Phil Dolinger : the man behind the lens

Students see him on the field taking photos and athletes hope he has captured the perfect moment of their game. But who is this man standing behind the camera?

Phil Dolinger began taking photographs at Chantilly events on a whim in the summer of 2008. Dolinger, then an amateur, noticed an American Legion baseball game being played on the Chantilly field and decided to practice his photography.

Although his photos were not professional, he shared them with Larry Parks, the coach of the team, who eventually shared them with parents of players. Parents and students alike loved the photos and through connections Dolinger started to attend more games.

As he shared more photos, his circle of followers began to grow. Eventually, Dolinger became a familiar name and face in the community.

I like to capture moments, and sports are perfect for creating moments, [like] the catch of [a] football pass or a header in soccer,” Dolinger said.

Important moments in sports games often pass quickly, making it difficult to anticipate the perfect photo. Throughout Dolinger’s years as a sports photographer, he has learned many techniques for getting effective pictures.

“I use a monopod to steady my heavy camera and lens,” Dolinger said. “I have very little time to focus on the athlete when the play is occurring, so I squeeze a burst of three to five photos.”

Lighting tends to be poor on high school fields, which sometimes results in grainy photos. Using Adobe Lightroom and some plugins, Dolinger spends his free time editing photos that people will enjoy.

“If I spend two hours covering a game, I can easily spend two to five hours editing the photos,” Dolinger said. “I do this for each of the 100-300 photos I may choose, out of 1,000-2,000 taken for each game.”

Dolinger’s renowned photography is also possible in part because of his equipment, which he has upgraded over the past eight years, and mentorship from a retired Sports Illustrated photographer.

“[In] the past few years I have also added some special effects, such as a very rough look, which looks good with some sports, such as football,” Dolinger said. “I have also added a GoPro camera, which gives very nice photos of team huddles.”

According to Dolinger, each sport is unique in its own way.

“I hesitate in picking favorites for the fear of offending some sports,” Dolinger said. “Each sport has moments that look dramatic.”

Many students post Dolinger’s photos on social media platforms.

The photos are always really good quality and he always looks for cool ways to capture the moment,” junior Julia Recto said.

Although Dolinger focuses on taking photos at school sports games, he also photographs club sports, such as ice hockey and ultimate frisbee. He has also covered a variety of community events, such as the first Purple Tie Bash Booster fundraiser and a fun run to raise money for sick children.

Photography for Dolinger is not simply about taking photos and sharing them with others; each game involves a closer level of interaction.

“It’s the people – the players, fans, and parents,” Dolinger said. “The interaction with each group is different and very rewarding.”

Having been a part of the community for so long, Dolinger continues to build lasting relationships with families.

“I can ask about an older child who has moved on to college,” Dolinger said. “They can tell me about a younger child on their way to Chantilly, and their hope that I will still be doing this when that child comes to Chantilly.”

Parents also share emotional moments of their sons and daughters’ athletic careers.

“I’m someone they may have come to know a bit, with whom they can share private thoughts,” Dolinger said. “They can share how their child is dealing with an injury that is keeping them out-of-the-lineup, or even one that has ended a high school sports career.”

Dolinger’s main goal with his photography – and not only that of sports – is to capture moments.

“I try to capture the joy of being a student in this part of high school life,” Dolinger said “Moments that I will remember for years and hopefully moments they will remember for years, through photos and through good memories.”