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To capture a tifo display

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The supporters put time and passion into their displays. It’s a photographer’s job to do them justice.

My name is Max Aquino, one of the photographers for Sounder at Heart. Over this upcoming season, I will be writing a series of articles covering a variety of soccer photography topics, such as game day preparation, photo technique, favorite photos from the game, stories from the sideline, and anything else that you may find interesting. Feel free to add suggestions in the comments. Today, I talk a bit about shooting tifo displays and tell my story from opening day.

The supporters spend countless hours designing, sewing, and painting their tifo displays. As such, it’s important for photographers to find a way to do them justice. When it comes to photographing tifo displays, there are several different locations to pick from. As with most other aspects of positioning in sports photography, each comes with its own advantages and disadvantages.

Midfield: Shooting from the midfield allows photographers to get the starting eleven photo while still getting a photo of the display. In addition, it’s a useful spot to include players in the photo and occasionally catch player reactions to the artwork. If there is wording on the lower overhead (the banner covering the lower section), however, it is usually difficult to read from this angle. This location is best for displays with “banner” (straight up and down) text or where the majority of the text and detail is on the curtain.

Midfield allows you to include players and is great for banner text or displays featuring the curtain.
Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

North end goal line: This spot is more “straight on” and also provides an on-field perspective of the display; it lets the audience see what the players see as they step on the field. In addition, it provides a larger “feel” to the photo, which is appropriate for a display covering six entire sections of the stadium. Any text on the lower overhead, however, can be difficult to read due to the angle.

Tifo
The North end goal line is great for displays featuring the curtain
Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

The Hawk’s Nest: This is the “classic” spot, as it is possible to photograph the entire Brougham end and makes it easy to read any text or catch minute detail. The only real downside to this spot is it’s not a very unique angle and often makes the display appear smaller than shooting from field level.

The Hawk’s Nest gives the classic look and makes displays easy to read
Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

300 level, Northwest corner: For “full Brougham end” displays, this spot makes it possible to shoot the entire display from an indirect angle. If the opposition brings a display, this spot is also great for photographing that one as well. Once again, however, since it’s from above, it can make the display feel distant and smaller than field level. Another great part of this spot is that people don’t need special access: anybody with a basic camera can get a good photo from this angle.

The 300 level is great for “entire end” displays
Max Aquino Photography

The Emerald City Supporters, along with supporter groups worldwide, are very secretive when it comes to planning, designing, and painting their displays. Letting the information leak in advance not only ruins the surprise, it gives opposing supporter groups an opportunity to preemptively respond. As such, it can be difficult to determine the best photo location in advance. Because my photos have been used by the Emerald City Supporters on their website (it doesn’t hurt that I’m an ECS member and have helped paint several displays), they’re usually comfortable telling me the general size of the display and where the majority of the detail will be.

For the 2018 Opening Day display versus Los Angeles FC, I was able to tell from the press box that there was tifo material in the three lower ECS sections and a curtain ready to be deployed in the upper ECS section. This meant that, based on size, the two best spots would be from the North end goal line or the Hawk’s Nest. I also considered shooting from directly behind the South goal with my wide angle lens, which would give a very “big” feel to the display but completely lose anything on the lower section. One of the tifo crew gave me the hint that there would be text in the lower overhead and the upper curtain would have the detail, which helped me solidify my answer: I would be shooting from the Hawk’s Nest.

Opening day always has a lot going on. There is extra pomp and circumstance and there always seems to be something new. This year, it’s a lighted logo in the player’s tunnel that serves as a backdrop for television when the players begin the ceremonial walkout.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

Here’s a better look at it. Neat, huh?

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

In addition, a friend’s daughter got to deliver the official match ball, so there’s no way I was going to miss that. She even took the opportunity to start chanting, “2-5-3!” into the microphone, which the ECS immediately picked up on and ran with. Adorable.

Rated “A” for Adorable
Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

There are rules about where photographers can be and how they can get there. I’m not going to go into them (first, they’re boring, and second, I’m not sure what I’m allowed to say publicly), but suffice to say that to cross ends of the field, I need to use the stadium tunnels. The tifo display goes up immediately after the anthem, so I had the time it takes for the players to walk out and for the anthem to be sung to race from the Southeast corner to the Hawk’s Nest... while carrying several thousand dollars worth of camera equipment; in other words, it’s a rather hilarious shuffle instead of a dead sprint. After a few minutes of cursing my lack of cardio exercise over the winter, I arrived at my spot just as the singer hit “...and the rockets’ red glare.” I quickly got my camera out, locked in my lens, double checked my battery and memory card, and the display went up.

Top notch, ECS. Top notch.
Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

I probably would have been just fine shooting from the North end goal line, but I didn’t know what the text would look like and I wanted to make sure I’d be able to catch the detail. The display was impressive; it always amazes me the level of detail that goes into in the art. This particular display was designed by our very own MLS Watercolorist.

For a description of what went into making the display and how you can get involved, click here.

See Max’s game photos below. You can follow him on Twitter: @maxaquinophoto