was a setback for every team, it also served as a source for motivation for when the teams finally had the opportunity to compete.
Men’s and Women’s Track and Field
Similar to swimming, the men and women’s team compete individually, but their meets occur at the same time. The interesting and somewhat difficult part about track and field is the field and running events often happen at the same time, and as a photographer, your job is to capture both. There is often a trick to finding a spot to shoot from where you are able to cover multiple events at the same time.
I’ve worn a variety of hats during my four years working at The Daily: a news reporter, a designer, a videographer and an editor. But the role I began in still feels the most important to me — a photographer. It’s hard to find one word that describes how I feel after photographing sports for four years, but the word I have come up with is gratitude — gratitude for The Daily for giving me the most amazing opportunities, friendships and experiences over my time as a student journalist at the University of Michigan.
Staff Photographer Alec Cohen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @aleccohen_.