BY JEFF FALK
PHOTOS BY THE SUBJECT
During my tenure at The Lebanon Daily News , I used to regularly engage in a little give-and-take with the late great Jim Zengerle.
I would implore ‘Zip’ to tell a story with his camera. I would always follow that up with the friendly reminder, ‘it’s not like your photos are going to be published in Sports Illustrated.’
Well that cheesy anecdote was designed to show the importance of photos in sports journalism and the different ways images can be employed. But there does exist a local photographer whose goal it is to have his ‘captures’ published in Sports Illustrated.
And Jeff Pittenger is getting close.
From the humble beginnings of taking photos for his air cleaning business, Pittenger is now on the verge of the big, big time. A former and present photo correspondent for The Daily News, the Jonestown resident is a semi-regular contributor for USA Today’s sports section, with his lense clearly focused on bigger and better things.
“No, when I first started I never thought I would get to this point,” said Pittenger. “But it was something I always thought would be great to do. I still have a dream to get a full page (photo) in Sports Illustrated. And I’m going to get an opportunity.
“My ultimate goal is to be called to do a Super Bowl,” Pittenger continued, “and also to do a playoff game.”
While Pittenger has traveled all over the country snapping sports shots, he is considered sort of a regional photographer by USA Today. Over the past three years, Pittenger has covered the Eagles, Phillies and Flyers for the nation’s newspaper.
“It’s going very, very well,” said Pittenger. “Sometimes it’s a matter of what the editor picks.
“It’s cool,” Pittenger added. “I have kids who live in different parts of the country, and I can call them and say, ‘Look, dad’s got a photo in USA Today.’ It is a real thrill. I learn something new every game I shoot. It’s something I take pretty seriously.”
Pittenger’s fire for sports photography was stoked from 2007 to 2009 in State College, during former Lebanon High star Jared Odrick’s time at Penn State. While covering Odrick for The Lebanon Daily News, Pittenger gained the right type of experience and exposure, and made the right connections, to get where he is today.
“Being up there, I met people,” said Pittenger of State College. “It exposed me to the U.S. Press Wire. I always wanted to do pro sports. I did high school sports. I did college sports. But I wanted to take it to the next level.
“I had to send them (USA Today editors) a gallery of photos,” Pittenger continued. “I had to fill out an application about the equipment I had. You just can’t walk into USA Today as a freelancer.
“I have a checklist USA Today sports images has given me. On there, there’s things like photographing the quarterback throwing the ball, 100-yard rushers, 100-yard receivers, celebration plays, and you always want to get scoring plays. My motto is: ‘tight and bright, so you can see some action’. My favorite sport is football, absolutely. But the hardest sport to photograph is hockey, by far, because they’re moving so fast. In hockey, you have to stay in one spot. But in football, you can move around.”
Pittenger has countless thousands of dollars wrapped up in photography equipment. He sees it as a way of leveling the playing field.
“I could not shoot professionally without that equipment,” said Pittenger. “I need it to compete, and even get considered. You have the ability and you have the equipment.
“I have way too much money wrapped up in equipment,” continued Pittenger. “I use three camera bodies at games. What I carry on my person on game days are worth about $40,000. I have tens of thousands tied up in equipment.”
Pittenger initially began photographing sports at Northern Lebanon High School in the early 1990s, during a time in which his children were involved with sports there. He then submitted those photos to the Lebanon Daily News for consideration.
“It’s been trial and error,” said Pittenger. “You just keep trying and trying and trying. I’ve had the great opportunity to learn from other photographers, and work with them. I learn from everyone I come in contact with. I didn’t go to school for this. For me, it’s a thrill of a lifetime. I get pumped. To get the paper the next day and see you made it in, it’s just great.”
Pittenger has actually been snapping photos for the past 30-some years. His first job photographically was producing marketing material for his business, Effective Controls, Inc..
“I do photos for my business, because people want to see what it does, not what it is,” said Pittenger. “I do take photos everyday. I just extended my photography into sports.”