Documenting a dynasty: Off the field with the Yankees’ chief photographer

Ariele Goldman Hecht can’t recall when she first picked up a camera, but her mother remembers it clearly.

“According to my mother, there was this toy camera in my preschool or junior kindergarten that I just would not put down,” said Hecht, who is the senior photography editor and chief photographer for the New York Yankees. “I don’t remember this but she tells the story to everyone.”

While the exact timing might be debatable, Hecht’s interest in photography started from childhood and followed her into adulthood.

“I just always was the person taking pictures. It started out just taking pictures of friends – just snapshots and having the photo albums and the memories – and then slowly I started doing a lot more than that, in large part because I was an athlete for most of my adolescent years and I had bad knees and needed to find something else to do. So, since I loved photography so much I started taking that love and taking pictures of more creative things and joining the [high school] yearbook staff and just falling in love with being out there and using photography as a job.”

Yankees photographer Ariele Goldman Hecht CC SabathiaAlthough Hecht enrolled at the University of Wisconsin in Madison to study journalism, she was more interested in being behind the lens than writing and editing. Growing up in a family of sports fans, Hecht gravitated toward sports photography, shooting the college football and basketball games for the school paper. Realizing photography is where she belonged, she pursued it in grad school.

“[Shooting baseball] was all just on my own, trying to get more experience [while attending grad school] and since I knew baseball so well because I’d grown up going to games, it was easy to pick up and anticipate what to do without having any formal baseball photography education.”

With her photographic experience in sports, a few phone calls, and a bit of luck, Hecht landed a job shooting for the most storied team in baseball history, the New York Yankees, working as part of a team of photographers and editors on publications like the Yankees Magazine and documenting momentous events.

With the season well underway, Hecht took some time out from the third-base photo well – her favorite spot to shoot – to talk about her career.

You work with one of sport’s greatest franchises. How did you fall into this dream job?

Literally it was being in the right place at the right time. I went to grad school for photography in San Francisco, and it was there that I did a lot more sports photography, working with the San Francisco Giants Minor League team in San Jose. While I was in grad school I had come to New York to visit for a weekend. My friend had put me in touch with the former head of the publications department, and I was able to shoot a couple games as a freelancer, just to get more experience but at the Major League level.

Yankees photographer Ariele Goldman Hecht World Series Game 6

I ended up in New York after grad school because I felt like there were more opportunities in New York, whether it was in sport photography or photography. So, I came here and I got my foot in the door actually in the ticket office to start, and I was in the ticket office part-time for about six months. And then a position opened up within the publications department, and I became the first photo editor for the publications department. So literally it was being in the right place at the right time.

It’s a sport you’re very familiar with, too.

I grew up going to games with my dad and sisters. I’m from the North Side of Chicago, so I’m a Cubs fan – it’s a different league, so it’s OK. One of my childhood friends’ father was an executive with the Cubs, so I remember going to a lot of games with her, sitting in the back of her station wagon – back in those days they had the seats [that face] the car behind you – and we used to hold up Cubs signs and be all excited to go down to the games. I just remember loving that even at a young age, which still makes me excited to talk about that. My dad would take my sisters and I to a handful of sporting events every year too. Football games at the old Soldier Field, I grew up during the Michael Jordan era, so basketball was huge in Chicago during my childhood, but it was the baseball games that really stuck out with me. Still waiting for my moment to catch a foul ball, but that hasn’t happened, yet.

I was extremely fortunate because I literally was in the right place at the right time.

You are part of a team of in-house Yankees photographers. Tell us what a day-to-day is like and some of the responsibilities.

There are three other wonderful and talented guys that I work with in the publications department. We have an assistant photo editor, two freelance team photographers, and me. There are a lot of shared responsibilities amongst us – it just depends on the day of the week and what’s going on, on and off the field. If I’m not here then it’s one of the other photographers covering the responsibilities. The only time all four of us are here are for the bigger events like Opening Day, playoffs, and Old-Timers’ Day is really big – any games that could potentially be a milestone for one of our players.

There’s no consistency to what we do, but on a game day I’d go out on the field to shoot batting practice, followed by pregame ceremonies and the game. Then cross your fingers [that there’s] not extra innings or any rain delays.

[As the senior photography editor for Yankees Publications], there is a lot behind the scenes that I do too. I do a lot of post-production coupled with a lot of shooting. This includes, but is not limited to, the games to head shots to press conferences to community events to pregame ceremonies, non-baseball events, and so much more. My responsibilities also include archiving everything that involves the Yankees on the field, off the field, behind the scenes, in front of the cameras, etc. We’re photographically and digitally keeping track of the history.

You’ve been with the Yankees for nine seasons. What are the memorable moments?

The 2009 World Series. There are others, like (Pope Benedict’s) visit and the All-Star Game both in 2008 – those were once-in-a-lifetime opportunities – but definitely winning it all in 2009. I was in the third-base photo-well during the game, and then I was on the field and in the clubhouse once they won…I mean, obviously working the whole time, trying to take it in but also capturing it through my lens. That’s the hard part sometimes, is being able to enjoy it while you’re working because it’s not easy to jump up and down and take pictures at the same time.

In 2011 we played the Cubs and I went [to Wrigley Field to shoot] the series for the Yankees, and it was very cool to be on the field, shooting the game, working and experiencing this thing that I had always dreamed about but never thought it would become a reality. It was just a very nostalgic moment.

Do you have any photos you’re particularly fond of?

Before we moved over to the new stadium I’d gone up in the blimp for a couple years and got some beautiful overhead shots. The old stadium is gone now, it’s not like you can duplicate that, so I have that memory.

Yankees photographer Ariele Goldman Hecht Perfect Game

At the [pregame ceremony of the] final game at the old stadium, there’s a picture of the six perfect gamers – the three pitchers and the three catchers standing on the mound – and actually that picture is run pretty big on the suite level of the (new) stadium. It’s a picture that I walk by almost every day, and then, what’s even more exciting, you see someone like a fan stop and look at it and admire – I’ve walked by a handful of times and overheard people admiring it. In the back of my head, I’m like, that’s pretty cool, you know, that’s my picture they’re admiring.

What are some of the things you are looking forward to this upcoming season? Anything exciting on the Yankees calendar that people might want to pay attention to?

One of the best things about working at Yankee Stadium is being there before the fans arrive. You can hear the crack of the bat as you walk to your office, you can smell the popcorn throughout the concourses, and you can see the grounds crew working hard to put the finishing touches on the field. Eventually, the players congregate on the field and the fans start pouring in, ready for the game to get underway.

I’d go out on the field to shoot batting practice, followed by pregame ceremonies and the game.

Some other upcoming events at Yankee Stadium that I am looking forward to working include Old-Timers’ Day in June, HOPE Week, soccer, the Pinstripe Bowl, and the Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake concert in July!

For visitors to Yankee Stadium, what are some public areas they should visit or seats they should purchase to get the best photos? Are there things in the stadium that would be great to photograph, that fans might not be aware of?

The concourses in the new stadium allow for fans to see the field from any vantage point. Depending on who is up to bat or who is on the mound, the first-base or third-base line provides nice angles to photograph players from any level. If you go up to the top of the upper deck, you can get a beautiful overhead shot of the stadium with the frieze framing the field. The batter’s eye is another great location to capture a nice stadium shot.

I encourage fans to stop by the museum to see the exhibits and, of course, venture out to center field to take in Monument Park.

Tell us about your gear.

We’re Canon here. In terms of what I bring down to the photo well with me, 99 percent of the time it’s two bodies, which right now are Canon EOS-1D Mark IVs. And then I’ll bring usually three or four lenses. If it’s three lenses it’s usually a 24-70mm f/2.8, 70-200mm f/2.8, and a fixed 300mm f/2.8. And that’s a normal game day. Sometimes I’ll bring a wider 16-35mm f/2.8 and I’ll bring a flash for pregame ceremonies, which currently we’re using the Speedlite 600EX-RT.

Yankees photographer Ariele Goldman Hecht stadium diptych

The 300 is definitely what I’m holding onto for 90 percent of the game, just because it’s the sharpest. Just based on where you are in the photo well, the 300 is what I’m using most. If there’s stuff going on in the dugout then I’ll go with one of the wider lenses and if there’s a pitcher, sometimes I’ll switch to the 70-200 but for most of the game it’s the 300, and it’s a great lens.

And, my Think Tank accessory pack. I can’t function without that, especially when I’m weighted down with all the various lenses and equipment.

You mentioned you’re playing with film again.

I started in film. I actually am going back to that, I just got a toy camera that I’m going to take out this season and play with.

It’s one of those back-and-forth things. I’m one of those people who originally was like, “I’m not going digital, I’m not going digital.” I love going to the dark room, I love the feel of film, and, you know, that’s photography. But now having worked with digital photography, it’s night and day. It’s just faster and it’s easier to go through, and there are so many fewer steps involved.

It’s not easy to jump up and down and take pictures at the same time.

Digital is more efficient, but, with traditional photography, it’s that element of surprise, which I love. In digital you can take the picture, look, and make sure the exposure is OK and everything is OK, and then shoot away. Whereas film there’s always a possibility it doesn’t load correctly, there’s something wrong with the roll, or the exposure is off, but it’s that element of surprise that is so fun, waiting to get it back from the lab or [processing] black and white film in the darkroom, which I still love doing that. I haven’t done it in probably 10 years but I loved it.

What’s your favorite subject to photograph off the field?

My daughter. My poor child, I think I’ve taken more pictures of her in the past 16-plus months than my mom did of me in almost 34 years.

Do you face any challenges working as a female photographer in a male-dominant sport?

There are a few, but in this day and age I don’t think it’s a man-woman thing. There are many games where I am the only woman in the photo well, but the guys I’ve met in the business have been tremendous to me and taught me so much over the nine-plus years.

What’s on your gadget wishlist?

The Canon EOS-1DX, and maybe a desktop with infinite memory. And a LaCie hard drive for even more infinite memory.

Any tips for the kids in the stands who might want to be in your shoes someday?

Just do it. Go out and give yourself assignments and practice, and come to games and sit in the seats and take pictures from the seats just to get experience of how to anticipate a play. Watch the game, because when you’re looking through a lens you are only giving yourself a small window of where the action is – you have to be able to anticipate what’s going to happen and know where to shoot because it happens so fast. Also become versed in other sports as well. It can only make you better.

Yankees photographer Ariele Goldman Hecht

Photography is a tough thing to get into. I was extremely fortunate because I literally was in the right place at the right time. And I’m very fortunate for the opportunities and years I had doing what I’m doing because I know people would give anything to be in my position, and I don’t take it for granted at all.

Has anything calamitous happened to your gear while you’re shooting?

Why you gotta ask me that, now it’s gonna happen! Nothing awful – I’m knocking on wood and you should, too. I’ve been very fortunate.

I had a foul ball almost hit me. At spring training one year, one bounced into my leg and I got a big welt on my leg. I’ve screamed a handful of times since then because I thought foul balls were coming closer than they were, but everyone’s pretty good at letting each other know if something’s coming in our direction.

(Images © New York Yankees. All Rights Reserved.)

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