Archive for the ‘NBA Photography 101’ Category

We all go through our own individual challenges from day to day. Maybe you ride your bike to work and it bugs you that the very first part of your ride is an incline and your legs don’t even really have a chance to warm up before you get going, but there’s no way to get around it because that’s the way you have to go. Maybe your dog is just a little too fat and needs to lose 20 percent of her body weight so she has to eat the most disgusting food imaginable, which means you’re handling room temperature tripe patties first thing in the morning. Maybe you’re not sure if the beef vindaloo in the fridge is still good, but you want to eat it so you’re willing to risk a little belly hurt. I don’t know, these are just some random things that you might have to confront from time to time. All I’m saying is, we all have frustrations we have to deal with.

Take Kevin Durant, for instance. While he was filming his new movie, “Thunderstruck,” he had to do something he hates doing. From the Oklahoman:

Heard you had some trouble deliberately missing shots.

“You guys know me, every time I get out on a court I try to get a little better. I was out there making a few shots, but once they yelled ‘action’ I had to miss. It’s difficult to try to miss shots after so many years of trying to make them, but I figured it out. It worked out well.”

Can you imagine how much Kevin Durant hated going in to a gym, having a basketball in his hands and having to miss shot after shot? That’s pretty much antithetical to every gym trip he’s made since he learned about basketball and I’m sure he couldn’t wait until they were done filming so he could get back to making shots to make up for the ones that missed. Though I guess he’d have to make double so that he could cancel out the misses. I’m not a basketball mathematician, but that seems logical.

I also really like that he had problems actually missing. I can just imagine him making like 10 shots in a row and telling the directors, “I’m sorry. I really am trying to miss” and then shrugging his shoulders because he’s too good of a shooter to remember how to miss. Though I guess if they really wanted someone to miss jumpers, they could have just hired Kendrick Perkins. Movie might not have been as big of a draw, but at least they could tap in to the horror genre.

This photograph, taken by Brian Babineau at Sunday’s game between the Memphis Grizzlies and the Boston Celtics, is elegant yet simple. In many ways it’s far more elegant and far simpler than the average sports photograph. Everyone in the photograph is in motion, but it possesses a certain stillness: The way the out-of-focus ball hovers alongside the hand of the largely unseen Memphis guard; the calm focus that pervades Rajon Rondo’s face; even Jermaine O’Neal, whose mid-jog stride puts him most clearly in motion, doesn’t look hurried or strained.

Despite that stillness, it tells an elaborate, even familiar story. The unseen guard is bringing the ball up the floor. Rondo, casually keen, begins to square himself to the ball-handler and prepares to defend the play. O’Neal is headed into the paint. Only Rondo is in focus and yet a vision of the whole floor fills our imagination. It’s not difficult to see the wings trotting towards their perches along the 3-point line, the members of Memphis’ frontcourt planting themselves on either block or the defenders bending their knees and spreading their arms, readying themselves for what’s ahead.

It’s unclear which play this moment precedes, and yet it so resembles any old play that it brings a vivid picture of what’s beyond the edges of the photograph to mind. Rondo is looking in the direction of the camera, but it’s almost as if the viewer can see the court with the sets of eyes he has in the front and on the back of his head.

The elaborate story told by this simple photograph is largely due to the near perfect manner in which Babineau has framed the shot. He manages to clearly distinguish between the main subject, foreground and background, yet he obscures the latter two in a way that sparks our curiosity. In part we’re curious because, unlike much of sports photography, it’s a moment we’ve not merely seen countless times but lived as well.

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It’s not clear exactly when photographer Mike Ehrmann snapped this photograph of San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. We know it was taken Tuesday night, sometime during the Spurs loss to the Miami Heat, but it’s unclear during what quarter it was taken, much less what specific play prompted such a sullen reaction from the incessantly cheery Popovich. There’s a temptation to assume it came during the 3rd quarter, during which the Heat outscored the Spurs 39-14, but it’s entirely believable that a minor error during a more competitive period of the game would elicit a similar reaction from Coach Pop.

Photographing a coach is wholly unlike photographing a player. Like the man himself, photographs of the coach are more divorced from the action. Although this photograph is uniquely unspecific — without the date or caption provided by Getty, it’s unclear if the Spurs are even playing at home or away — most any photograph of a coach will offer few hints as to what was going on elsewhere on the court when the photograph was taken. Of the cast of characters populating these nightly dramas, coaches can be some of the most expressive — in some sense the coaches are the only ones whose articulated task is to express themselves — and yet why they look anguished or angry or overjoyed is often uncertain.

In this instance, Ehrmann has captured a rather poignant moment. Popovich is being very expressive but he is not expressing himself. His gesture and gaze are turned inward. It’s not clear whether he’s deep in thought or merely taking a moment to manage the emotional fallout of an especially erratic performance by his team. Either way, what he’s not doing is actively trying to communicate anything to his players or assistants. (Although given what a respected coach he is, a frustrated sigh may be all he needs to get his point across at times.) He’s not calling a play, offering words of encouragement or pointing out an error. If anything, the photo gives the false impression that he’s not even watching the game.

The photographer is tapping into something very distinct and powerful about photography: It’s a more effective medium for capturing the pain of loss than joy.

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Graydon Gordian has been reading a lot of photo criticism and theory lately, so he thought it’d be interesting to break down noteworthy NBA photos from time to time. We agree. It’s called NBA Photography 101.

In some very basic sense, this photograph is a remarkable achievement, both technologically and artistically. Except for LeBron James’ right hand, which is slightly out of focus, the camera has managed to capture a highly dynamic, split-second occurrence with the clarity of a posed photograph. That may seem unremarkable, but plenty of people can remember a day when such a physically dynamic moment could not be captured so crisply.

It’s also a well-framed photo given photographer Ezra Shaw’s constraints. His subjects are all in nearly constant motion, yet he manages to place both James and David Lee in a position where the eye naturally moves back and forth between the two.

Honestly the photo could be largely blurry and poorly framed, but if it managed to cleanly record the facial expressions of James and Lee, it’d be worth saving. Physically, their faces are surprisingly similar — mouths open, jaws tight, eyebrows crinkled. But context suggests their respective reactions to what has just occurred are rather different: James has an air of unbridled enthusiasm mixed with slightly self-conscious pomposity; Lee betrays the particular kind of astonishment we feel when caught off guard by something we should have anticipated. There’s also a hint of frustration in his eyes.

If their facial expressions are the most remarkable element of the photo — and they are — it’s worth asking whether or not we should even really credit the photographer. Were this a photo shoot, one might give the photographer credit for his or her editorial direction. (Picture Annie Leibovitz asking James to “look fierce.”) And it’s not like that distinct combination of patience and intuition with which the most brilliant photographers are blessed led Shaw to stumble upon James in a private moment of high emotion as no NBA player may be more uninterruptedly conscious of the fact that he’s being observed than LeBron James.

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