SCHENECTADY – Stephen Nadler still remembers watching the 2010 FIFA World Cup with his father. The United States was playing England, and Stephen recalls the excitement they both felt when Clint Dempsey scored for the United States.
Growing up in Scarsdale, watching and playing sports was one of Nadler’s favorite pastimes. Nadler played soccer in recreational leagues until college while battling injuries in his hips and knees. It was at Union College that his passion for sports began to flourish in another area, one where he began to “express” himself.
“During the fall of my sophomore year, I took a film photography class with Professor Martin Benjamin and enjoyed the start-to-finish process of black-and-white film photography,” he said. “The class revolutionized the way I perceive the art form and introduced new concepts of composition and lighting.”
The following year, he began to pursue sports photography at Union College by photographing the men’s and women’s basketball teams, as well as the club basketball team. When he wasn’t photographing basketball, he started photographing the football teams. Professor Martin Benjamin describes Nadler as totally “self-motivated”.
“Sports are unique to photograph because the action moves at a fast pace,” Nadler mused. “You have to be incredibly focused on the action while also looking for other moments that are a bit more unexpected.”
Nadler quickly “got engaged with photography” after joining Professor Martin Benjamin’s class. As a retired professor for both the College of Saint Rose and Union College, he added, “I have a lot of standout students that I can recall over the years. 50 years of students, and Stephen ranks right up there at the top with my best ones.”
“I remember his Photography 1 final project about expression being portraits of international students,” he recalled.
Nadler’s project reflected his deep interest in sports, focusing on the connection between soccer teams and their fans. Many of his subjects were photographed in a jersey, a t-shirt from the team, or with a soccer ball.
After being awarded the esteemed Watson Fellowship, Nadler connected with US Soccer and International Sports Images (ISI) to expand on his study of the sport and seize the opportunity to photograph one of the biggest sporting events of 2022.
John Todd, who is the founder and content director of ISI, was personally familiar with the fellowship program and was impressed by Nadler’s passion for the sport. Nadler joined a team of five other photographers and three editors.
Todd believes that it was Nadler’s previous experience as a soccer player that gave him a strong sense of teamwork. “He was willing to do whatever was needed to help our photo agency cover the USA team to the best of our abilities,” commented Todd.
Nadler’s daily routine at the World Cup was “intense,” with him always working to find and photograph the best shots as he attended multiple games and press conferences a day. “There were some days where I would attend the 1 p.m. kickoff and then the 10 p.m. later that evening,” he remarked.
“The emotion that players express is unlike any other sporting event on earth,” he said. Capturing the passion of soccer fans and players is a technique he brought with him from his college projects to photographing the World Cup. “From the tears to the massive celebrations, the raw passion that players have for their countries is special and makes for terrific photos.”
“Photographing the World Cup has been an unbelievable and surreal experience,” Nadler said, remarking that he was “fortunate to be here and take part in the tournament.”
“It was fascinating and rewarding watching him grow from a rookie with no World Cup soccer experience to a seasoned veteran,” said John Todd.
In the future, Nadler hopes to continue pursuing his passion for sports photography. “Besides soccer photography, I also love football and basketball. I am always open to exploring other sports as well to see how they compare and contrast to those I have experience with.”
For Nadler, the biggest reward of his experience was “being able to photograph some of the best athletes on the planet while being able to connect with terrific people from countries all around the world,” he said. “The World Cup is a celebration of cultures where everyone comes together to enjoy our favorite game.”