Q&A with Kyle Zedaker, BFA 2016/photography concentration, team photographer of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Why did you choose to go to LSU?
I was a legacy student, as my dad attended previously. My dad and I watched LSU football and baseball games very often growing up, so when the time came to look for colleges, I had to have LSU on my list. Funny enough, LSU made the cut as my third school of three I wanted to attend. Following my visit to campus, it quickly shot up to the top spot on my list. The campus, buildings, and atmosphere all grabbed my attention and I envisioned myself spending four years in Baton Rouge.
Why do you love photography?
Photography is so special to me because it is the closest thing to seeing through another person’s eyes. It is so individualized, yet a photograph is a universal form of communication. Photography also presents new challenges with every image that a photographer makes. Whether it be a technical challenge or a conceptual one, the need to solve problems by way of making successful photographs is exciting to me! The last thing I love about photography is the sense of wonder. I love looking at a great photograph and wondering how the photographer thought about it and how they went about making the image. I try to take this approach and create that sense of wonder in a subject shared so widely across the world; sports.
In your own words, what do you do today?
My title says Team Photographer, however I view myself as a team historian, tasked with visually telling the story of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. There are many other elements of my job that don’t involve photographing football. From developing and maintaining the digital photo archive to designing a streamlined file transfer workflow to provide assets to our social and web teams in real-time during games, the responsibilities vary! During the season, my typical week involves photographing practice, press conferences, various community events, as well as creating the gameday assignments for our photography team to ensure expansive coverage of each game based on the storylines that accompany it. During the offseason, my typical responsibilities include ensuring the previous season is properly archived, planning our annual media day studio shoot where we collect all our high resolution assets of players for various uses across the organization throughout the upcoming season, as well as collaborating with other departments to see how photography can help amplify their goals.
What are some of the best moments on the job?
I love the opportunity we are given to tell both the stories of the players and the team itself. Every team has its own identity as a whole, but every team is also full of individual stories as well. Being afforded the chance to use my camera to bridge that gap and tell some stories off the field with some of our players is something special that I will never take for granted! Winning Super Bowl LV in our home stadium with the Buccaneers was the highlight of my career thus far, no question. But the best moments come from the relationships that are developed. A lot of co-workers when working in sports become some of your closest friends due to the long hours and weekends spent together all pulling toward the same goal. Having people that also know the grind that goes into any given season, especially one that ends in a Championship, makes winning that much better. As a lifelong sports fan, being able to merge my love of sport with photography while also traveling to new places and meeting new people to do so, makes this job something out of a dream for me.
What are the challenges?
Working in sports comes with many challenges. The hours are long, workdays include weekends and holidays, and the travel while also a perk as mentioned above can be extremely exhausting. For example, a typical road trip for a Sunday night game involves travel Saturday afternoon, and returning home anywhere from 2-4 a.m. Monday morning, depending on the length of flight! For a typical 1 p.m. home game, I typically begin my work day around 7 a.m. and finish just after midnight! This past season in 2021 was especially difficult as it relates to holidays, as we had road games for all three in-season (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years). With the select number of these jobs available in professional sports, relocation is typically required. In my case, with my family living in both Denver and Tennessee, it can be especially difficult to see family for the holidays. Physically, the job can be demanding. As with most photography positions, a lot of gear can be needed. This is definitely the case in sports. When shooting games, I am almost always carrying two cameras around my shoulders/neck, with a third on a 400mm or longer lens and a monopod. Running up and down the sidelines for hours at a time can be taxing and staying in shape has been a challenge while meeting the workload demands!
What advice would you give to future photography students?
Photography has so many avenues to venture down that it can be intimidating trying to select just one to focus on. As you progress through your classes at LSU, challenge yourself to try new things within the photo program. Once you have selected which of the many avenues of photography you’d like to travel down, continue to maintain variety in how you progress through the photo program and focus on applying the variety in what you’ve learned to your specific avenue. Second, seek out constructive feedback by those established in that avenue you are pursuing. Keep an open mind and remember that a critique on an image is not a critique on any one person’s character. Photography is an ever-changing industry, and keeping an open mind allows us the ability to change alongside it easier. In an age dominated by social media and immediate gratification, it is also important to remember that growth takes time. Keep after your goals, short or long term, and try not to let yourself get discouraged!
Anything else you’d like to add?
I wouldn’t be in this position without people who have helped me along the way, many of whom are part of my start during my time at LSU. Chris Parent gave me my first opportunity within the LSU Athletic Department as a student shooter and provided me the opportunities to step outside my comfort zone to push myself creatively and gain experience. I received tough feedback on my work within my classes from Kristine Thompson, Johanna Warwick, Jeremiah Ariaz, and many others that helped me grow as a photographer and as a person and I am extremely grateful for them. Relationships are incredibly important in the sports photography world, should it be the avenue you select. I have been fortunate to connect and learn from some excellent photographers but also excellent people.