When it comes to football, many think of the coaches, players, cheerleaders and band as the key members of making a game exciting and fun; however, other faces on stage and behind the scenes help to immortalize the game and capture moments that people may want to look back on after they’re done. Michael “Mike” Christie, the director of sports photography for the Arizona Athletics Department, knows exactly how to do that.
“Football game day is probably one of the busiest and longest days for our photography department,” Christy said.
The day usually starts with a Costco run.
“[I’m] getting water, getting snacks, and generally getting to that room three to four hours before the start, and start setting up tables, determining seating, where the photographers are going to sit and edit, make sure there’s room, make sure there’s very list cards available,” Christy said.
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Christy is a 2006 graduate of Cienega High School in the Vail School District and initially pursued photography as a hobby. He initially applied to the University of Arizona School of Art, but was turned down and decided to go down the road of business instead. Christy was a photo editor in Daily Wildcat in the fall semester of 2008 and then took the journalism route in school, taking a few classes in journalism and photography.
With everything set up for game day, Christy breaks down what game day photography entails.
“The most important element required is the best sporting action, the peak moments, recording the story of the game for posterity and for history.” We also want to document this scene,” Christie said.
Christy finds answers to the questions “What’s the atmosphere like in the stadium?” and “What’s the wide-angle view from above when the teams finish?” when deciding where to take photos.
“We kind of divide and conquer. I’m the director of photography, so I’m mostly in charge and the first person on our social teams and [sports information director] teams go for live in-game photography. We have the ability to send photos directly from our cameras to a Wi-Fi hotspot that I keep in my pocket,” Christy said.
Christy eventually became a sports beat photographer with Daily Wildcat and eventually went to the 2011 NCAA Tournament when the University of Arizona reached the Elite Eight.
A few hours before the start of the match, he and the team gather to assess the situation.
“How does the queue situation look? Where do fans have fun? Will the wildcat walk teams arrive? We’re getting into position so we can shoot it from a few different angles,” Christie said. “Somebody’s going to be up in the stands shooting at him, and then somebody might be down next to the fans who have their arms out to shoot and cover that.”
Christy interned with Arizona Daily Star and was hired full-time as a staff photographer after graduating. He worked with them for seven years until the Arizona Athletics photography coordinator position opened in 2019.
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Christy keeps in mind whether the team is winning or losing and collects any additional photos they may need to capture the full experience.
“We try to cast a wide net every week leading up to the game from all departments asking, ‘Hey, is there anything in particular you need to shoot?'” he said.
He called it a privilege to document the history of the athletic program.
“In our approach to photography, we’re always looking to answer the question, ‘What was it when the filling in the blank happened?'” said Christy. “Arizona Athletics photography doesn’t start or end with me. … My job is to be the custodian of this period of history and pass the keys to the next person.”
The University of Arizona’s first home game will be against Mississippi State on September 10.
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