Anyone who attends a game at Providence Park knows the atmosphere is unlike any other venue in the nation. And those who haven’t been to a game? Take a look at Craig Mitchelldyer’s photographs, and you’ll feel the energy too.
Seven years ago, Portland Thorns FC and Timbers FC photographer Craig, didn’t bat an eye at the sport. He didn’t understand it. Craig grew up a baseball guy. He played throughout high school, until he discovered he was better at making his friends looks good through the lens, than playing himself.
In 2004, Craig became the photographer for the Triple A Portland Beavers baseball team at PGE Park [now known as Providence Park]. When the Timbers joined Major League Soccer, the organization hired him full time.
The more Craig immersed himself in training and games, the more he learned about the tactics of the game, and his appreciation for the sport grew stronger. Now, soccer is his favorite sport.
Watching the game through a camera lens offers a much different perspective than sitting in the stands. Craig often zooms in on the player with the ball while simultaneously anticipating where the play will go next.
He’s shot enough games to know how to strategically position himself based on on the team’s line-up, style of play, and individual player’s tendencies. If Timbers Diego Valeri scores a goal, he is headed towards the stands to blow his wife and kids a kiss. Thorns Mana Shim, she’s running straight into a teammates arms for a hug.
But sometimes, no amount of preparation can prepare Craig for the unpredictability of the game. Sometimes it’s pure chaos. And that’s what he loves about it.
Craig also shoots for the Trail Blazers, Hillsboro Hops, Oregon Ducks and Beavers football, but he believes the atmosphere at Providence Park is something extra special.
Living in Milwaukie, Oregon, snapping professional sports shots at field level, and plenty of time to adventure with his family….Craig couldn’t picture his life any other way.
Craig is an Arrow Liver.
(all photographs provided by Craig)
Name: Craig Mitchelldyer
Hometown: Portland, Oregon
Occupation: Photographer (craigmitchelldyer.com)
Years at profession: 17
Where were you raised?
Portland. I went to Milwaukie High School. I still live in Milwaukie. My studio’s in Milwaukie. I met my wife in Milwaukie. We keep it tight.
So let me guess, you’re going to stay in Milwaukie?
Ya, we aren’t going anywhere.
Have you always been interested in photography? How did you get into photography initially?
Yes. In high school. I played baseball mainly, I wasn’t the best athlete, but I was really good at making my friends looks good who were athletes.
I worked for the newspaper in high school. It’s funny because I always wanted to do photography, but then I took a photography class in college, and I was like this sucks. I failed the class. So I went and did computer science instead. I liked those classes, but I didn’t want to make a job out of it. I’ve always liked photography, I just didn’t like the formal education.
What didn’t you like about the photography education?
I like learning by doing and not by books.
I worked for the Pamplin Media Group newspapers from 2001-2005. The Portland Tribune, Beaverton Valley Times, Clackamas Review…all of the suburban community newspapers. I shot a lot of sports, youth sports mainly, general news, and features. They just kind of threw stuff at me and I had to figure it out. So that’s where I learned a lot.
What kind of pictures do you shoot now?
I shoot a lot of corporate portraits. A magazine will call me up and say, hey we need a shot of this guy for this story. A lot of wire service things, like Blazer games for the Associated Press and USA Today. I’ll shoot general news things, but mainly environmental portraits and sports. I also do a lot of wedding stuff. I just shot Sarah’s [the Thorns and Timbers assistant GM] wedding, it was beautiful.
I also shoot everything for the Hillsboro Hops. I got the Timbers job, because when the triple A Beavers played at the stadium, I shot all of that stuff for them too. I didn’t know anything about soccer until I started shooting for the Timbers.
What sports teams do you cover?
Timbers, Thorns, T2, Hops, Blazers, Ducks, and Beavers mainly.
Are you a Duck or a Beavers fan?
Are you told not to interact with players when you take pictures?
I’m not told not to interact, but I know you guys have your job and I have my job, it’s not like we need to be mingling all the time. Darlington [Nagbe], I shoot all kinds of stuff with him. I hid in the bushes when he proposed to his wife. I have a relationship with a lot of people on both teams. Mana [Shim] and I have done bike rides and things like that, so it’s not a frowned upon thing. It helps I think to have a good relationship with you guys, trust between a subject and the photographer makes for better photos.
Whenever I go to Blazer games, I see the camera guys get clocked while trying to capture pictures, has this ever happened to you?
Not to me, but people sitting next to me. One guy not that long ago at a Blazers game had to get stitches. He got crashed on and his camera went into his face. The team doctors took him to the back and stitched him up. I’m a big guy though, so when people fall on me, it probably hurts them more than it hurts me.
What’s it like watching a soccer game from your perspective?
It’s a lot different than watching it from the stands and I didn’t really realize it until I went to watch the World Cup in Vancouver. I was sitting up high with my wife and kids and it was the first time I ever sat in the stands and watched a soccer game. It was weird because I could see everything developing a lot more. When I am at field level and looking at the game through the lens, I am staring at whoever has the ball. I’ll see people who are making runs out of the corner of my eye. For example, if someone is coming up on the side, I’m shooting them, but then I have one eye in the middle of the field because I know that the ball is probably going to be crossed in.
I’ll watch the highlights after a game and it looks nothing like it did from my camera. I’ll take a picture of a goal celebration, and I might take like 30 shots. I’m taking all these pictures, so it almost feels like slow motion, but in reality it’s only like a 2 second long thing.
So you have to have very good vision?
Ya, but it also really helps to know the team. For example with the Timbers, I know Alvas Powell is probably not going to take a shot when he’s dribbling the ball up the side, and I also know when he crosses it, it’s probably going to be crossed to [Fanendo] Adi.
So how do you learn player’s tendencies? Do you study the players?
I’m not watching film or anything like that, but just by being at all the games and training, and seeing it all the time.
The Thorns for example, are two very different teams when the national team players are gone. The way you guys play is very different, the style, the people taking the shots, it’s different. So you pick up on tendencies.
How does that affect the way you take pictures?
It doesn’t affect the way I shoot, it just affects where I might stand. Here’s an example: my favorite pictures are goal celebrations, those are the best pictures, right? So, some people always celebrate the same direction. Sometimes it’s chaotic so you can never guess where they are going to go. But some people always go to the right. For the Timbers, when Diego [Valeri] scores he always runs one way because he’s blowing kisses to his wife and kid. Adi always tends to run towards the bench.
What about tendencies for the Thorns?
Nadia [Nadim] (Arrow Liver: Nadia Nadim) is great because she goes crazy, which I like. Mana [Shim] (Arrow Liver: Mana Shim) always goes and runs into peoples arms, which I like. Allie [Long] (Arrow Liver:Allie Long) always spins and goes backwards and puts her finger in the air. I can kind of predict it, but it depends. If it’s off a corner kick, they are probably going to run where the corner kick came from. Most of the time people run towards whoever assisted on the goal. If it’s a huge goal….I try to predict it, but I never can, it’s chaos, and that’s what I like about it.
Do you have a favorite moment while photographing?
Probably the Timbers Championship last year, at the end of it. That was awesome. I don’t know, I can’t describe it. At one point, I was running around taking pictures. Everyone was all elated, and I just kind of stopped, looked around, and took it all in. I just had this moment.
Do you have a favorite picture you’ve taken?
That’s really hard. A lot of my favorite pictures are Riveters and Army shots. The Providence Park atmosphere is so unique to anywhere else and any sport. It’s hard to pick a single picture. Right now, I’m going through and picking my favorite 100 pictures for the Timbers, maybe I can have an answer for that after I look through all of those.
What’s the most gratifying part about your profession?
I think it’s when people say that they had an emotional attachment to the picture. Like weddings for example, I like people to be able to look at a picture and say “okay, I remember what I was feeling in that moment.” A picture that can really tell the story, you can look at it and know what’s going on without having to read a caption. Anything that shows emotion. Emotion is my favorite thing to capture. So tell all your people to run towards me when they score haha!
When I get on the field for the first time, before I run, I’m going to look where you are, and as I’m getting subbed on I’ll smile at you.
Nice. With something like your case, when you’ve been out for a long time and come back, it’s a big deal, so I try to shoot something that is completely different. From behind with the scoreboard in the background or something like that. I have a cool picture of Diego [Valeri] when he got subbed back in after his injury. I shot this wide picture that has the whole stadium and then him and the referee standing next to each other.
Do you get mad when athletes or fans use your photos without asking?
It’s fine I really don’t care. You wouldn’t be the first person and you wouldn’t be the last. When I submit my pictures, I kind of know that people are going to use them. And sometimes its kind of cool because the fans make tifos out of my pictures or cool banners. So it doesn’t bother me.
Is there any other sport or event you would want to capture?
You know, I don’t know. When I was younger I thought the Olympics would be cool, but now that I’m older that doesn’t sound fun anymore. I think traveling with the president or on a presidential campaign would be fun. Soccer is definitely my favorite thing to shoot, so hopefully I can do that for a long time.
And you just recently discovered your love for soccer?
Ya it’s weird, I have always been a baseball guy. When I first started working at the stadium, I was shooting baseball all the time, and then I would shoot 4 or 5 Timbers games a year and that was it, so I didn’t know much about soccer. I thought soccer was boring, like a typical American right? But then when the Timbers went MLS they hired me to be the photographer so I was around soccer all the time with games and training and around the team all of the time. Once I figured out tactics it made the game a lot more fun.
So soccer is your favorite sport now?
And my kids are super into it. They both play and watch all the games. Saturday morning they sit and watch Premier League games. So I watch a lot of soccer. My son is a huge Barcelona fan so we watch all their games too. It’s funny because my kids don’t come to a lot of Timbers games, but they come to all the Thorns games.
Trust me, they watch all Timbers game, they just don’t come to all of them…
I don’t think you guys realize just how much [the Thorns] playing in front of that many people empowers little girls especially, but kids in general. I have never seen any of my daughter or her friends think, “oh I can’t do that because I’m a girl…” To them, you guys are like just as good as Barcelona.
Mana came to one of my daughter’s soccer games last year. I printed out a bunch of pictures and had her sign them all. And after the game, she gave them to all the kids and to this day, it’s one of the coolest things that’s ever happened to them. To me it’s like, I don’t care, but to them it’s everything.
What was your first thought when you woke up this morning?
Why is my dog licking my face?
What is your morning routine?
I wake up and, right now in the summer, I clean the pool. I take the dog out, feed her, get some food, then go for a run if I have time.
What advice would you give someone who wants to take a quality picture?
Two things people don’t always pay attention to in taking a picture.: the light and the background. If you get those two things right, the rest of the picture will take care of itself.
What is your definition of successful?
It’s not monetary or anything like that. To me being successful is being happy. For me personally, having my family, my business, and not stressing about things you can’t control. Also, being a good person. There’s a lot of different people in the world,. You’re not going to agree with everyone all the time, but that’s okay. To me being successful is accepting that things are what they are and if you don’t like them then change them.
Why do you do what you do?
Because I like it and I couldn’t picture myself doing anything else.
Ya haha, I guess so. Photography has taken me places I never would have been able to go without it. I wouldn’t want to do anything else. The flexibility is super important because
if I want to take a day off, I can take a day off. My kids are only little for so long, so I want to take advantage of my time with them.
How are you different than the average?
I think a lot of people can take good pictures. I don’t necessarily think I’m the best photographer, but I think what separates me from the rest is my attitude and my customer service. The Timbers and Thorns could hire other people, but they keep my around because of my ability to predict what is needed and deliver it quickly before they ask for it.
What has been your biggest setback?
I don’t know if I can answer that question, because I don’t think of things as setback necessarily. If anything doesn’t go as planned, I think, “okay what can I do differently next time to not have this happen? Every single thing that has been a “setback” has been something that has propelled me forward at the same time.
What is your most rewarding accomplishment?
Probably my family. I don’t know if I can call them an accomplishment, but they are what I’m most proud of, for sure.
What do you wish you knew as a kid?
It’s funny sometimes I think, “ohI wish I knew to put money in Apple or to take this job… but then I think if I knew that back then, then my life would have taken a different path, so I really wouldn’t want anything to change, because it was my learning that led me to this, and I like the way that this is.
What’s your dream meal?
I’m kind of a picky eater. Probably a steak and seafood. A ribeye or filet or something. And salmon or lobster. And then ice-cream to wash it down. I’m a big fan of cookies and cream or mint chocolate chip.
Who are three people you’d ask to dine with you?
President Obama would be cool as hell to hang out with. My grandpa. He passed away. I’d like to have a meal with him that would be great.
If you could only keep five possessions what would they be?
Does my dog count as a possession?
Ya, he can.
Ok. My dog. I guess I could say a camera, but not really. My iPhone for sure.
You aren’t going to say your good camera?
No my phone has a camera. I’m a terrible photographer, we go on vacation and I don’t even bring a camera, I just shoot everything on my iPhone.
So you aren’t one of those parents that’s always snapping pictures?
Oh nooo. I’m the worst photographer dad ever. All of the parent’s on my kids soccer team always ask are you going to take pictures? I say no, I‘d rather watch my kids play than take pictures. So, one game a year, I only do this for my wife, but one game a year I’ll bring a camera and I’ll shoot pictures of them.
Ok So my dog, my camera, my car I guess so I could drive somewhere, my snowboard, and my bike.
What skill would you like to learn and why?
I wish I could play soccer. That would be fantastic. I touched a soccer ball for the first time three years ago. play on an indoor team with my high school friends and I’m just terrible. My kids let me know it too.
What is your favorite mobile app?
Probably Instagram. (Follow: @craigmdyer, Follow his pup: @poison_ivy_pup)