Photo: Fabian Rasmussen / @football.shooter.dk
from Denmark championship game, the mermaid bowl, kicks off this weekend as Copenhagen Tours and Søllerød Gold Diggers face off for the second straight year to decide the title.
And who better to be on the sidelines recording another slice of footballing history in this Scandinavian other country than Mikkel Bo Rasmussen, alias 1st Down Photography?
Since 2015, Rasmussen’s photographs have helped tell the story of football’s growth in Denmark and also in Europe. His images have graced articles appearing on websites across Europe and the world including international american football.
When you read on Bowl Mermaid XXXIII, take the extra time to check the photo credit. Most often it will be 1st Down Photography.
In this interview, Rasmussen gave us fascinating insight into what goes into the work of a sports photographer.
AFI: How did you come to photography?
MBR: As a child, it was always me who took photos during family trips. I didn’t think much about photography at the time, but I must have had it in me for a long time. However, it was in 2005 when I moved to Germany to work for an aerospace company that I found myself with the money and time looking for a creative hobby to complement things highly techniques I was doing at work. A former colleague of mine had purchased a DSLR camera for a trip to Central America around the same time. I was inspired by him and decided to buy myself a camera and go shoot.
AFI: Is photography your full-time job?
MBR: No, I work full time as a coach and consultant in a Danish hearing aid manufacturing company. But sometimes it feels like I have two full-time jobs when I’m shooting on Saturday and Sunday and editing footage during D-week.
AFI: What attracted you to American football?
MBR: I went to a small community college in Nebraska, USA in 1992 and my host family was Denver Broncos fans. So, I learned a bit about the sport there, even though I was more of a basketball player at the time and found the rules of football very difficult to understand. In 1999, Atlanta Falcons kicker, fellow Dane and now HoF’er, Morten Andersen won an FG game against the Minnesota Vikings in overtime in the NFC Championship Game. Having a Dane in the Super Bowl for the first time led to a Danish television station broadcasting NFL games weekly beginning in the 1999 season. This coincided with “The Greatest Show on Turf” (1999-2001 St Louis Rams) who turned heads in the NFL and from that point on, I was completely sold on the sport (and the Rams). I loved the glitter, the hits, the momentum changes, and the fact that virtually any team could come back and win in the last two minutes of the game. The matches were exciting until the very end. And I still like it today.
AFI: When did you start photographing AF games?
MBR: I had shot a few games before 2015, but it wasn’t really until 2015 that I started to take my football photography seriously. I started posting pictures under the 1st Picture down brand and received a lot of positive feedback. I began studying the techniques of famous American football photographers from Sports Illustrated and others, improving my equipment over the season, and experimenting with shooting positions around the field. It has been a journey since I constantly learned and constantly tried new things. The quest for the “perfect image” never ends.
AFI: What kind of approach do you take when shooting AF games?
MBR: This is my eighth year of shooting football and things have changed a bit since I started. In the beginning, all I focused on was following the ball because that would surely lead to a good move. But this does not necessarily lead to a good photograph. I was obsessed with catching every touchdown. Over the years I’ve changed and now I’m more willing to sacrifice capturing some of the score to get better player footage. I could stay locked on a lineman while the QB bombs a wide open receiver infield. I could follow a wandering safety into the deep zone instead of following the ball carrier. But in general, I’m looking for maximum action, crunch and emotion. That’s football for me.
I try to prepare for each game by reviewing the game roster and going through previous games looking for key players to watch and judging what type of offense the teams are relying on. A running back can be a big hurdle carrier, a safety can be good for a takeout or two every game, or an O lineman can be a pancake machine. I want to make sure I stay on these guys a little longer to improve my chances of getting a good shot of a good action. I usually focus on getting good shots of QBs and RBs in the first quarter, spend the second and third quarters trying to get good shots of other key players or positions, then I follow the action as the game reaches its climax in the fourth quarter. I also try to get reaction photos and fan photos.
AFI: What does a typical matchday look like for you?
MBR: Most of the games are either in my hometown or at most an hour away. I like to arrive no later than an hour and a half before kick-off to observe the conditions and the light, greet the refereeing team (whom I also make sure to take photos of before and during the match) and shoot team warm-ups. I also need to warm up mentally and I particularly use this moment to synchronize myself with the timing of the shots of the starting quarterbacks.
After the game, I usually hang around chatting with players, coaches and other photographers. Being there for eight years means I know a lot of people involved in the games both on and off the pitch. Back home, I put away the equipment, recharge the batteries for the next game and copy the images to the computer. I try to post my photos online a day or two after a game. Not getting paid for what I do means I don’t have to worry about it, but I want to get the footage out while the games are fresh in people’s minds.
AFI: Photography made you travel. What other countries have you visited to photograph games?
MBR: I shot matches in Sweden (IFAF European Championship match and IFAF Nordic Under-19 Championships), in the United States (an International Bowl IX match) and in Germany (German Bowl 2019 in Frankfurt, matches ELF in Hamburg and Leipzig, as well as the opening match of the ELF Championship in Düsseldorf). The UK is on my wish list as I hope to shoot an NFL game there. I would also like to go back to the United States to shoot a college game.
AFI: Tell us about some memorable experiences you have had photographing games.
MBR: The first memory that comes to mind is my very first Danish American football championship game, Mermaid Bowl, in 2015. I had hoped that I would be deemed good enough to be accredited, so I was delighted when DAFF told me I was allowed secondary access. It was my first time shooting a game in an actual stadium (as most games are played on grass pitches at local schools). Everything was new and awesome, and I absorbed it all.
In 2018, I traveled to Dallas, TX to stay with a combined Nordic team for International Bowl IX games. “Team Nordic” was to face an under-19 selection from the American team. Having the opportunity to take a look behind the scenes of ongoing practices, meetings and events was super interesting. The actual match, shot at the Dallas Cowboys AT&T Stadium, was a bit disappointing as the American team largely dominated the Nordic team and shooting into an empty stadium turned out to be a very strange experience. But I learned so much on this trip and met a lot of great people.
Closer to home, one of the most memorable experiences was when my local team, the Frederikssund Oaks, played in a qualifying game to advance to Denmark’s top league in 2017. Few people in the community of Danish football expected the Oaks to come out. on top but backed by the full length of the field of green-clad fans, Oaks won 21-0 and moved up to the DAFF National League in 2018.
Being an outdoor sport, weather is often a factor in football matches. The 2017 Nordic Under-19 Championship match was played in Denmark and a real downpour occurred during the second half, leaving parts of the pitch more or less under water. Passing the soccer ball was nearly impossible, and even running the soccer ball was difficult with knee-deep water sprayed with every step. I found myself sitting in the stands under the roof for most of the second half, protecting my gear from drowning.
In 2019, I had the chance to shoot some international matches when the Helsinki Roosters visited the towers in Copenhagen and the Badalona Dracs from Spain came to play the Triangle Razorbacks in Denmark. Both games were very entertaining and the Roosters – Towers game went to the wire. One of my images of the Dracs – Razorbacks game ended up on the cover of the 2020 IAFOA Football Officiating Handbook.
I hope to build on those memories by having the chance to shoot an NFL game at some point. Either in Germany, UK or USA. Stay tuned!
Other Random Facts
- On average, I take about 2,500 photos per game.
- I shot just over 200 matches, including scrums and youth fixtures.
- Most points in a game I’ve scored: 128 in AaB 89ers at Søllerød Gold Diggers, 2019-05-04.