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6 Things: Say Cheese

Thursday, 19.11.2009 / 3:51 PM / Features
By Derek Jory
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6 Things: Say Cheese

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then Vancouver Canucks team photographer Jeff Vinnick is a wordsmith like no other.

From his early days working at The StarPhoenix in Saskatoon as a 20-year-old, to shooting some of the most memorable moments in sports history, Vinnick has traveled a long path, one that led him to the Canucks in 1997-98, the same season Vancouver became home to Mark Messier.

Clearly one of those pickups worked out better than the other.

This seasoned photography veteran, now 11 years into capturing images for the Canucks and 27 years into his career, recently emerged from his darkroom to share six things you should know about sports photography and working for the Canucks.

LOAD UP THE CANON

”I use Canon cameras and I have for most of my career. It’s a personal choice more than anything, but the reason I switched to Canon is because the Canon autofocus is superior to the Nikon so I sold my Nikon gear and bought Canon gear and I’ve had it ever since. I have four cameras and more than a dozen lenses. Basically I use them all in one way or another for the team in different situations. It depends on what I’m shooting and where it is. I have a fisheye for the net cam.”

CLICK, POINT, SHOOT. NO WAY!

”I would say hockey is probably close to number one in terms of shooting difficulty. Each sport has its own difficulties; baseball is tough because you just have to wait forever. You just wait and wait and wait and BAM something can happen so quickly and if you’re half asleep you miss it. Hockey is a hard sport to shoot because you’ve got to be in the right place to get the action, if you’re not you’ll get blocked. Typically if you shoot overhead it’s easy because you can shoot most of the ice, but the pictures aren’t nearly as good from overhead as they are from ice level.”

ANTICIPATION = SUCCESS

“Know the game and watch the play. Shooting is almost all anticipation and being able to react quickly. That’s all it is. You’ve got to have a feel for what’s going on on the ice, definitely. You’ve got to have eyes in the back of your head and you’ve got to listen because you can usually tell by the noise in the stands if something else is happening somewhere else. Over time you learn how to do it; I’ve watched young photographers evolve from not really understanding and shooting average pictures to becoming much better at what they do. Some people have it and some people don’t. The more you do it, the better you get.”

HEY BERTUZZI, THAT HURT!

“ People always ask if I get hit by the puck in the suicide box, but the fear is getting hit by a stick. One time Bertuzzi came to the bench and I had my arm resting because we were in between play and nothing was going on and he slammed his stick down on the bench because he was mad and it hit my arm. That hurt and was probably the worst thing that’s ever happened to me in there. The worst thing I’ve ever seen happen was cameraman Dwayne Mitchell getting hit in the head with a puck. That’s just a good reminder that you’ve always got to watch the play. You’ve got to keep your head where the puck is because if you don’t, and actually even if you are watching like Dwayne was, that puck can come out of nowhere.”

SAY CHEESE - VINNICK'S FAVS

“One of my shots that I really think is cool is from the playoffs a few years ago when the puck is hitting the post behind Roberto. It’s Modano’s shot, but he’s not in the picture. That’s just one of those shots where the picture is so defined by a split second. It’s tough to pigeon hole it with one picture because there are so many good ones that I just love. Like there’s one I got years ago during the Stanley Cup finals and I wasn’t the Canucks photographer yet, but it was when Pavel Bure had a penalty shot on Mike Richter and it was a huge picture. He didn’t score, but the picture was all over the world and it was one of those moments that was just really nice to get.”

(Editor's note: after mulling over which picture is his all-time favourite, Jeff emailed me this gem of Wayne Gretzky rearranging Dana Murzyn's face.)

NO CRYING, KID

“It’s important to never get too caught up in the game or to excited at the game, you have to stay neutral, it’s really important to not let your emotions get to you. You have to really stay impartial. I remember I had a student one year and he came to the darkroom after we had lost the game and he was so upset he was crying and I just told him he really had to calm down, you can’t get so caught up in the game. It’s just a game. You can’t shoot properly when you’re emotional, just like most jobs. I think you find hockey players are like that too. They’re never too high or never too low, they’re always just neutral. Be calm and worry about your work, the pictures are just as good if the Canucks win or lose, although it’s always better if they win.”