Snapping photos of athletes in action is not as easy as the final product might suggest. Outdoor lighting constantly shifts, action shifts, subjects drift and cold hands often stiffen. Indoor lighting is too green, too yellow or too dim. Images of athletes that appear to be sharp and detailed when previewed on the miniature screen of a digital camera sometimes turn out to be too blurry to use when viewed on a computer screen. Thus, hundreds, if not thousands of photos taken at a single event might only yield a few dozen usable shots.
John T. Denne, who currently lives in the Peñasco area, has mastered the art of professional sports photography – elevating teams and individuals from Northern New Mexico through this expressive platform that most definitely shows their good side.
Starting out as a parent who was primarily interested in capturing his son, Jonah, who was in sports at Mesa Vista in the mid-2000s, Denne became the proverbial “dad with a camera” who regularly showed up at sporting events with his film camera. He continued shooting when digital cameras became the norm and eventually mastered the equipment evolution. His youngest son, Pat, participated in sports in Peñasco, and after he graduated from school, Denne kept up the practice – sharing his passion and expertise with others, including The Taos News.
Denne has been a regular contributor to MaxPreps and The Taos News sports section for several years now and he has provided many memorable shots of Taos County athletes in full color action.
The Taos News recently had the chance to talk with Denne to get some perspective into his unique service to others through photographs.
How and when did you get started in photography?
I was given a Nikon FE2 camera on my 19th birthday, a gift that all my friends pitched in for, back in Southern California. I had no idea what a constant companion a camera would turn out to be in my life, nor the never-ending quest to fill the rectangle in an interesting way. I have had a few photography classes over the years, but most of my education has come from practicing the craft, plain and simple.
What types of things do you look for in a shot?
When shooting sports, there are a lot of elements that attract my attention. A great moment of action, obviously, but also moments that reveal something of our shared human spirit. I see it all the time, in moments of great physical effort, of concentration and determination, of joy and anguish, in the bonds between teammates. You witness that on every single play, yet capturing it in an exposure that lasts only a fraction of a second is harder than it looks. And then, the photography part of it – figuring out the exposure for the given lighting, choosing the lens and focal length for the event, deciding the angle to shoot from – is just as important and constantly changing. It is good to be familiar with your equipment and settings, so that you are free in the moment to go with your instincts and kind of flow with the action.
What type of camera do you use, and do you have a preferred type of lens?
I still use Nikon equipment, and believe it or not I still use lenses from that ‘80s era, though not for sports. For them, I use a 70-300MM zoom for the outdoor sports and a 50MM f1.4 lens for indoor sports. Granted, it is pretty minimal, but I like to keep things simple. My current camera body is a Nikon D7000, and I’m happy with it.
You shoot for MaxPreps, right? How many teams/sports do you cover?
I do shoot for MaxPreps now, and the advantage there is that they have a great platform, MaxPreps.com, where people can go to see the photographic galleries of the games. There can be hundreds of photos from one contest. I like to concentrate my efforts on the local teams – Peñasco, Taos, Questa, also the teams in the Española area. MaxPreps photographers choose the games they want to cover and are compensated only through any sales of the photos. I like to access the site by first going to the New Mexico Activities Association site, nmact.org, then clicking on the quick link to MaxPreps. That automatically brings up the coverage for all New Mexico high schools.
What was your best moment/photo of 2016-17?
I enjoyed each and every game I covered this past school year, and as for the best moment? It was a 10,000-image tie for first place!
Displayed here is a collection of Denne’s memories from the 2016-17 season.