July 23, 2014

Jon SooHoo Shoots the Dodgers – Mets Rain Out

While a rain out of the first game of the Dodgers and Mets series is a bunmer, I also secretly enjoy these rare events, as it gives team photographer Jon SooHoo a chance to show off what life is like outside the lines for the team.  Following is a collection of photographs he shot as the players and coaches waited to see if they would be able to play today.

Citi Field during today’s rain out

Joe Torre addresses the New York media

Rafael Furcal waits and watches the rain

Ex-Dodger Nomar Garciaparra visits the team during the rain out

Matt Kemp and other Dodger players relax in the clubhouse

Dodger clubhouse manager Mitch Poole and James Loney take in the rain out

Xavier Paul and Manny Mota wait for the rain to pass in the indoor batting cage at Citi Field

Jonathan Broxton

Don Mattingly and Jeff Pentland watch the team take indoor batting practice at Citi Field

Joe Torre enjoys a visit with the legendary Yogi Berra

Photo Credit: Jon SooHoo / LA Dodgers 2010

Rihanna Roots on Dodgers as LA Rolls Past AZ

Ah, the home opener of baseball season…there’s nothing sweeeter than when Vin Scully utters those wonderful words, “It’s time for Dodger baseball!” 

And the Dodgers powered through the game, knocking in four home runs, more than doubling their total from the first six games of the season.  Manny Ramirez, Casey Blake, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier all contributed bombs.  It wasn’t perfect as the bullpen once again struggled to maintain the lead they were given by starter Clayton Kershaw, but everything ended well. as the Dodgers survived with an 9-5 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Rather than recapping the game as many other fine Dodger bloggers have already done today, we wanted to share some of today’s great moments, as captured by Dodgers photographer Jon SooHoo. Enjoy!

Rihanna shows her support for Matt Kemp after he homers against the Diamondbacks

Kemp and Ethier proudly show off their Silver Slugger awards

Manager Joe Torre talks on the phone prior to the game

Matt Kemp and his Gold Glove award following the game

Pitcher Hiroki Kuroda and members of the media check out his locker

Photo Credit: Jon SooHoo/LA Dodgers 2010

The Sights of Spring: Images from Camelback Ranch

A sampling of new photos from today’s action at Camelback Ranch:

Legendary Dodgers pitcher (and Special Advisor to the Chairman) Don Newcombe speaks to the team prior to game against the Milwaukee Brewers

Joe Torre give Don Newcombe a hug

Ronnie Belliard and Chin-lung Hu warm up before the game

Manny Ramirez exults to the sky prior to the start of game

Blake DeWitt slides and scores!

Photo Credit: Jon SooHoo/LA Dodgers 2010

Shadowing SooHoo: An Evening Following the Photographer of the Los Angeles Dodgers

After completing our interview with Jon SooHoo, I had the opportunity to shadow the Dodgers photographer on Saturday, March 20th as he went about his prepared for and shot that evening’s game against the San Diego Padres. There were many great moments and photos that didn’t make it into our feature article, so wanted to share some of those additional details and images in the following companion piece:

The preperations began at 5:30 p.m. with SooHoo organizing his camera gear for that night’s 7:05 p.m. game.  It almost looked like he was preparing for battle, silently checking batteries, memory cards, lenses, camera bodies and various accessories.  SooHoo has had the past few days off after returning from the Taiwan series, and has decided to “ease into it” by bringing two cameras with him for the game, including 300mm and 600mm lenses (he usually brings up to three cameras with him, depending on the night).  “This is my locker room, my clubhouse, right here,” SooHoo explains.  It’s a camera geek’s dream.

40 minutes prior to game time, SooHoo quickly throws on a team sweatshirt and we prepare to depart the Dodgers’ administrative building.  SooHoo immediately puts me to work: I’m responsible for carrying the large pole camera and 600 mm lens.  It’s surprisingly heavy.  As we leave the building, we pass Clayton Kershaw talking on his cell phone outside the main entrance.  “Just keep walking,” SooHoo whispers to me, as he simultaneously turns and snaps a couple of quick shots of the Dodgers pitcher.

SooHoo doesn’t make it far before he stops to chat three separate times with general manager Ned Colletti, clubhouse manager Mitch Poole and San Diego Padres’ third base coach (and former manager and third base coach for the Dodgers) Glenn Hoffman.  One thing becomes abundantly clear: everyone, and I mean everyone, knows and respects Jon SooHoo.

As we make our way through the tunnel and on to the field, we see the sun setting behind home plate.  Jon instinctively knows that this is the perfect light for capturing the players as they walk through the tunnel and on to the field.  He crouches and waits, capturing each individual as they silently think about the upcoming game.

Its then on to shoot pre-game warm-ups, reunions between players and coaches, as well as impromptu autograph sessions with fans in the stands.  Pre-game festivities, including the national anthem and first pitch, are next.  Fans are yelling at SooHoo, trying to get his attention to say hello.  He answers all with a friendly wave, a smile and maybe a quick chat.  I’m beginning to think he’s as well known as some of the players on the field.

Once the game begins, we entrench ourselves in the photo well along the third base line.  It’s just the two of us, along with one other photographer.  It’s a dusty and barren spot, but what the photo well lacks in amenities (like places to sit for trusty assistants/bloggers), it makes up for in natural ambiance (photojournalist tip #1: always bring your own folding chair with you).  The buzz from the crowd is not as loud down here and you can hear on-field conversations as clear as day, giving the feeling that you’re part of the action on the field.  “It’s better than the press box,” said SooHoo.  “You see things, you hear things.”  I couldn’t agree more.

Once the game starts, SooHoo is quickly shooting nearly every play as it happens, instinctively reacting as the ball is hit, constantly swiveling and focusing his shot on the eventual end of each play.  Between innings, players are chatting, laughing and motivating each other in the dugout.  SooHoo shoots a little bit of all or it, switching cameras very quickly depending on the shot he’s going for (photojournalist tip #2: bring multiple camera bases…attempting to switch lenses during the game is for rookies!).

As Matt Kemp comes up to bat in the first inning, SooHoo reminds me to always stay aware for foul balls.  “Once [Kemp] got me twice in the same inning.  The first time he missed me, the second time he nailed me.”  When I stated that it must be hard to tell when a foul ball is coming at you when you’re looking through a camera, SooHoo dryly noted, “You know you’re in trouble when [the batter] makes eye contact with you” (photojournalist tip #3: work on quickening my reflexes during the offseason).

In the top of the third inning, SooHoo notes that he’s observed the umpires complaining about a bright light on the Camelback Ranch concourse between home plate and first base.  He’s already contacted the Dodgers’ maintenance team to have them check on the problem.

SooHoo shares that at Dodger Stadium the photo wells are usually packed on game days with photographers, camera gear and laptop computers, leaving little room to escape fast-moving foul balls.  “It’s a whole ‘nother world down here.  People get picked off like targets,” he explained.  After a few close calls, SooHoo worked with the Dodgers maintenance crew to put up protective nets across the front of the photo wells. “I think I saved a couple lives,” he says with a smile.

In the middle of the fourth inning, Manny Ramirez jogs past our photo well on his way to the dugout.  He catches SooHoo’s attention by pointing at him, giving him a quick nod of the head and saying, “Hey.”  Even Manny likes SooHoo.

In the bottom of the fifth inning, we’re on the move.  We leave the photo well and make our way up through the stands to the concourse level and around to the first base side.  At least six times fans reach out to SooHoo with greetings, questions or just to say hi.  This brings the total number of unsolicited greetings to more than a dozen, according to my unofficial count.  When I note that he seems to know everyone, SooHoo states, “After 25 years, you pretty much have to.  Here you’re with the people…it’s gratifying.”

In the top of the seventh inning, it’s time to eat (I was beginning to think that SooHoo never stopped moving).  As the unofficial assistant and gopher for the night, SooHoo sends me to Island Noodles to pick up dinner of chicken and noodles.  It’s the only place he eats at Camelback Ranch these days.  We park ourselves along an exterior fence, out of the way of the crowds and enjoy our quick dinner break.  SooHoo’s right – the noodles are delicious and a welcome change for my palate after numerous Dodger Dogs and various sausages over the past few days (photojournalist tip #4: don’t drink any fluids, as bathroom breaks don’t happen).

After we return to the game and the final innings wind down, SooHoo patiently answers a steady stream of questions from fans while occasionally posing for photos while never keeping his eye off the game.  With his 600mm lens, he can (and does) capture an outfielder catching a fly ball against the left field wall (over 450 feet away) in just a split second.  This puts my beloved 300mm image-stabalizing zoom lens to shame.  I have lens envy.

After the game concludes and the crowd heads home, Jon SooHoo’s day is not over.  It’s back to the office to select and edit the images for that night’s photo gallery, documenting yet another day of Los Angeles Dodgers baseball.

Postscript: I’ve volunteered my services as a camera assistant and gopher to Jon SooHoo for all future Dodgers games.

Photo Credit: Jon SooHoo/LA Dodgers 2010, Chris Volk/dodgerfan.net (we think it’s pretty obvious who shot what!)

Seeing the Dodgers Through the Lens of Jon SooHoo

It’s a typical March Spring Training game for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and team photographer Jon SooHoo is crouched in the home team’s field tunnel, waiting.  The fading sun sets behind home plate at Camelback Ranch.  SooHoo fidgets – his perfect natural light is beginning to diminish.

Slowly, players, coaches and training staff begin to emerge, one by one, and make their way to the field.  Manny Ramirez, Casey Blake, Reed Johnson and Justin Knoedler pass by.  Some are all business, some are playful and nearly all throw a friendly greeting or knowing smile in SooHoo’s direction.

“Where’ve you been?” teases pitcher Scott Lindblom as he passes SooHoo’s clicking camera.

“You guys wore me out!” responds SooHoo, referring to the Dodgers’ trip to Taiwan in which both participated.

Part game photographer and part unofficial visual archivist, SooHoo and his team of photographers are responsible for documenting all aspects of the team’s activities, including games, practices, warm-ups and overall life in the Dodgers organization.

It all begins with the tone that SooHoo sets for himself and his team of photographers.  Over the past 24 years, SooHoo has created a unique dream job that is based on core principles of trust and mutual respect.  That trust has translated into a strong relationship with manager Joe Torre and his team which has resulted in exclusive access to their public and private moments – giving fans a unique opportunity to peek behind the curtain of a major league baseball team.

“It always begins in Spring Training, because [the players and coaches] see me here… they see me in the trenches every day,” explained SooHoo. 

Remarkably, there’s no one else like Jon SooHoo in all of Major League Baseball.  No other club spends as much time or resources as the Los Angeles Dodgers do in shooting what happens between and beyond the lines…especially with a goal of distributing that content directly to the fans on a daily basis through the Dodgers official Web site.

“We’re the ones who started this,” explained SooHoo.  “This is not something new to the Dodgers; we’ve always done a photo gallery.  We’re the only ones doing this day to day.  Other clubs may shoot [behind the scenes moments], but you don’t see it.”

What’s even more remarkable is that 2010 marks Jon SooHoo’s 25th as the official team photographer for the Dodgers.  That’s more than 4,300 games for those of you keeping score.  And he’s not slowing down.

SooHoo got his professional start doing what he loves – shooting sports while in college at USC.  Working for the Daily Trojan, he was shooting most of the men’s and women’s basketball games when both teams were playing their home games at the Sports Arena, which was also the home of the Los Angeles Clippers.

That’s when SooHoo met the man that would shape his professional career: NBA photographer Andy Bernstein.  Bernstein shot all of the Clippers games in both black & white and color and needed help splitting the workload.  After getting to know Jon from their hours together in the Sports Arena, he offered the young college student a job as a darkroom worker.  From then on, Jon processed Bernstein’s black & white images for all Clippers games, developing up to 500 prints per game at Bernstein’s Hollywood studio. 

Shortly thereafter, Bernstein landed the contract as the Dodgers’ official photographer.  However, Bernstein also had pre-existing commitments with the NBA in Europe, so he asked SooHoo to fill in and process all of the black & white images at Dodger Stadium for him as a sub-contractor.  When Bernstein and his lead photographer went their separate ways, the door opened for SooHoo to step up.

“I just filled right in.  I already had gear and knew what I was doing.  I knew the whole set-up.  So then I was shooting, processing and printing both the Dodgers and the NBA,” explained SooHoo. “It was pretty cool because I could take the back streets to the Forum in a heartbeat.  I could get to the Sports Arena in 10 different ways.  That was the heyday of sports photography when there were teams to shoot.  The Rams and Raiders were both in town.  The Clippers and Lakers were close enough by.  There were a good amount of magazines that were still up.  The Dodgers team job just fell in my lap, just like the whole thing fell in my lap.  The next thing I know, I’m married with three kids, and I’m here 25 years later.  It’s been a good ride.”

One of SooHoo’s staff photographer’s at the Daily Trojan was future All-Star pitcher Randy Johnson.  SooHoo recounted the story of how, as editor of the campus paper, he assigned Johnson to shoot what was supposed to be the last concert ever by the legendary rock band The Who.  A huge music fan, Johnson was excited about the opportunity and talked his way backstage.  “He geeked out,” said SooHoo.  “We still talk photography whenever I see him.  It’s a respectful relationship.  You cherish those…I do.”

A Los Angeles native, SooHoo grew up in Silverlake and was first was exposed to photography in an 8thgrade darkroom class.  “That was it,” he said.  It was then on to Marshall for high school.  Unfortunately for SooHoo, he discovered that the school did not have a photography class, instead offering a yearbook program as an alternative.  SooHoo wasn’t interested in shooting yearbook photos, and instead chose to work on his basketball game, while also running track.

Coming from a Trojan family, SooHoo grew up going to USC football games with his parents who had season tickets from before he was born.  “Someday I want to be down there,” SooHoo said as he reflected on his time at Trojan football games, noting there was more room on the sidelines than in the stands.  “Something I’d always dreamed about doing was shooting USC football.”

While SooHoo welcomed the advent of digital photography (he was actually processing color film, scanning the images and sending them out electronically to media outlets long before digital cameras came along), it also presented a huge challenge as he had more than a dozen years of color negatives, slides, and black & white images scattered throughout his office and home.

“It’s just made me feel like I’ll never catch up,” said SooHoo when discussing the huge inventory of negatives and photos that he still needs to transfer to digital.  “I didn’t shoot just shoot for the Dodgers and the NBA stuff, I had UPI as a client too, where I was shooting Raiders, Rams and the USFL back then.  It became very unmanageable.”

While SooHoo says he doesn’t have a favorite shot from his career, he does regret not having access to some of his older work, including shots he took of John Elway playing for Stanford and Marcus Allen playing for USC, as well as some of his NFL photos of the San Francisco 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys.

“I can’t find all the stuff I shot back in ’87, ’88 and ’89, other than what I’ve kept aside.  Some of that stuff would be pretty cool to have, like Joe Montana and Roger Craig.”

 “Whenever I go to SC and talk to any of the kids there, I tell them to keep their own external hard drive, load it up, don’t lose it, don’t let it get corrupted, but you’ve got to keep that because then 20 years down the road you won’t be doing what I’m doing and regretting not having it all.  But what can you do?”

After 25 years, SooHoo continues to strive to keep his content fresh, but more importantly, he tries to think of the bigger picture, including his role as the primary visual archivist of the Dodgers.

“I’ve had pretty much carte blanche to go into the locker room with my camera and shoot behind the scenes stuff, and that’s kept it fresh,” said SooHoo.  “Joe Torre’s kept it extremely fresh…he’s made it very easy.  So as I concentrate to get the stuff between the lines, I’m also really trying to think historically and to think beyond that, to get it outside the lines.  In the clubhouse, on the bus, on the plane, you name it.  Just not the stuff that everybody else does.  I try my best to be as independent as possible through the team, but [other photographers] do outstanding work, but they’re not going where I’m going.  I try to think of everything as historically as much as possible.  I think there’s a value to that: Manny [Ramirez] in the bathroom, brushing his hair.  Andre [Ethier] last year fixing his jersey in the locker room.  Casey Blake loosening up in the weight room with his bat in full whites.  There are no more historical [images] than what I’m getting right now.”

But it all goes back to trust and respect for his subjects.  “I still have integrity and believe that character matters,” said SooHoo.  That belief in integrity and character is something that was instilled in the Dodgers photographer early in his professional career.

“I learned it from Michael Zagaris, who is the team photographer for the Oakland A’s, but he was also the team photographer for the 49ers during the heyday.  I saw how he was doing it, what his approach was and how he had to blend into the wallpaper, just like I’m doing here.  Just keep your mouth shut and your head down and don’t stir up anything.  It’s not about me, it’s not about him, it’s about the team.”

When talking of his role as the Dodgers’ unofficial visual historian, SooHoo brings up legendary New York newspaper photographer Barney Stein as someone he tries to emulate.  Stein, an award-winning photographer, covered the Brooklyn Dodgers for 20 years beginning in 1937 and shares many similarities with SooHoo, but they also have some notable differences.

“Stein had one set of guys – which were pretty great guys.  We’ve had so many players go through here…just tell me how many players I’ve had in these 25 years?  I’m just trying to achieve as good a shot as possible that’s something different.  I’m always trying to be aware of what’s going on visually.”

Another role model for SooHoo is presidential photographer Pete Souza, the official photographer for President Obama and previously for President Reagan.

“I have so much respect for him, it’s not even funny.  I’ve idolized what he does.  He’s where I would want to be.  The closest thing I have is Joe Torre, and that’s pretty tremendous because nobody hates Joe Torre.  Even going to Taiwan with him was just phenomenal.  He’s got a presence that people just cling to.  It’s magic.  The Dodgers in general got the treatment over there, but Joe was the closest thing I’ve had to a presidential run.”

While SooHoo’s images have widely been heralded as seeming to capture the emotion of a particular moment in time, it’s not something he focuses on when shooting.  Instead, SooHoo relies on having his lens pointed in the right direction at the right time.

“I don’t put any real pressure on myself to come up with crazy stuff.  I just don’t want to miss anything. The emotion will come as you’re shooting.  You can’t plan it.  Either it happens or it doesn’t happen.  I’m not planning anything other than, if there’s a play at second, I’m moving my camera to second.  If there’s a play at home, I’ve got to turn and come home.  I’m aware that if there’s a runner on first, there might be a double play at second.  Any kind of little outfield line drive, I try and swing around as fast as I can.”

“As much as you see that looks good, there’s so much more that no one sees, because it’s out of focus, it’s the wrong timing, I’ve got a first base coach or umpire in my way or a player crossing my path.  Stuff happens all the time here and it’s just a matter of adjusting and having enough material to make it through the day.  What I pride myself on is getting a gallery out every night.”

Is there anything else SooHoo would rather be doing after 25 years than shooting the Dodgers?

“Sports have always been the passion, but I’d rather be playing basketball.  I’d rather be playing in the NBA,” SooHoo joked.  “But I’m better off where I am.  I’m happy as hell where I am.”

While the Dodgers organization is where his heart is, SooHoo clearly maintains a love for his beloved Trojans.  “I’ve always been shooting USC football since I was at school.  These last two years have been the first time I’ve been given the access like I’ve had with the Dodgers.  Pete [Carroll] gave me the green light and I was all over it.  I would hustle my way to get to games when there was no way I should have even been at those games.”

“Right after [the Dodgers] lost in Philly, I was at the USC – Oregon State game and I got a [two-page spread] in Sports Illustrated with a picture in the locker room of Pete and all the guys.  It was pretty exciting.  It’s just a different perspective outside the lines when I had the access that he gave me.  The intensity inside the locker room for football is just far beyond anything going on in a baseball clubhouse before a game.  They’re just so amped up.”

SooHoo also believes in doing the right thing.  To thank the players, coaches and managers for all of the support and access he receives, SooHoo went out of his way to create custom, hardcover books commemorating the 2009 Dodgers and the 2009 Trojans.  They’re beautiful works of art and chronicle the iconic and everyday moments from the past year.  “Last year, the guys took care of me, so I made each one of them a book,” SooHoo simply states.

That’s an even more incredible feat when you consider a typical day during the MLB season involves SooHoo dropping his kids off at school at 8:00 a.m. and then heading home for a few brief moments of work around the house.  He then arrives at Dodger Stadium by 10:00 a.m., where his day begins reading memory cards, uploading photos to the server and making discs and prints for key individuals.

In the early-afternoon, he begins getting his gear ready for that night’s game, lugging two or three camera with him depending on the night.  At 3:30 p.m., SooHoo is on the field shooting batting practice and pre-game warm-ups.  Once the game begins, the team’s official photographer is often found in either the first base or third base photo wells, shooting the action on the field.  He also routinely eats on the fly while making his way through the concourses, capturing fan reaction and the game from a different perspective, while patiently answering questions and posing for pictures with his fans.

“The key is not to be missing walk off situations, or monumental pitching moments like no-hitters.  You have to be conscientious of everything,” explained SooHoo.

After the game wraps up, SooHoo returns to his office where the real work begins, editing, archiving all of the images he shot, while transmitting that day’s photo gallery to all key stakeholders.  By the time he finally shuts off his computer, it’s not uncommon for the clock to read 1:30 a.m.

As SooHoo enters his 25thyear with the Los Angeles Dodgers, it’s impossible to not appreciate the thousands of visually stunning images he shoots throughout the course of a season, as well as the care he takes in forging the relationships which allow him to be in the right place at the right time.  In many ways, SooHoo’s images provide a visual bookend to the words of Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully.  While photographers are not elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame,  his tenure with the club and the diligence with which he approaches his craft make Jon SooHoo a revered part of the Dodger family.

Story by Chris Volk and Alex Volk

Next up: Shadowing SooHoo: A Day in th Life of the Photographer of the Los Angeles Dodgers

Photo Credit: Jon SooHoo/LA Dodgers 2010, Chris Volk/dodgerfan.net (we think it’s pretty obvious who shot what!)