It’s always nice when moving home coincides with finding great work opportunities. The well-traveled Michael Robinson, who did his schooling in California and started his career in Chicago, has been back home in Kansas City for years now. During this time, the architecture and interior design photographer has made connections with numerous firms and people, landing some quality assignments as a result.
Forbes called Kansas City ‘the sports architecture capital of the world.’ I have a long-time relationship with HOK, having shot many of their sports projects. Clemson was an exciting project because they just won the national title and this was a massive, brand new, state-of-the-art facility.
Not only has Michael collaborated with the global architecture and design firm HOK, he recently partnered with HNTB, a company specializing in infrastructure solutions, for whom he photographed LSU’s facilities this past fall. As you can see from the images, these are two of the best athletics facilities not just in college football, but in the world. Not coincidentally, Clemson and LSU’s college football teams will be playing in this year’s national championship game.
This was the first sports project I had shot for HNTB. We shot it the weekend when LSU played at Alabama. We actually arrived on location but couldn’t go in until the team had loaded the buses to head to Tuscaloosa.
These shoots are fairly massive undertakings because of the sheer size and scope of the facilities. Firms that work with these well-known institutions are only going to hire photographers with some serious credentials in this field, which Michael has in spades.
My career began in commercial and residential architecture and has grown into the sports architecture field. I’ve shot some incredible facilities for really talented architects, like Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta, the Chicago Bulls and Bears’ training facilities, Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Arizona State Football, and Rodgers Place in Canada.
This is a rather specific type of photography, one that often features a tricky balancing act. In many cases, Michael has a finite amount of time to get all the images he needs because he can’t be in the facilities while the athletes and coaches are there. Working efficiently is crucial because these spaces are equal parts gigantic and amenity filled. Although Michael didn’t have to work around athletes or coaches for these shoots, he and his assistant still had to keep an eye out for other distractions in the allotted time they were given.
We’ve done enough of these to the point where Chad and I know the drill. When we set up, he immediately looks for anything that needs to be moved: trash cans, Gatorade jugs, you name it. No jockstraps yet, thankfully. We sometimes have to move gear and prop spaces as well.
As it relates to preparedness, there’s a specific object that Michael considers vital to the operation. It isn’t so much the camera equipment that he’s referring to — it’s the thing that transports it around.
What I’ve learned is you have to pack light and move quick, so a good cart is a key piece of equipment. When you’re walking around stadiums and other large facilities, having a cart that moves is essential.
When it comes to the other sports facilities Michael mentioned as having shot over the years, they all — except for Arizona State Football’s — have one thing in common: they’re for professional teams. The difference between the pro venues and the college facilities doesn’t have much to do with the locker or weight rooms; it manifests itself more in the leisurely activities available to the players.
Schools want to make these facilities as nice as possible, one for recruiting, but also to keep the players entertained and on-site, limiting distractions. That’s why you are seeing the game rooms and areas to hang out.
I don’t see that type of thing at the pro facilities, probably because the pros have all that stuff at home if they really want it.
And my goodness, with so much room for activities, you know a big-money school like Clemson isn’t going to spare any expenses to keep their players entertained. Shoot, there’s even a slide. A slide! For sliding!
The rec room at Clemson was something else. They have a bowling alley, pop-a-shot, pool, ping pong, PlayStation pods, and a golf simulator, to name a few.
I did go down the slide at Clemson! I heard it’s one of the players’ favorite features.
Of course, it takes more than a few bowling lanes and some video games to convince the best amateur football talent to play for your school. Recruits take everything into account, especially when it comes to the place where they spend much of their college career: the locker room. LSU’s locker room was Michael’s favorite part of the Tigers’ facilities.
You walk up to a set of purple doors that slide open like Star Trek and then enter into a white tunnel lined with fully suited-up mannequins on the left and gear cases on the right. Walking into the locker room is a really cool feeling to experience.
Each player has a seat and it folds out into a bed, like a first class cabin on an international flight.
As you go back and look at these images, put yourself in the shoes of a teenage recruit that’s soaking in these amenities for the first time. The photos themselves are jaw-dropping, so imagine actually being there and having multiple grown adults say during your visit “we’d like you to spend your college career with us.”
[If I was a recruit], I’d be blown away by the finish of the locker rooms and the facilities. Everything is top notch.
Football at these schools is as big as it gets at that level, so I’m sure I’d feel like a big deal. I think you’re seeing these facilities attracting some of the top talent in the country. It’s a worthwhile investment.
Assistant: Chad Case
Clemson’s facility was designed by HOK
LSU’s facility was designed by HNTB
See more of Michael’s work at mrobinsonphoto.com.
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