In our latest Industry Insider, we travel to the US and the NFL to sit down with Jeff Nguyen. Jeff is the Team Photographer and Assistant Creative Director for the Detroit Lions!
Tell us about yourself, what is your current role and what roles have you done previously?
My name is Jeff Nguyen. I am currently the Team Photographer and Assistant Creative Director for the Detroit Lions. I have always had a hybrid role in every job that I’ve had, with a focus on both creative design and photography. I previously spent one year at Backcountry in Salt Lake City, five years with the Miami Dolphins and three years working at an advertising agency in Michigan shortly after graduating college.
What do you do in your current role?
I manage and run our photography department while helping to maintain the visual standards of the brand whenever used externally. I shoot and cover all games and most events and spend time making sure everything is edited and tagged correctly for our database. We make sure all departments are taken care of based on their photography requests and needs. I also assist our Creative Director in conceptualizing and designing everyday items that are needed in the organization, help with planning bigger league wide concepts, and photo shoots that are coming down the pipeline.
“Normal” isn’t a thing in sport so what does an “average” week look like for you?
It varies based on where we are in the season. During the season, we are covering practices and events throughout the week while preparing ourselves and our gear for gameday. During the offseason, we spend more time designing and strategically planning our campaigns for the season to come.
How did you end up where you are right now? When did you know you wanted to work in sport?
Networking is HUGE! I would not have gotten any of my jobs without networking. Knowing your coworkers will lead to other opportunities if they end up leaving for a new organization. The Lions opportunity was one that opened to me once they were looking for someone to head their photography program. It was a great opportunity to shape the program the way I best believed would be successful based on my experience at other organizations while also giving my wife and I a chance to move back home to our hometown to be closer to family and our support system.
I knew the Creative Director from previous conferences that I’ve attended and we stayed connected. So when the Lions’ opportunity opened up, she reached out and we started chatting about the possibilities of re-shaping the photography program in Detroit. Working hard over the years and building a robust portfolio of work from genres such as sports, real estate, food/beverage to portraits really helped make myself more attractive as a possible candidate. I integrated my background in design with my experience in photography, which made me more flexible and able to quickly settle into the role. My experience shooting various types of content – not just sports – enabled me to hit the ground running and capture diverse content for various department needs.
What is your number one focus when it comes to your work?
The number one focus is making sure we capture everything with a stylistic but authentic manner. We want to be that “fly on the wall” when we are documenting these events and games, but we have designed a photo treatment that is special to our team and our visual branding that helps our images stand out from everyone while also embodying the spirit of Detroit. Another main thing we focus on is making sure everyone feels supported through our photography, from players to coaches and even leadership. Having them feel confident in our work, giving us trust to be places to help document, and giving us the autonomy to tell the story through our lens is so important to what we do.
Can you tell us about a time you failed and what you learned from it?
During one of the media shoots in Miami, we had two days to capture headshots and full-body images for 80-90 players. With the large quantity of players coming through, we found ourselves working quickly and rushing through all of their poses. During the rush, I didn’t notice that images had stopped loading onto our computer, so we lost the image collection for a player. Thankfully it was only one player, and he was extremely understanding and accommodating, so we were able to redo the shoot the next day. From then on, we made sure we had a digital tech at all of our bigger shoots to review images on the card and computer before the player left the set. This insured that all images were accounted for and any possibility of missing the shot was ruled out.
What are you excited about in your industry at the moment?
One of the things I’m most excited to see in the NFL is the increased diversity between gender and race in these roles. It has continued to grow over the past few years and being a witness to it all has been amazing. There are now many more females in this role that was dominated by males for such a long time. There is also much more cultural diversity from employees in these roles as well. I remember when I first started, there were not many Asian Americans working in these fields, even as a freelancer. Now, there are so many more people who look like me in these roles and it’s wonderful to showcase ourselves and our backgrounds within this industry. We have the ability to serve as examples for younger generations of Asian Americans, and our representation should help inspire them to reach their dreams and obtain these roles one day.
If you could change one thing about your Industry, what would you change?
I would change the “hustle culture” of working in sports. Often in this industry, for many years and still to this current day, there is a culture of working harder than your peers to get ahead. This is especially true in the creative space in sports, where there are so many people working extremely long hours to get projects done for so many stakeholders that they end up never having a life outside of work and eventually burn out. I would love to see more leaders acknowledge this and help find the support that they need to balance out their work and personal lives so that these creative roles in sports can be sustainable long term. I am blessed and lucky to say that the Lions organization realized this and has been a huge supporter of work-life balance as well as offering support for the team’s workload when the demand of work spikes. This isn’t often the case with other teams, which is a testament to our amazing leadership and ownership at the Lions.
Sport is a hectic industry, what do you do to switch off?
Normally during the offseason, I take a lot of time away from work to try and spend it with my wife exploring new places, trying new foods and learning about new things in the world. Now that we have a 6-month-old daughter, our time is dedicated to her. I now find so much joy in being with them and trying to be the best dad I can to our little girl. I hope that I can take my personal skill and knowledge of photography to use at home to help document her life as she’s growing up.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to someone wanting to work in the sports industry?
Never underestimate the power of networking. Get to know as many people as you can within the industry you want to be in as well as outside of it. You never know what opportunities might open because you build a great relationship with someone. My best advice I give to anyone who is coming up in their careers is: Ask a lot of questions, work hard, and show kindness to everyone you come across. Do these things and over time success will follow.
How to follow Jeff Nguyen…
My personal photography IG is: Jeffnguyenphoto
Our Lions Photogrpahy specific IG is: Lionsphotog
Thanks for reading our chat with Jeff Nguyen! If you want to read more from our Industry Insider series, you can do so by clicking here.