John Byrum, staff photographer, Spartanburg Herald-Journal on Assignment: Superbowl 50

We are starting a series of interviews with working photographers.

Today we chatting with photographer John Byrum.  This year, John is covering his second Super Bowl as a staff photographer for the Spartanburg Herald_Journal.


LF: Hello John, Thanks for taking some time out of your Super Bowl Prep to chat with us today.

JB: You’re welcome. You know, this is the first interview I have had.

LF: Don’t worry, It’s my first interview, as well. We are on even ground!

LF: What was your first camera that you can remember?

JB: it was a little Nikon point-and-shoot film camera.

LF: What got you started in photography?

JB: I was working as a technician, and I took a vacation and wanted to have some memories to take with me. Once I developed the film, I thought to myself: “hey, these are kind of good.” A while after my return to work, the job I had come to an end. I got a job in a photo lab, and later a photo studio. My boss in the studio knew the guys from the paper and would take assignments from time to time. He (my boss) didn’t want to take an assignment, but referred me. I covered my first story, and when I got back the paper and developed the film, we had this device that would show the image from the negative on the TV. As the editor and I were looking through them there was this one image. The editor said “wow!” and of gave me a look like: who is this guy? The image was the lead photo the next day.

LF: So, was that the defining moment when you just knew you wanted to be a photo journalist?

JB: Yes. The editor’s reaction was an ego booster, to have someone in his position say “wow” about my image. I just knew this was my calling.

LF:  What made you pick photo journalism over other genres of photography?

JB: It was that first photo that got the lead in the paper the next day. Of course it helps that the paper kept asking me to cover more assignments. It feels good to be out in the community, documenting life.

LF: Now that you’re a seasoned photographer, is there anything you would have done differently in your career?

JB: I think I would have put more effort into understanding the technical side of photography.  Things like understanding exposures and focal lengths. It would have made my work much easier early on.

LF: What has been the worst experience as a photographer?

JB: Not taking photos of a lady being extricated from a car wreck. I photographed two fatality events in two days. A lady died in a fire and then a young man died in a fiery car wreck. A coworker told me that even through it’s tough to photo fatal events, these photos could help people to be a little more cautious and careful.  I was approached by a friend that had seen my images of the accident in the paper who said: “I drove my daughter to school this morning and she asked: ‘Daddy, why are you driving so slow?’ I replied: ‘That accident yesterday, the one in the paper with the pictures. It reminded me to slow down.’”

LF: How about your best experience as a photographer?

JB: In my first year as a staff photographer, I won a first place sports action in the SCPA (South Carolina Press Association) in 2000. The photo was from Clemson vs Florida State, and the Clemson QB was being sacked while the football was coming free. Clemson was clobbered in the game; the final score was like 72-21. That one photo summed up the game. Other papers in SC didn’t run an action photo from the game. All the others ran a photo of father and son Bowden greeting before the game.

LF: Which are your favorite kind of assignments to cover?

JB: I love to cover sports. Basketball, where the action just seems to come to you; football, where you have to chase the action.

LF: This is your second Super Bowl assignment. What was it like to cover your first Super Bowl? What kind of feelings and emotions did you have covering such a national event?

JB: I was a jumble of nerves. But once I got through security, got the credentials that allowed me on the field, and walked onto the field itself, I dropped to my knees thinking, I am here. I am really here. I was soaking it all in. Suddenly a man approached me saying: “HEY! You can’t be here!” Needless to say, that kind of helped me to snap out of it. The rest of the day was a little difficult, having to shoot elbow to elbow with other photographers. And at the time I was shooting with Nikon, and they were going through some auto focus issues.

LF: What are you going to do different for your second Super Bowl?

JB: I have two good Canons this time. No auto focus issues.

LF: As a photojournalist, what kind of prep do you have to do to cover the Super Bowl?

JB: The player roster entered in, making sure batteries are charged, and making sure I have a good internet connection to send images back. Being comfortable on the sideline is a main factor, so I can concentrate on the action, and not if my clothes are binding in the wrong areas.  As far as gear, I have everything in a thinkTank Photo Airport security, and it’s always ready to go.

LF: Have you ever had any nightmares before a big event like this, like missing the game or just something not going right?

JB: No, I can’t say that I have. I do get really nervous before an event like this, with butterflies in my stomach. And I think, will I have it all together?

LF: We understand you have images in the NFL Hall of Fame.  Tell us about that?

JB: I have two photos recognized in the Pro Football Hall of Fame photo contest from 2005 and 2007.  Both action category, and both an honorable mention.  The 2005 photo is of Jake Delhomme, QB of the Panthers, vertical in the air throwing a pass.  The ball is just off his fingertips.  The 2007 photo was in the Texans vs. Panthers. It’s of a Hail Mary pass with a Texan out leaping the Panther to deflect the pass away. The photo captured the moment the Texan touches the ball. The photo is named “Hail Mary Denied.”

LF: Last Question: what advice to you have for aspiring photographers?

JB: Have the heart, making sure it’s something you want to pursue. There are so many “professional photographers” out there who just don’t have the heart for what they are doing. You have to have the heart and the passion to succeed.

LF: John, thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Good luck on your Super Bowl Assignment!