How Getty photographer captured controversial NFL call at end of Packers, Seahawks game

When NFL officials signaled two different calls during Monday night’s football game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers, Getty photographer Otto Greule was there to capture it.

He was familiar with the controversy surrounding the NFL’s replacement referees, so he made sure to keep an eye on the refs. Standing in the end zone, he grabbed his Canon 5D Mark II  and started shooting as the players fell to the ground.

“I was fortunate to be in the right spot,” he said in a phone interview. “When I saw the refs come over and sort of huddle around them, I thought, ‘Oh good, the refs are here, keep shooting. Make sure you don’t cut off the refs’ hands and don’t zoom in too tight.’ It happened all really quickly, and part of it was just instinctive.”

The photo works well because it tells a story all on its own. It illustrates the moment that made this game so memorable and controversial. It also works because there are multiple elements to it; there’s the stark difference in the refs’ hand signals, the players fumbling for the ball, the media trying to capture the moment, and the fans who are signaling a touchdown.

This photo, which Getty gave us permission to reprint, shows the two refs making different calls. One ref signaled that the Seahawks caught the ball for a touchdown, while the other signaled that the Packers intercepted the ball.

Wide shots, Greule said, typically offer more context and do a better job of telling a story with multiple characters and scenes. They also give photos a sense of place; we know by looking at Greule’s photo that it was taken in the endzone.

“The majority of football pictures, or really any sport pictures, tend to be tight action pictures. But the really memorable and definable moments tend to be wider shots that show some context,” Greule said. “I think they clue the viewer into the meaning of the photograph. A photo that shows teammates going ballistic, and fans, and some of the stadium, signals that this was a special moment.”

After taking the photo of the refs, Greule took some photos of the chaos that ensued and then started filing his best ones. He writes really short captions — because he wants to send the photos as quickly as possible, and because he doesn’t always have the context to describe what he’s photographed.

“A lot of times I look at a play and I think, ‘What just happened?’ With a lot of these plays, I don’t really understand what has transpired before me, even though I was one of the closest people to it,” he said. “I’m trying to get the play in focus and get it framed right. What the referee is looking at is very different.”

Greule worked for Allsport before Getty bought the company.

Greule has been a sports photographer with Getty since the mid ’80s. In high school, he was captain of his football team. By the end of his sophomore year, in 1976, he had discovered photography and found he enjoyed taking photos of games more than actually playing in them. Having experience playing the sport you’re photographing — even if you only played it at the high school level — can make a difference.

“It’s always helpful to have a sense of how to follow the ball and how to understand the body language of the players and what it tells you about where the play is going,” said Greule, who grew up as a Giants fan and became a Seattle fan after moving to the city in 1999.

Greule has found that it’s also important to have multiple cameras on hand. On Monday night, he had three cameras. The one hanging around his neck was the one he used to capture the ref photo. “That camera has to be around your neck so you can pick it up quickly,” he said. “And I mean around your neck, not hanging off your shoulder.”

He had also focused the lens on the camera prior to the play so that he would be prepared to photograph any action happening in the end zone.

“You want it to be ready so you can pick it up and shoot within half a beat,” he said. “It’s a basic thing, but a lot of people don’t do it because they haven’t missed enough pictures for them to think about it.”

Even though Greule’s been in the field for more than three decades, he still misses good shots from time to time.

“I missed a Seahawks touchdown. It wasn’t the picture that I wanted because I was just a hair late, so I was kind of kicking myself,” he said. “It happens. You just can’t get everything. Sports photography is a real challenge because it’s sort of like baseball. You strike out more than you succeed.”

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