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Students Behind the Lens: Noah Bullock

This University of Dubuque senior captures all of the action on the football field, and the emotion that goes along with it, with his Tamron SP 70-200mm F/2.8 VC G2 lens.




By Jenn Gidman
Images by Noah Bullock



Before Noah Bullock entered college, he played every sport he could. His favorite was football, so when he started out at Iowa's University of Dubuque as a sports marketing major, his plan was to play for the school's Spartans team during his four years there. A heart injury sidelined him, however, leaving Noah suddenly taken away from the sport he loved.

"I was in a low place for a while," he says. "To keep myself occupied, I dug out the camera my mom had bought for me as a high school graduation gift and started taking pictures. Without me knowing, my mom brought one of my photos to a computer graphics and interactive media professor here at the university, and he entered it into the University of Missouri's College Photographer of the Year competition, which they hold each year. I ended up being a finalist, and photographer has been my passion ever since."

Noah, now a senior at Dubuque, is the president of the university's photo club, which he's helped grow over the past few years. "The club was almost nonexistent when I was a freshman—it had actually disappeared for about a decade before I got here," he says. "I wanted to make it into a vibrant club like it used to be. Now we're flourishing, with about 20 members. We have a photo festival every year, we take trips, go on photo shoots. It's turning out to be a really terrific addition on campus."

Although Noah shoots as many different sports as he can, taking pictures of the Dubuque Spartans is what he gravitates toward, since he knows the game so well. He attends away games when he gets a chance, as well as those on the Dubuque campus, and he'll try to arrive at the home team's stadium a couple of hours beforehand to scout his surroundings. "I like to see which parts of the field are darker or lighter and take a few test shots," he says. "It doesn't take me that long to figure out what kind of conditions I'll be shooting in. At this point, I feel like I'm connected with the camera rather than just using it as a tool. It's become an extension of me, so I get up to speed pretty quickly."

© Noah Bullock
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Noah exclusively shoots the games with his Tamron SP 70-200mm F/2.8 VC G2 lens. "That lens is special," he says. "It's one of my favorite lenses. With the Vibration Control on it, I almost never have to use a tripod—and I'm one of those sports photographers who hates walking around with a ton of gear, so that's a great benefit for me. The lens is super-fast, and the maximum F/2.8 aperture creates so much depth in the photos. Plus, I've shot games in the pouring rain, and the moisture-proof sealant on the lens works like a charm."

© Noah Bullock
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© Noah Bullock

To handle the low-light conditions he often shoots in, Noah uses the lowest aperture possible (F/2.8 on the 70-200) and starts off with his shutter speed at around 1250th of a second. "As for ISO, I put it on Auto and then compensate with my exposure," he says. "I'll begin with those settings, fire off a couple of photos, dial the exposure up or down, and then I'm usually set pretty quickly." To achieve sharp action photos, Noah taps into one of his camera's autofocus tracking systems, which maintains focus on the player's face and body, while the other players in the frame nicely fall out of focus.

© Noah Bullock
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The playbook Noah follows in terms of a shot list includes obligatory action photos on the field, as well as pictures of on-field celebrations. "What I really love to capture, though, is the emotion behind the scenes," he says. "Even if the ball is way down the field and there are two linemen going at it and yelling at each other on the line of scrimmage, I'll try to capture that moment. I like to zoom in as close as I can with the 70-200 and focus on their faces."

© Noah Bullock
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© Noah Bullock
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It's those expressions from the players that he draws the most enjoyment from—mostly because he knows what it's like to experience those same feelings. "When I'm taking football photos, I feel like I'm out on the field, too," he says. "I'm filled with emotion. I remember being on the field myself as a player, spotting photographers on the sidelines and thinking, 'I hope one of them captured that play I just made.' I feel very connected to the whole scene, and I thrive on that feeling."

© Noah Bullock
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© Noah Bullock
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Perhaps the most challenging aspect of photography for Noah is that he sometimes finds it difficult to explain to others how he achieves his art. "I'm a very unconventional photographer, but I know how to do whatever I need to get done," he says. "I've just figured out a way that works for me. But since I run the photo club, new members will join and want to know how to find their way around a camera. I'm self-taught, so it can be hard to relay certain tips to help people out. So, in addition to enhancing my own photo skills, that's where I'm still learning and growing, as a teacher."

Noah's advice for young photographers looking to venture into the sports arena: Don't quit in the early stages. "There's a chance you're going to get shot down over and over again, with people telling you you're not good enough and that your photos aren't good enough," he says. "Just keep plying your craft until you prove to them that behind a camera is where you belong. Some people told me I wouldn't be able to make a career out of photography, but here I am, on my way to doing just that. Anything can happen if you work hard enough and stay committed."