Meet the sports photography director at the University of Arizona: Mike Christy

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Mike Christy | The Daily Wildcat

Lonnie "L.B." Brown, assistant director, strength and conditioning, head coach Jedd Fisch, Ricky Hunley, defensive line coach — TUCSON, ARIZ. -- Football vs. Cal college football on Homecoming 2021 at Arizona Stadium

Nov. 6, 2021. 

(Photo by Mike Christy / Arizona Athletics)

When it comes to football, many think about the coaches, players, cheerleaders and the band as the key members of making a game exciting and fun; however, other individuals on the scenes and behind the scenes help immortalize the game and capture moments that people may want to look back on once they graduate. Michael “Mike” Christy, the director of sports photography at the Arizona Athletics department, knows exactly how to do that. 

“Football game day is probably one of the busiest and longest days for our photography department,” Christy said. 

The day usually begins with a Costco run.

“[I'm] getting water, getting snacks and usually getting to that room three to four hours ahead of kickoff, and start setting up tables, assigning seating positions for where photographers are gonna sit and edit from, make sure there’s space, make sure there are plenty of roster cards available,” Christy said.

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Christy is a 2006 graduate from Cienega High School in the Vail School District and initially saw photography as a hobby. He initially applied to the School of Art at the University of Arizona but was denied and decided to go the business route instead. Christy was the photo editor at the Daily Wildcat during the fall 2008 semester and then took the journalism route in school, taking several journalism and photo classes.

Headshot of Mike Christy, director of sports photography at the Arizona Athletics department. (Courtesy Arizona Athletics)

Headshot of Mike Christy, director of sports photography at the Arizona Athletics department. (Courtesy Arizona Athletics)


Once everything is set up for game day, Christy breaks down what photographing the game day requires.

“The top necessary element is the best sports action, the peak moments, recording the history of the game for posterity and for history. Beyond that, we want to document that scene,” Christy said.

Christy finds answers to the questions of “What’s the atmosphere in the stadium like?" and "What’s a wide angle view from all the way up top when the teams’ running out?” when figuring out where to take photos.

“We kind of divide and conquer. I’m the director of photography, so I’m mostly in charge and the first person our social teams and [sports information director] teams go to for live game action photography. We have the capability to send photos directly from our cameras over to a Wi-Fi hotspot I keep in my pocket,” Christy said.

Christy eventually became a sports beat photographer with the Daily Wildcat and ended up going to the 2011 NCAA Tournament when the University of Arizona made it to the Elite Eight.

In the few hours before kickoff, he and the team fan out to assess the situation.

“‘What’s the tailgating situation look like? Where are fans having fun? Are the teams about to arrive for the Wildcat walk?’ We get into position so we can photograph that from a couple different angles,” Christy said. “Somebody will be up top in the stands shooting down on it and then somebody might be down next to the fans who have their hands out for high fives shooting and covering that.”

Christy interned with the Arizona Daily Star and was hired full-time as a staff photographer after he graduated. He worked with them for seven years until the position of photography coordinator at Arizona Athletics opened in 2019.

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Christy has an idea in mind whether the team wins or loses and collects any additional photography they may need to capture the full experience.

“We try to cast a wide net a week leading up to the game from all departments asking, ‘Hey is there anything particular you need to photograph?’” he said. 

He called it a privilege to document the athletic program's history.

“In our approach to photography, we always aim to answer the question of ‘What was it like when fill-in-the-blank happened?’” Christy said. “Arizona Athletics photography does not begin nor end with me. ... My job is to be the gatekeeper for this period in history and hand the keys to the next person.”

The University of Arizona’s first home game will be against Mississippi State on Sept. 10.


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