In my 22 years as a Press Democrat photographer, I've often snuck away on weekends to shoot more than 300 assignments for Sports Illustrated. I covered the west coast portion of the golf tour for seven years, but most of my assignments were portraits of athletes.
I've duct-taped Terrell Owens' mouth shut, visited the Navajo and Hopi reservation on a jet with Steve Young, rode down Highway 1 on the back of Ricky Watters' Harley and rented 5,000 range balls for a Tiger Woods portrait. I wasn't surprised when Tiger imploded a few years ago. He refused to shake my hand when we met; the only word he said to me was "no."
The strangest shoot over the years was when a judge gave me legal ownership of Barry Bonds' record-breaking home run ball for one day. Alex Popov claimed he caught the ball and was bitten by Patrick Hayashi when he stole it from him in the pile of people going for the home run ball. The 10-page court order stated I could touch it only with cotton gloves and with lawyers from both sides present.
Seven months ago, my heart shuddered and stopped in the end zone at a playoff game between the 49ers and Green Bay Packers. After bypass surgery, I fully intended to say no to any more Sports Illustrated assignments. My editor from New York called last week and said, "You're going to like this one ... Buster Posey."
They had me at Buster.
When I first started at the magazine, my job was to hang out with an athlete for a day and photograph him in regular life. I photographed Jason Kidd during his rookie year. Between photo shoots we played pool, hit golf balls and played football in his front yard before watching a movie in his private theater that night.
With the proliferation of magazines, sports TV networks and team promotions, a photographer -- even from Sports Illustrated -- is lucky to have an athlete for 10 minutes.
Last year, A's pitcher Grant Balfour gave me six minutes before he was whisked away for an interview with CSN Bay Area.
The magazine wants two or three different portraits for each athlete, so each shot needed to be prepared ahead of time so Buster could step in and out of each in five minutes. I scouted locations at the park a couple of days before the shoot and sent the test images back to my editor in New York.
The story focuses on Buster as an old-school, quiet warrior just doing his job among the Pandas and Beards. Immediately I envisioned Buster in a locker room putting on his vest, staring calmly into the camera with Sergio Romo, Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence placing gum bubbles on his head and goofing around near him.
When I told the Giants PR person my great idea, he said, "What's your next idea?"
John Burgess is an award-winning photographer on The Press Democrat's staff and moonlights on occasion to shoot for Sports Illustrated. This week's magazine with Buster Posey on the cover was one of John's photographs. We asked him to take us behind the scenes.