Photographer Mike Thompson

Photographer Mike Thompson has been capturing images of the Atlanta Silverbacks for years. Who would have guessed it’s all because of a 20-ounce bird called the chukar partridge?

10Soccer talked with Mike just before the Soccer Bowl in Atlanta, where he explained how he got his start in photography while living in Nevada.

“I got into photography in the late 80s, into wildlife photography. There are some upland game birds there that everyone hunts, chukars. They come from the Himalayan Mountains. I went out and shot pictures of these birds.”

Mike found out that a wildlife foundation was looking for pictures of the chukars. “They were canvassing the world looking for these pictures,” he recalled. One thing led to another, and his photography career was off and running. Mike’s pictures are still some of the best ever taken in the United States of the chukars.

It was his children that turned his focus from wildlife to sports. “When we moved here [Georgia] my oldest son got into sports. He was playing soccer and the league didn’t have anyone shooting pictures.”

So the youth soccer league asked Mike if he would shoot some pictures. For all 80 teams. By himself. Not surprisingly, Mike says, “It was all day Saturday, every weekend.”

Mike has been shooting Silverbacks games since the team started up again. Mike says sports and wildlife photography have the same goal. “You’ve got to try to shoot something that’s interesting.”

I asked Mike if he has developed a sense of anticipation where the best shots will be. “I try to, yeah. But you don’t really know where it’s going to happen or when it’s going to happen. And there’s no good spot on the field. There could be two people sitting side by side, and you shoot the same pictures and one picture is good and the other picture isn’t.”

Still, Mike does have a favorite spot on the pitch. He likes to camp out on the end line, where the team is coming toward him. “You see the expression on their face and the action. It’s just more intense. I try to hang out at one spot. The biggest thing is to be ready and try to anticipate things.”

When Mike started shooting wildlife in 1988, he was using film. He explained what a difference digital photography has made.

He recalled shooting high school basketball games when he first started out. The school would give him three rolls of 24 exposure, 100 speed film. That was too few exposures and too slow of a film speed for trying to take pictures in a dark basketball gym. But Mike had to work with what he was given.

Now, Mike says, “With digital you don’t have those limitations. I will shoot 2000-3000 pictures at a game. And then you cull out 20-70 pictures that you like.”

While Mike used to spend a lot of time sorting through those pictures, that is not true any more with his years of experience.

“When I edit my pictures, it has to stand on it’s own within a half of a second. When it pops up on the screen –it’s going to make it or it goes to the garbage can.”

With his trained eye, he knows what he’s looking for, even if it’s hard to describe.

“You throw out a lot of ‘good’ pictures to get the ones that are really cool. Sometimes it’s not the one with the most action in it. It might just be two people walking across the field.”

Now Silverback and NASL fans are the beneficiaries of Mike’s talents. His photographs capture the intensity, action, and emotion of each game. I bet those birds in Nevada are a little jealous.

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