Tifo #2, Timbers vs. Caps, 5.22.16
Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer

Sideline View | Photographer Craig Mitchelldyer helps tell the story of a game through images

Editor's Note: Matchdays are full of energy, drama, movement and feats of athletic achievements. All eyes are on the field, watching the ball and the players as the clock ticks forward through 90 minutes.

But the pitch is not the only place where there is activity. There's pregame pageantry and anthems, referees getting set, photographers snapping pictures and more. In this special "Sideline View" series, we'll learn more about some of the interesting aspects that happen behind-the-scenes in helping make a soccer game at Providence Park become the memorable experience that it is. 

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PORTLAND, Ore. – You've seen his photos before. They accompany nearly every story on this website and show up almost hourly in your Twitter and Facebook feeds. But even if you've seen his work – and if you're reading this article, you have – there’s a good chance that you've never noticed the attribution: Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer.

Mitchelldyer, an experienced independent photographer, has shot hundreds of Timbers, Thorns FC, and T2 matches since 2011. By his own count, that number is approaching or has already exceeded 300 games.

There's a misconception out there that professional photographers do nothing more than point and shoot. Or there's the belief that there's some secret voodoo to taking a beautiful photograph; some trade secret that only initiates can understand.

“People think that my job is to just come to a game and hang out on the sidelines,” Mitchelldyer says. “People are like, 'Man, you have a cool job. You just go and sit on the sidelines and watch a game.' The reality of it is that I don't actually see the games that much.”

If you watch Mitchelldyer shoot any Timbers or Thorns match, you'll quickly learn that what Mitchelldyer does is, in fact, hard work. When he's not viewing the match through the narrow focus of his camera lens, Mitchelldyer is cycling through the hundreds of photos he's already taken, selecting the best shots and uploading them to the digital cloud.

There is no downtime, no moment for reflection and enjoyment of the sporting spectacle in front of him. While Mitchelldyer loves the game, he is at Providence Park to do a job.

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From the moment that he arrives at the stadium, Mitchelldyer goes right to work, meeting with staff to review objectives, shooting player arrivals and marketing activations, discussing tifo with members of the Timbers Army and scoping out the best vantage points for his opening shot of the big tifo unveil.

When he's not running around the stadium, Mitchelldyer is hard at work on his laptop in the press photographers' work room editing the photos that he took at the Portland Thorns FC match the night before.

It's there that Mitchelldyer explains his work flow.

“I'll follow the ball for the most part or I'll anticipate where the ball's going to go,” Mitchelldyer says of how he shoots a game.

To illustrate his point, he pulls up a sequence of photos from the Thorns game against the Washington Spirit from May 21.

“[In] this one I can see in Christine Sinclair's eyes that she's looking for a runner over here,” Mitchelldyer says, pointing towards an empty space on the left side of the first photo in the sequence. “So I glance up real quick and I see Dagny [Brynjarsdottir] coming into the box, so I kind of know where she's at so I can get there.”

When he says this, Mitchelldyer illustrates the subtle movement of the camera with his hands and then points back to his screen to a photo of Brynjarsdottir stretching her right leg, the ball just beyond her reach.

“If she would have hit this ball it would have been a goal,” he says.

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By the time the game is about to begin, Mitchelldyer is ready. He's camped out in the southeast corner of the stadium, waiting to get the perfect shot of the Timbers Army. He's also enlisted the help of a friend to hold a remote camera on the capo stand to capture a more panoramic view of the Timbers Army fans.

For a moment right after the national anthems, the sun peeks out from beneath the clouds. “Right on cue,” Mitchelldyer quips.

When Mitchelldyer is in his creative zone, as he was on this matchday against Vancouver, the results are stunning. Witness his shot of the Timbers starting eleven huddling beneath the massive Timbers Army tifo. Then there's the shot of Timbers goalkeeper Jake Gleeson leaping into the air to parry away a Whitecaps FC shot.

The shot of Gleeson may not have happened at all were it not for Mitchelldyer's instincts, honed over hundreds of soccer matches. Right before the end of the first half, Mitchelldyer moved from the south end, where the Timbers were attacking, to try to capture an action shot of the Timbers goalkeeper.

The job, he explains, is as much about an intuitive feel for the moment as it is about careful planning.

“My pictures can only be as good as what I'm taking pictures of, so I get in the zone at the same time the team is in the zone,” he explains. “So if they're clicking on all cylinders and a lot of things are happening and they're attacking a lot and the Army's loud and the chants are going, I'm in my zone and just drowning everything out and watching the play go on.”

In the second half of Sunday's match, Mitchelldyer, sitting along the northeast sideline near the corner flag, seems completely in the zone even as the weather around him alternates between driving rain – “I like it when it rains because it makes pictures more interesting,” he says – and filtered sunlight. He's in the perfect spot to grab celebratory shots of goalscorers Dairon Asprilla and Darlington Nagbe.

While that's not always the case – “I joke with them sometimes: 'Hey guys, run towards me if you score,'” he says with a laugh – more often than not, Mitchelldyer tries to be in the right place when the big moments happen.

“It's funny when goals are scored. It's just chaos. That's what I like about shooting soccer: you never know what's going to happen.”

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