- 2020 was a year unlike any other.
- Mike Ehrmann, a 10-year veteran at Getty Images, shot it all, from the Chiefs’ comeback win in the Super Bowl to being inside the NBA Bubble.
- Ehrmann spoke with Insider about some of his favourite shots of the year, as well as what he learned while working through an unprecedented year in sports.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The sports world has never seen a year quite like 2020.
There were the expected joys and sorrows of a sports year â€” the elation of the Chiefs comeback win in the Super Bowl, and the crushing losses that they inflicted upon opponents en route to that title â€” but as the year wore on, sports found themselves at the centre of several of the biggest stories of our time.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to a standstill in March, with Rudy Gobert testing positive for the virus and suddenly halting the NBA season, and later, the entire sports world. Then, as sports made their return, either in “bubbles” or at home stadiums without fans in attendance, Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the death of George Floyd persisted across the country and echoed through the sports world.
Mike Ehrmann, a 10-year veteran at Getty Images, was there through it all, bringing fans closer to the action and the emotions of the moment with his work behind the camera. Ehrmann spoke with Insider about some of the most impactful shots he took this year, as well as what it was like to capture the strangest year the sports world has ever seen.
At the start of 2020, it was like any other year in sports. Ehrmann was in attendance at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, Florida, to shoot Super Bowl LIV between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers.
This year, Ehrmann was shooting from the stands, which, while limiting in some capacity, also comes with an opportunity for shots that couldn’t be found on the field. From his spot in the stands, Ehrmann captured one of the best shots of the game.
Trailing the 49ers by 10 in the fourth quarter, Patrick Mahomes led the Chiefs on an astounding comeback. Mahomes threw the go-ahead touchdown in the end zone opposite where Ehrmann had been sitting, but rather than go to celebrate in the end zone, he sprinted back towards Ehrmann in the stands.
“[Mahomes] comes running all the way upfield freaking out. And I just dropped the hammer. You’re just like, [fast clicking sounds],” Ehrmann said. While his spot in the stands had hindered him from getting other shots through the first three quarters, he was perfectly positioned to capture the biggest moment of the game. “Because you’re up top shooting down on him, it’s super clean. It’s just grass in the background,” Ehrmann said. “That’s one of those spots where you’re really just waiting for something to come your way. And then luckily, something finally came my way.”
Mahomes and the Chiefs held on to win, and as the final seconds ticked away, Ehrmann caught head coach Andy Reid taking a much-deserved Gatorade shower.
As February turned to March, the reality of the pandemic slowly began to reveal itself to the sports world.
For Ehrmann, everything changed while shooting The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass. The tournament’s opening round went off as scheduled, but the PGA had decided that the final three days of the tournament would go on without fans.
“I remember walking to the 10th tee with Brooks [Koepka], and I talked to his caddie, Ricky. And he and I talked about, you know, how weird is tomorrow going to be without anybody here?” Hours later, the tournament was called off completely.
“And that’s when I knew this is really going to get serious.”
In the ensuing months, Ehrmann helped out where he was needed at Getty. Ehrmann took shots at the beach in Clearwater and elsewhere around Florida to help fill out coverage. But soon enough, the sports world was working towards a return, with the NBA bubble in Orlando being Ehrmann’s next assignment.
Along with fellow photographer Kevin C. Cox, Ehrmann rented a condo next to the Wide World of Sports Complex where the bubble was taking place, and settled in.
Quickly, it became clear that shooting inside the bubble would prove a challenge.
“We started talking to the NBA about what our spots are going to be like, what the access going to be like,” Ehrmann said. “And then we realised that this was going to be your spot. You’re not going to have any access.”
But on the first night of NBA action inside the bubble, Ehrmann found two shots that captured what a strange moment in time we were living through.
“In addition to COVID, you had the Black Lives Matter movement happening inside the NBA. … Teams took it seriously. And so now you have another angle on top of your already difficult angle. So there were chances for you to make some pictures that told some stories that I think resonated with a lot of people.”
As the national anthem played before the Clippers and Lakers took the court, both teams took a knee, with LeBron James pointing to the sky.
“I wanted to isolate LeBron because I knew he was a story,” Ehrmann said. “He is a leader of the NBA. And you know, when he talks, people listen. If he does that, people will listen. So I wanted a wide shot, but at the end of the Anthem, I focused on LeBron specifically, knowing if he does something that the world will listen.”
The next few months were a grind. As a Tier 3 member of the bubble, Ehrmann was tested twice a week and maintained strict adherence to protocols to stay healthy. The rest of his time was spent behind the camera.
“We took it very seriously and, you know, shot a lot of basketball. I mean, there were running three arenas, two games a day. It was a lot. It was a real, real grind. And the worst part about it is you never felt like you were making anything new.
“I want to come out of an event being like, ‘Oh, I made a nice frame today.’ And that was hard in the NBA. Your angle was ok, but not great. Spaces were blocked a lot. And so you were just kind of picking and choosing moments where you felt like you could make something that you could walk away with at night and be happy about.”
But even in the bubble, there was space for innovation. Walking out of the arena one night, Ehrmann was met with the gathering clouds and light rain of a potential storm.
“I just sat there for about 10 minutes and just watched the sky. Just waiting and waiting and waiting. And I needed to see a lightning bolt before I’m really gonna try and do this. And I saw one, and I was like, all right, now I’ve got to wait it out.”
“I framed it up and found an exposure. It was probably like a four or six-second exposure and then just started clicking off range. And so it’s open for four seconds and closes â€” open for four seconds, and closes. And then that one lightning burst happened.
“And then I looked at the back of the camera, and I was like, ‘Wooooah.’ I remember walking back into the condo, and Kevin knew I was late. And I walk in grinning ear to ear, and he’s like, ‘You shot a lightning picture, didn’t you?’
“That was one that I was happy that I took the time to sit out there in the rain, and you know, I made the effort. It’s nice to have the forethought to try something and then have it actually work out.”
Inside the bubble, the Los Angeles Lakers won its first title since 2010. After the final buzzer sounded, Anthony Davis ran over to a banner showing the Larry O’Brien Trophy, with LeBron rushing to embrace him from behind.
Ehrmann had talked his way to an angle that made it possible for him to get the shot.
“When they walked back there, it resonated with me how important it was for LeBron,” Ehrmann said. “I had seen him win before, but I never really understood how important it was to win with the Lakers.
“It was hard because it was super dark in the hallway. I just cranked the exposure up and prayed it was going to hold up, and it ended up working out. It was a really nice picture, and a moment that I won’t ever forget.”
When the PNC Championship rolled around, and it was announced that Tiger Woods would be competing in the event alongside his son Charlie for the first time, Ehrmann told his editor he needed to cover the event.
“I could not get over the similarities and their mannerisms,” Ehrmann said. “I’ve covered Tiger a lot. And it’s like, Charlie is a mini GOAT. He does everything exactly like his dad. It was unbelievable to watch.”
“When I was with him, and he made that eagle on his own ball, you can just see the joy on Tiger’s face,” Ehrmann said. “I’m a dad. I have a four-year-old. And you see that, and you’re not looking at Tiger the golfer now â€” you’re looking to Tiger the dad. It was so cool to be a part of that.”
After such a chaotic year, we’re all hoping the 2021 sports calendar looks a little bit more like we’re used to it looking. Still, there were lessons to be taken from shooting through the strange journey that was 2020. For Ehrmann, it was about learning to work with what you could and making the most of angles that might not have at first been where he preferred to be shooting from.
“When things do get back to normal, there is a chance you would go back up and shoot a spot that you never would have done before had this not happened,” Ehrmann said. “So there are some lessons in there. You found a couple of angles that you wouldn’t normally ever even look at that now you can go back to and try and recreate.”