Picture it: The Georgia Bulldogs are leading the Auburn Tigers by one with 36 seconds to go in the South’s Oldest Rivalry. Auburn, who had jumped out to a 21-point lead, only to let Georgia climb back in the game, faced a seemingly impossible fourth and 19. As 85-thousand plus fans in Jordan-Hare Stadium held their breath, AU quarterback Nick Marshall dropped back and launched a 73-yard Hail Mary to receiver Ricardo Louis. The ball was overthrown, but one of the Georgia defenders tipped it, and the ball literally fell into the hands of Louis who grabbed it and ran it into the end zone giving Auburn the monumental win and the momentum to take them to the 2013 National Championship game. One photo of that “Miracle in Jordan-Hare” play immediately went viral – and it changed the life of a young photographer who got the shot of a lifetime and affirmed a new career choice.
Shanna Lockwood, a native of Wadley, completed an associate degree at Southern Union State Community College and transferred to Auburn in 2007.
“When I got to Auburn, I didn’t know anybody, so I just spent all my time studying, and I wasn’t very social,” says Lockwood . “After two semesters, I decided that wasn’t all I wanted out of college, so I decided to get more involved so I could meet new friends. However, that turned out to be a little more difficult than I expected. I tried out for all kinds of things: theatre, University Singers, War Eagle Girls, Eagle Eye, pretty much anything and everything, but I wasn’t having much luck.”
Undeterred, Shanna applied as an assistant photo editor with the Glomerata yearbook staff. In her mind, she could meet people on campus by taking their photos. Other than that, she did not have any great expectations, just that she wanted to belong somewhere. She interviewed with Glom assistant editor Ben Arnberg who really does not know what made him take a chance on the student with zero experience in any area of a yearbook.
“I almost didn’t hire her because she lacked the qualifications for the job,” says Arnberg. “But, I did, and Shanna was a standout from the beginning, which was really difficult, considering I hired her to be a photography editor even though she not only had never served on staff before, but she also had never shot photos.” Arnberg must have seen something others had missed.
“The reason I took the risk was because Shanna possessed some rare, but essential, characteristics: she had guts, she had passion and she had vision. Just interviewing for the position was a gutsy move, but she made up for it in spirit.” Following the interview-as in, the same day-Arnberg handed his newest recruit a point-and-shoot camera, a field credential and instructions to shoot the Auburn football game that weekend.
“I was elated at first and perhaps somewhat intimidated. I was excited, but also nervous. I figured I’d be taking portraits of group photos of campus organizations, so this was very unexpected,” says Lockwood. “I had never been a photographer and knew nothing about adjusting the settings on the camera and especially nothing about shooting college football. In fact, the extent of my portfolio was flowers and maybe the old barn in my backyard.”
“My pictures weren’t very good that first game, but the experience was amazing,” says Lockwood. “I was way out of my league with my little camera amongst all the professionals with multiple lenses and bags of gear. But it only took a few steps onto the field, and I was hooked. I signed up for almost all the home football games that year; my photo skills needed a lot of work, but I was in love with being a sports photographer.”
Shanna earned her bachelor’s degree in English in 2009 and started working towards a master’s degree. She wanted to keep shooting Auburn sports for the Glom, and Arnberg was more than happy to have her. “Shanna and I worked together for three years, and she became my most valuable player,” says Arnberg. “She also cultivated jealousy among other media outlets because I had her and they didn’t.” That jealousy and respect for Shanna grew exponentially when the young photographer snapped one particular image during the 2010 Iron Bowl. You know the one. (The late) tailback Philip Lutzenkirchen snagging a Cam Newton pass in the end zone to complete the incredible Auburn comeback and seal the win for the Tigers who went on to win the national championship.
“After the game, Lutzenkirchen made that image his profile picture and suddenly, everybody wanted a piece of Shanna,” says Arnberg. “One of the things that made her so remarkable was that she had this knack to shoot the perspective that no one else shot. Numerous photographers lined the field or attended events, but not one of them ever got the magic moments that Shanna got-and still gets. I don’t know how she always gets the singular shot that captures the whole event, but she does, and that’s what makes her special. Even more importantly, though, is that Shanna gets people. She was a dream to have on (the Glom) staff because she was a great team player; she always showed up, she always showed kindness, and she always took the time to make others better prepared, all while staying humble.”
Just months after that epic Iron Bowl shot, Shanna completed her Masters in Technical and Professional Communication and graduated in 2011. She took a year off to decide what she wanted to do, spending a lot of that time freelancing in sports photography. During her time at Auburn and after, she made it a point to know those who were tops in the business, capitalizing on the fact that the Glomerata position put her next to the leaders of the industry she was realizing she wanted to be a part of, and learning everything she could about lenses, shutter speeds, angles, tips and tricks, anything and everything she could absorb from the professionals.
A day before that year was up, Shanna approached the headquarters of Southwest Airlines in Dallas, Texas, for her first day on the job as a Flight Operations technical writer in the Central Publications Department. The main genre of technical document she worked on was the Quick Reference Handbook (QRH), a document that serves as an emergency procedure manual for pilots—an important document, but one she always hoped would not be picked up too much on the flight deck. It was what she had studied to do; what she had majored in in both undergraduate and graduate school; it was where she was supposed to be. Or, was it?
It was not that Shanna did not like technical writing. It was just that she could not shake the burning desire to pursue the field of sports photography. “I spent all my free time editing photography and doing contract and freelance work for a new company called US PRESSWIRE,” says Lockwood. “The more I did it, the more I learned; the more I learned, the more I loved it.” After a year and four months at Southwest, an opportunity of a lifetime presented itself: the chance to go fulltime in sports on contract, but with a guaranteed slot as photo editor for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games. In August 2013, Shanna made the move back to Alabama to take a shot at her dream career.
“I had so much to prove, not only to myself, but to the profession,” says Lockwood. “I wanted to be a good photographer, but not just for the sake of being a good photographer; I was returning to the place I’d discovered I wanted to do this, only now as a professional. I was now working alongside the same people who’d been kind enough to help me as a student. I felt I had a lot to prove, not only in age, but in gender. It’s no secret that women are scarce in this industry, and because of all these things, I felt a pressure to show my capabilities as a photographer all the more. There was a legitimate fear of not being taken seriously.”
The iconic Bob Rosato, who had recently retired from Sports Illustrated where he shot for the magazine for 19 years, including 80 cover shots, took a chance on a young photographer, giving Shanna opportunities to shoot for US PRESSWIRE which later merged with USA TODAY Sports. “Shanna’s resume was impressive, and there were some things on it that really stood out to me,” says Rosato. “She had a lot going for her on the editing side, but I also saw so much potential because of her attitude and her attention to detail. I first hired her just to freelance on the side because she had a fulltime job in Dallas, but that emerged into a fulltime job with us.”
It was while shooting for Rosato, now COO of USA TODAY Sports, that Lockwood fired the shot that was heard (and seen) around the world: Ricardo Louis and “The Miracle in Jordan-Hare. This one image would serve as a personal affirmation that Lockwood’s new career choice was the right one, and that she was capable of being a peer among the sports photographers she had admired for years. Auburn’s Ricardo Louis’s Immaculate Reception. The Prayer in Jordan-Hare against Georgia in November 2013.
“The overwhelming part about that was that as young and relatively inexperienced as Lockwood was, she knew where to be at the right time,” says Rosato. “She gambled on a once-in-a-lifetime picture instead of the safe picture. She recognized there was only one way that game could have been won by Auburn, and she went to the end zone, anticipating an extraordinary moment. She saw something before it happened; she saw what could be, and she got the shot.”
“That one shot validated my decision to leave everything behind and pursue this dream,” says Lockwood. “No doubt a huge part of that was the shot itself, but the editing experience I’d gained while I was still working at Southwest came in handy, as I knew, the image needed to get out fast. I ran to the editing room and sent it out not long after the play had happened. I was mainly concerned with getting it out before anyone else; it wasn’t until I saw it on ESPN and the Sports Illustrated websites the next day that I realized the image as something only a handful of people got. It was a game-changer for Auburn – and for me.
Just a half a dozen years earlier, Lockwood picked up her first camera as a student just looking for a place to fit in and meet friend. Little did she know where that venture would take her. Shanna has photographed and edited photographs for professional sports from coast-to-coast. She edited for both the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014 and the Rio Summer Olympics in August of this year and she shot one of the last Braves games played at Turner Field among many other sporting events. She has lived sports history while documenting it through a camera lens.
“Shanna Lockwood turned out to be one of the biggest surprises of my life,” says Arnberg.
Indeed, she not only has learned the business, she is mastering it. Shanna now shoots with the most high-performance cameras and lenses Nikon produces. She has technical prowess, but still capitalizes on every opportunity to learn more. She can edit thousands of images down to a succinct visual storyline of sport. Shanna Lockwood is a professional sports photographer—and, as she had initially set out to do, she made quite a few friends along the way.