Work

A Blog about a Blog

While working the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the wonderful folks over at Nikon asked me to pen a blog about my experience there. So yes—this is a blog post about a blog post.

Nevertheless, I'm posting anyway because I have had a few people ask about what my days are like as an Olympics photo editor for USA TODAY Sports Images, and this was the first time I wrote it out formally. So, if you're one of those people, head over to the post via the button below.

Shanna Lockwood Nikon Blog Screenshot

My First BTS

I'm pretty proud of the tagline I created, "creation to publication." Boom.

A Tale of Two Firsts: Floods and Football

I have edited literally hundreds of thousands of NFL images. I’ve been to three Super Bowls. I’ve met Cam Newton, twice.

But I’d never shot a frame of NFL action until Sunday, September 10, 2017—a first bested only by my first time evacuating my home for a hurricane, just two weeks prior.

Yet there I was that Sunday morning, walking up to NRG Stadium in Houston's trademark weather of sunshine and humidity, marveling at nature's mood swings. A little before noon, the Houston Texans would take the field under the watchful, red eyes of a bull named Toro. The week before, Hurricane Harvey’s devastation had moved the final preseason game against the Cowboys to AT&T Stadium in Dallas, but almost as soon as the move had been announced, the game was canceled altogether. Players and staff wanted to return to their battered hometown, and I could relate; like the Texans, I was also in Dallas and ready to get home.

The Long Way Home

The way back to Houston had been muddled, even after the storm clouds moved on. The swollen bayou compromised roads, and damage to refineries threw Dallas into a gas-buying frenzy that resulted in a shortage courtesy of sheer paranoia. I had made three different plans to get back to Houston, and three times they had been thwarted by Harvey's wide net of destruction.

In all, for me, it turned into a two-week stay with relatives in Dallas and Alabama, splitting the time between places so as to feel less like a squatter. The Thursday before the Texans-Jaguars game, things finally cleared up enough that I could planes-trains-and-automobile it back to Houston. Driving back, a peculiar sense of awe struck me as I approached the downtown area, quite literally hitting close to home: just a few miles from my place, I was now traveling under highway signs I’d last seen on The Weather Channel with floodwaters threatening to make contact. 

Houston Strong

J.J. Watt tosses the football to fans in the stands before the game against the Jaguars.

J.J. Watt tosses the football to fans in the stands before the game against the Jaguars.

When Sunday arrived, everyone from fellow photographers to fans were equally eager to see J.J. Watt and the Texans launch the 2017 NFL season and bring back a sense of normalcy to town. In the photo room, the standard greeting was, "Hey, how was the flood your way?" The flood would serve as a frame around each moment of the day.

This game was always going to be significant for me as my first to cover as a photographer, but it quickly dawned on me how much it was going to mean to Houston, too. 

The game began as a huge celebration of Houston Strong, the battle cry of a town that had weathered its worst storm. First responders and police officers were brought onto the field and greeted to raucous applause, which only quieted down when there was a moment of silence held for the victims of Harvey.

This was my first time experiencing the impact of Harvey with other Houstonians. As I looked into the stands and saw faces awash with equal parts pride and solemnity, I felt honored to be there at that moment. 

In June 2017, I'd made the move to Houston to expand my photo repertoire, and to make a return to the metropolitan life I'd been missing. In the thick of summer, my new city welcomed me with hugs of humid air like a meteorological Stage 5 Clinger. As sweat mounted, so did my doubts about my move to a city built on a swamp.

There was one thing, however, I never questioned: the high caliber of the people in Houston. 

In reporting on Harvey, TV stations made frequent mention of the city's status as the fourth-largest in the U.S., and as a result, the overwhelming number affected by the storm. This was all the more heartbreaking to me, as every single person I had met in Houston seemed to be cut from the same cloth, each of them welcoming, helpful, and resilient. If nothing else, the people of Houston subdued my fears about the move. Now, they were faced with unprecedented destruction in their homes. Not surprisingly, their response reflected the strong sense of community I'd become so fond of since I'd relocated.

Strangely, Houston was starting to feel like home.

Feels Like Home

Another welcome sight before the game was the flight of a bald eagle named Challenger, who, like my alma mater of Auburn University, flew around the football stadium just before the national anthem.

Houston, We Have Lift OFf

The game was now minutes away, and I was ready to capture my first NFL action.

Up first, player introductions. I'll be honest: this was the photo of the game for me, and I was immediately grateful to have gotten something I felt good about, early in the day. The Texans' listless offense was met with a disruptive Jaguars defense, resulting in a game that offered few powerful moments from a Houston standpoint. I didn't know this at the time, obviously, but it's always nice to feel you're leaving the stadium later with a decent frame.

So, let's pan over to J.J. Watt's entrance.

A few players ran out before him. I used them to set my exposure and sort out where I needed to stand so that by the time Watt arrived, I was set.

J.J. stood in the shadows of the tunnel for a brief moment as the completely unnecessary announcement of his name was made. Then, plumes of flame and smoke shot up, and he raised the Texas state flag in a moment of chills-inducing triumph. A roar of cheers and shutter clicks filled my ears as I unleashed my 11 frames-per-second with abandon.

This is a man who had just raised a whopping $37 million for hurricane relief—he embodies Houston Strong in every sense of the term, and he was getting the ovation such a man deserves. 

The next day, dear friend (and exceptionally talented photographer) Kevin Jairaj let me know this photo had made the paper. My first NFL game was in the books, and miraculously, in the papers, too.

Below I've included some other photos from the game. I had a great time working alongside Troy Taormina, my USA TODAY Sports Images partner in crime. I delighted in seeing some familiar faces from the MLB games I'd covered in town. I had a blast meeting new people that I can't wait to see again at the next game.

In just three months in Houston, I've had my first hurricane and first NFL game. In both cases, the entire city showed the nation what humanity is capable of when they're Houston Strong.

And it won't be the last.

 

Olympics: First Days in Rio

Now that I've settled in a bit, it's time for a quick update before the Games get underway. 

My Road to Rio

Between a nonstop flight, Global Entry, and my excellent parents, travel was a breeze for this trip. I'd even splurged on an extra-legroom seat, because I learned the hard way in Sochi that a regular airplane seat on a 10-hour flight doesn't pair well with long legs.

What's more, my fellow passengers included Olympic athletes and personnel, including the Canadian fencing team, who were the most gracious bunch of folks I've run into in a long time.

As we were making our initial descent, I grabbed my camera to get some photos of what I anticipated would be a stunning view of Rio.

The clouds had other plans, however, and only cleared just above the runway.

Bummer.

Anyway, after deplaning, I made my way to customs and accreditation at the airport to collect the required stamps and lanyard. Once I passed all those hurdles, I headed for the airport shuttle that would take me to the media housing in Barra. The airport was festooned with Rio welcome signs, and media were waiting behind barricades for athlete arrivals. I'd made it!

Getting to the Media Village

The shuttle ride to Barra took us through several favelas—stacks of shacks in various stages of disrepair that an estimated 24% of Rio's people call home. I spent the majority of the ride trying to wrap my mind around that fact. As we rode by, I noticed people looking and pointing at our bus from their balconies. Throughout the trip, I couldn't get over the juxtaposition of an event like the Olympics and neighborhoods like favelas.

Home and Office

Lucas Paz and me after our War Eagle moment.

Lucas Paz and me after our War Eagle moment.

Arriving at Barra Village 2, or BV2, we were greeted by a crew of guys who helped us with our luggage and logistics. The best part about this was that the first person I saw off the bus asked me where I was from.

"Alabama," I said, knowing there was a minimal chance he'd know where it was.

"Oh, what part of Alabama?" he asked. 

"Auburn; it's where Auburn University is," I replied, not sure if he really knew about Alabama or was being polite.

"War Eagle!" he said, and just like that—my first War Eagle moment in Rio.

I didn't have much time to get settled into my digs, so I grabbed a couple of photos and made my way to the Main Press Center (MPC), which is the heart of media operations for the Olympics. 

Entrance to the MPC.

The MPC is the best place in the world for people-watching people from around the world, and as someone who loves to experience new cultures, this is one of my favorite elements of working the Olympics. It's also been a blast getting to cover press conferences and hear journalists from the biggest agencies in the world asking questions. The thing that got me hooked on working in media was being able to see the behind-the-scenes, how-does-it-work glimpse of operations. Even in the short time I've been here, I've been hit by waves of gratitude for the opportunity to be here. It's easy to get distracted—it is a work trip, after all—but I make a daily effort to remember how fortunate I am.

Yesterday, we spent the majority of the day planning for tonight. It was great to have everybody in the same room before the photographers are spread out among the venues to create the amazing imagery they always do. It felt like being back at school after a long "summer" between now and the last Olympics in Sochi.

I'd been anxious leading up to my flight over here, but now that I'm on the ground, there is a comfort and confidence that comes with having been in this position before. We have a couple of editors who are working the Games for the first time, and it's been nice to be able to help with a lot of the same challenges I'd faced a couple years ago. It's also a strong reminder that I have, in fact, learned quite a lot since then. There will still be hurdles to jump, of course, but I'm more than ready to take them on with experience under my belt and my fantastic colleagues by my side.

Opening ceremony begins soon, so I've got to run. Let the Games begin!