Inside an NFL Locker Room
By Jason Reed, Larry Downing and Molly Riley
Hey football fans… imagine walking past the solid steel doors guarding the locker room outside one of the National Football League’s most treasured teams and standing inside watching 60 professional athletes preparing to take the spotlight in front of 70,000 expecting Baltimore fans.
Talk about fantasy football coming true; that ultimate “back stage pass” was given to Reuters’ photographers Jason Reed, Larry Downing and Molly Riley from the Baltimore Ravens as an early Christmas present last December, extending them complete photographic access of their cheerleaders during the production of an in-depth multimedia project by Reuters entitled, “Ravens Rule the Skies.”
Three unobstructed first class seats inside Cinderella’s wonderland watching “girly girls” primp and polish their image into higher splendor while transforming themselves into NFL cheerleaders. All with total access!
“This was one of those assignments envied by many” said Riley, whose mission was to go where no man has walked and to bring back photographic souvenirs from “the forbidden zone of a cheerleader’s locker room.” “The moment I stepped behind the curtain I was overwhelmed… shocked at the abundance of chaotic activity… even as a woman I found it difficult to concentrate,” she said. “At a certain point I had to leave to clear my head.”
“Not an easy environment for working,” according to Downing. “A collection of so many beautiful girls at once stunned all courageous actions leaving me intimidated every time I wanted to approach one. I was never able to overcome my nervous, school boy giggles,” he explained.
That same reaction was witnessed before every home game when the cheerleaders signed autographs and greeted fans outside the stadium. Shy, ordinary men, suddenly were face to beautiful face with a Baltimore Ravens Cheerleader and had one big chance to reach out of life’s slow lane to say “hello.”
Not easily done….! But, heroic fans overcoming that fear carried home proof of their bravery holding a prized autographed picture postcard given out by their favorite dream girl: Adriene, Alyssa, Angel, Courtney, Dana, Jaime, Kellie Lee and even that rookie Sara….
“Our objective from the beginning was to dig deep into a rigorous sport most people have stereotyped as nothing more than a parade of pretty girls waving pom poms,” Reed explained, “This project puts those claims to rest while illustrating the dangers professional cheerleader’s face when they step onto a field to entertain their fans.”
The length of time devoted to the project gave Reed new opportunities to experiment with ideas normally not useful in his photographic duties while assigned to the White House. He maximized the use of video to add a fresh dimension to the story “offering more than just still pictures and words.”
“I spent six months asking permission to strap a tiny, portable, video camera, called a “GoPro,” onto the chest of one of the flying girls at practice before kickoff,” Reed explained. “The answer was always no…no…no…but then on our last shooting day in the stadium I was told ‘yes’, if their most seasoned stunter, Jaime agreed to wear it during practice. She’s fearless and I knew she would jump at my offer.”
(Jaime is a seven-year veteran of the team and was the only cheerleader selected to represent the Ravens at the Pro Bowl football game in Hawaii last year.)
“That video of her twisting in mid-air is worth a million words,” said Reed.
Thousands of images were taken by the three photographers over 11 months and hundreds of them were then combined in post production using the video program “Final-Cut Pro X”. For instance, that dramatic opening scene setting the stage for the entire project showing thousands of fans filling up the stadium was created using a combination of nearly 2,500 individual images shot on a Canon 5D Mark II camera. An intervalometer connected to the camera attached onto a mini-tripod triggered a frame every five seconds for two hours. The stills were then combined making a video effect played for only seconds at the beginning.
One lesson the team learned for producing successful multimedia is the need for capturing clean, crisp, high-quality audio. Bad sound lowers the quality of everything else inside the project. Therefore, each team member carried a portable Zoom H4n digital voice recorder; an excellent choice.