Lifestyles: Coach with a Photo Finish
Former champion coach Rich Barnes has found his picturesque calling
After the 2005 season, Cortland coach Lelan Rogers departed for Syracuse after five seasons at the helm to become the first director of men's lacrosse operations. With only a couple months to spare before the Red Dragons' first game of 2006, the athletic department named Cortland's 1988-89 All-American goalie Rich Barnes the interim head coach after he spent the previous season as the team's defensive coordinator.
Barnes inherited a squad that came off a 17-2 record and boasted four returning All-Americans and nine of their top 10 scorers. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Barnes having taught middle school physical education in the Homer Central School District for 15 years – and he led the Red Dragons to the national championship. He was the 2006 Division III Coach of the Year.
Now in his 23rd year of teaching, Barnes enjoys life on the sidelines in a different way, snapping photos of the exciting game he still loves. His images have been picked up by ESPN, Sports Illustrated, USA TODAY, Getty Images and Lacrosse Magazine.
A version of this interview originally appears in our March 2015 issue. Join US Lacrosse today to begin your subscription!
Cortland was crowned champion in 2006. How momentous was that year?
It was really a storybook season. For all the years I had coached prior to that as an assistant at Ithaca and Cortland, everything I did in preparation was for that opportunity. Everything really fell into place. I had a group of players who believed in me and did anything I asked of them. For a one-shot opportunity, it sounds crazy, but it really couldn't have been any better, from the players, from the support of the community, from the school, you name it.
Why just the one-year stint?
After the season, I was a part of the process to possibly to be the head coach, but I had been a public school teacher at the time. I was in my 15th year. There were a lot of factors. There are days I wake up wishing I was still there, but on the other hand, I love what I do as a school teacher. I do know the amount of time it takes to be a lacrosse coach nowadays with recruiting. That really is the job now. Managing the players on the field is one thing, but if you don't have the players to make it happen, teams like mine from 2006 don't happen. I do miss being around the college-aged kids coaching wise, but it all goes back to summer vacation – I'm sitting on my deck and I know those college coaches are out there sitting in the hot sun watching kids.
When did you decide to take photography seriously?
I actually used a portion of my salary from the Cortland gig to go out and buy my first digital camera. I've always had a film camera and I've toyed around with that, but I had the funds at the time to make the jump into digital and it really has taken on a life of its own. I spent tons of time learning and getting knowledge from other photographers. Greg Wall, who is a photographer for Lacrosse Magazine, has really been influential for me, as well as John Mecionis. They have taken me under their wing and showed me the way. With my connections in the lacrosse world, I have been lucky to have people who have given me an opportunity and a chance to show that I can do what I can do. I've been lucky to jump on with USA TODAY Sports and I shoot all the Syracuse basketball games for Getty Images. It's never-ending. It's my passion. It's my hobby. It turned into a side business and I love it.
As a former coach, why did you choose to be a photographer?
I've had a bunch of people tell me that I should go the TV route, but I like being down on the field, closer to the action. I like being on the media side, but I like being a behind-the-scenes media guy. People see the TV personalities. I would rather cover the game and just be another photographer on the field.
How did you transition from coach to photographer?
With the digital age and my love for sports and for lacrosse, it was an easy transition. Lacrosse is my life. I started out shooting high school games and then to be able to get into a higher level games when I thought like I was improving in my skill, it was certainly easier to do that in the lacrosse world than anywhere else. It took a little time to bridge the gap trying to get in through different media outlets and people that I know. When I say my name, people say, "Aren't you the lacrosse coach?" I was, but now I'm not. Mike Morrison, who is the SID at Syracuse for the lacrosse team, was actually a student at Ithaca College when I coached there. I've had that connection. Pete Moore, who is the SID for the Syracuse basketball team, was the SID at Ithaca College when I coached at Ithaca. Small world. People knew my story. It's taken a life of its own and I've jumped on with USA TODAY and Getty Images.
What have you learned from coaching that you can now apply as a photographer?
Knowing and understanding the game certainly helps. Back when Rob Pannell played at Cornell, you knew had to put yourself in a certain spot to try and capture those peak moments where Rob liked to be. I can imagine people who try to photograph a sport and really don't understand the sport really struggling. Photographing lacrosse has come really easy for me.
Would you say you were self-taught in photography?
I am mostly self-taught with a lot of trial and error, which is certainly a lot easier in the digital era when you can take a photo and hit the delete button, instead of spending an unheard of amount of dollars having film processed. For me, it's really taking the time to see and understand what a really good photo is and what people are looking for in a good photo. A lot of that has been time I have spent on my own.
What do you look forward to most about lacrosse season?
In the spring, Saturday afternoons wherever I am taking photos can't come fast enough. Monday through Friday can't go fast enough for me. I just look forward to the weekend. I love travelling and going to new places. I took my first trip down to the University of Virginia last year to photograph Syracuse against Virginia. Syracuse actually played Virginia in basketball earlier that day so it worked out great for me. I have plans to go down to Hopkins to photograph. I've been there as a spectator and as a coach, but never as a photographer. I've known John Tillman forever. I've been able to photograph at Maryland a couple times.
Favorite lacrosse photo assignment?
I love photographing the MLL. I'm so happy the Rochester team is still in Rochester. I make the trip to Rochester as much as I can in the summer. It's the best of the best players. You can't beat the action. I shoot all the Syracuse basketball games for Getty Images, but maybe I'll get to shoot some MLL games for Getty this year.
What other sports do you shoot?
I do a lot of basketball. I love football. I love basketball. I spend a lot of time in the Carrier Dome. Where I live here, that's the only big time show in town with Syracuse. I get over to Cornell when I can for some basketball and hockey games occasionally. Every once in a while, I'll shoot Cortland State football. I also do at least one Penn State football game for Getty. It's really not about the level – high school, DI, DII, DII. For me, it's just going out and producing the best images that you can. It's about being consistent all the time.
What was one of your favorite moments as a photographer?
My first assignment for USA TODAY was at a Jets camp where Tim Tebow was. It was pouring that day and he came running across the field with his shirt off. It's pro football and Tim Tebow, so I snapped pictures and sent them in, and sure enough, the next issue of Sports Illustrated was my full-page photo. It was nice to feel like my work was good enough to go in that magazine. That was a good moment. I've had about six photos in Sports Illustrated. It's a great feeling to open up that magazine and know that your work was quality enough to be printed. I've been doing this for a while, but it's still nice to open up a magazine or a newspaper to see your work published. I feel that way about Sports Illustrated and when I open up Lacrosse Magazine and see photos that Matt DaSilva sent me on assignment. To know my photos were worthy enough to be printed, it's really gratifying.
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