Shooting the NBA’s Magic vs. Clippers Game

Last Tuesday I shot the Orlando Magic vs. the LA CLippers—-my first NBA game shoot of the year (and only my third NBA game shoot ever), and thought I’d share a few shots from the game here.

The Fisheye Strikes Again!
When my buddy Erik Kuna (head of our Video Operations) and I got to the brand new Amway Center arena in Orlando, the doors hadn’t opened yet, so I grabbed my 10.5mm fisheye lens and headed up as high as I could go to capture this view of the arena. I actually took quite a few HDR shots while I was up there, and processed them using three different HDR programs, but I didn’t think any of them looked as good as just the single image with Nik Software’s Color Efex Pro 3.0 applied using the preset “Tonal Contrast” and that’s what you see above (click on the image for a much larger view).

What a Difference an Extra 100mm Makes
This was the first basketball game I got to shoot with my 300mm f./2.8 lens, and I have to say having that extra 100mm made a bigger difference than I thought. The past two games I just had my 70-200mm, which works pretty well when they’re down at the end of the court where I’m shooting from, but when they were at the other end, I got to the point where I just laid my camera in my lap and waited for the action to come my way.

But with the 300mm, I spent most of my time shooting at the other end of the court, because when I turned the camera vertically, I could fill the screen with the action. Plus, you can’t compare the quality of the shallow depth of field at f/2.8 on the 300mm with the 200mm. There’s just something really special about it.

On my 2nd body: the 24-70mm f/2.8
When the action did come to my end, I mostly shot with my 24-70mm f/2.8 so I could capture wide shots like this (cropped using my Cinematic Cropping technique–link). Of course, I missed a bunch of tight-in stuff around the basket, but I was able to grab a few with my 70-200mm (I switched back and forth between the 70-200mm and the 24-70mm during the game).

Above: Here’s one of those shots caught with the 70-200mm, at 112mm (and even at that I cut off the Magic player’s feet). That’s the Clipper’s 6’10” star rookie Blake Griffin in mid air shot above.

Above: One of my favorite shots from the game. I just love the expression on Blake’s face.

Above: Orlando’s superstar Center, 6’11” Dwight Howard jams one during the first period. By the end of the game, I had so many shots of player’s jamming the ball, I intentionally had to look to shoot something else. Thanks to that 300mm I’ve got ’em hanging from the rim, going up in the air from every angle, and lots of shots along those same lines, like the one you see below shot at the far end of the court.

Above: here’s one more uncropped 300mm shot, and you can see why I love this lens for getting in tight. I shot at 1,250 to 1,600 ISO all night (the lighting in this new arena was really pretty darn good).

Above: Here’s my final shot of the game; of Clipper’s 6’11’ Center DeAndre Jordan (the other famous Jordan basketball player). I actually did get to see Michael Jordan play once in my life, in Orlando, when the Bulls played the Magic many years ago. My brother and I drove over and bought tickets from a scalper outside the arena. We paid quite a bit, because our seats were right down in front. At least, that’s why the scalpers printed arena seat map showed, but once we actually got inside, we learned they had reversed the seat map and our Row AA seats, weren’t down low, but at the beginning of the top section. It was still great (and we got to watch the last period from some great seats down low).

Another Learning Experience
Every time I shoot another game, I learn a lot more. Having the right equipment here helped a lot, but sitting directly next to the guy shooting for AP Wire Service was a bigger education. I paid close attention to when he shot, what he was shooting (I peaked quite a lot while he was chimping), and which lenses he used when (yup, he had a 300mm too, plus a camera mounted on the basket which he fired remotely with a Pocket Wizard). Like anything you want to get good at, it takes practice, and although I felt like I did much better at this game than I had at my previous two, I still need a lot more practice. Luckily, that’s something I’m not afraid to do.

Above: Erik Kuna took this shot of me (shooting out wide at 24mm), from the other end of the court (we got split up on opposite ends because it was unusually crowded with photographers that night). You can see me in the middle, a very nice NAPP member I met shooting the game, and the guy from AP who unwittingly helped me learn a lot that night. Click for a larger view.

One more thing
Nothing makes the game better than a win for the home team, and the Magic did just that, beating the Clippers 101 to 85.

My thanks to my buddy Erik, to the Magic’s Dante Marchitelli, and to all the great folks at the Orlando Magic for having me and Erik, and for how great they treat photographers shooting the game. It totally rocked!

  1. Are your photos turning out about right in the computer or are you adjusting the exposure much in Lightroom? I am currently trying to cover our high school basketball team and I realize our local gym isn’t like an NBA stadium but I’m having to shoot at 6400 ISO at 2.8 on the 70-200mm and still having to make them a little brighter in LR. If I don’t shoot at 6400, my camera can’t stay at 1/500, which is where I need it to get the better focus. I’m shooting on a Canon 7D and I realize you are Nikon, I was just wondering your opinion on whether I could blame the lack of NBA lighting or if there was something else I could try.

    Here’s a sample if the link works

    Thanks so much! Love these that you have pictured and can’t wait to see some more!

    1. Allison, I didn’t see your post until I finished mine, but I’ve shot at the same settings you listed using a 70-200 (Nikon). Overall, I haven’t had to brighten my shots very often (other than some faces here and there). I definitely think the pro lighting vs. high school gym lighting makes a huge difference though. All of the gyms are going to be a bit different, so depending on where you shoot the adjustments that you have to make in post-processing will probably always be a little different.

      1. Thanks so much for the reply, Trask! I’m just glad to know that I’m not the only one stretching my camera at 6400! lol. Our high school is going to the State playoffs next week, which is big for us, so I’m hoping we play some bigger schools with better lighting. Also hoping we win as well! ;-)

    2. Hi Allison:
      I didn’t have to adjust the Exposure at all on these. I shot in JPEG mode, at around 1,250 to 1,600 ISO, which gave me shutter speeds over 1/1000 the entire game at f/2.8 which was my f/stop for the night on both cameras (shooting in Aperture Priority mode). Of course, the light in NBA arenas is pretty decent since they broadcast the games on TV, so it makes shooting a lot easier than it would be in a high school gym, which is where I think your problems are coming from.

      Are you shooting in Manual mode or Aperture Priorty?


      1. Thanks for the reply! Yeah, I am shooting in Manual because sometimes in AP mode, the shutter would be too slow. It’s a lot of fun, regardless, to try and get the “game shot”. And I do think it has a lot to do with the gym too. Maybe one day I’ll compare them with one of my NBA shoots. lol!! ;-)

      2. Ah, I should have asked you the same questions that Scott asked. That explains why your shots are dark. If you shoot in Aperture Priority at 2.8 and you’re not getting a fast enough shutter speed, then your only option is to keep raising the ISO. If you switch to manual and make the shutter speed faster without raising the ISO, it will darken your exposures. The only way to improve the situation is to have a camera that performs better at high ISOs, have a lens that’s faster than 2.8 (which would mean using a fixed focal length), or to shoot in a place with better light (but you don’t have any control over that). I’d better stop posting comments on this blog entry before everyone gets sick of seeing my face, ha ha.

      3. I’ve had the same issues in shooting my kid’s basketball game. The only success I had recently was with my Canon T2i, a 50mm f/1.8 lens wide open, Manual mode with 1/500 shutter speed and ISO 6400. Doing that worked out and made them properly exposed. However I have to shoot raw so that I can get the images looking good in Lightroom at ISO6400. The NR there works great on Raw but not half as well on jpg.

  2. Beautiful shots Scott. As usual, I’m jealous. I just shot my 3rd basketball game too, but it was youth basketball. I still learn everything I can from your experiences though and put it to good use. I got my small “canoe” chair to use and it was much better than sitting without one. Other than all the obvious differences between pro sports and small-time local sports that I’m jealous of, I’m also jealous of the lighting. I often have to shoot at ISO 6400 (or greater) to get anything decent at local gyms, football fields, etc. Shooting at 1600 would be sweet. I already knew that to shoot at the pro level someday that I’d need a 400mm for football, and now you tell me that I’d also need a 300mm for basketball. Man, it’s going to take a lot longer than I’d like to even attempt to get credentialed to shoot any pro sports because it will be quite a long time before I’ll have all the gear. Oh well, more time to keep practicing locally. Keep sharing your experiences with us, and I’ll keep learning from you. Regarding your tonal contrast/single exposure shot vs. using hdr, I’ve had similar experiences. The single exposure often comes out looking better, but you never know until you try both.

    1. Hi Michael:
      I try to keep them around 1/1000 of a second, but sometimes they’re higher, and I saw some fall as low as 1/800. I just don’t want under 1/640, and I’d love them to stay around 1/1000 or higher.


  3. Dang!
    These are really good.
    I tried shooting at my high school basketball game with a mediocre lens and the results were ok.

    But after looking at this… :)
    I guess the expensive lens’ does make a difference in sportz photography

    I wish I could shoot like this… :(

    So, who were you voting for in the game?

    1. Hi Ritivik:
      Unfortunately, shooting is sports is one of those where the equipment really does make a big difference (or they wouldn’t be able to sell lenses for $9,000).

      I grew up about an hour from Orlando, so of course I was rooting for the Magic, as always. :)


      1. Lakeland FTW!

        Hope that Sports Photography pre-con we spoke about last week eventually materializes. My 70-200 VR1 arrives on Wednesday :)

  4. Fascinated by your comment about basket mounted cameras. I’m surprised that much access is permitted. Would you have a photo of them to share, or if not, maybe you could share one from your next game. The sport does nothing for me, but your photos are great!

    1. There are remote cameras at every game; some used by the official team photographer, and some used by major wire services and magazines, and those have special permission to mount cameras well before game time. The guy shooting for AP sitting next me, had one of those cameras and a remote trigger. At half time, he went and pulled the card out of one of them. I saw the shots he got. Amazing!


      1. Scott Great job man! Shots look great! I didn’t know that there are remote cameras at every game. That’s crazy! So do they just pre-focus them to get the shot? I’m assuming they aren’t taking really close up shots of players right? Probably just wider shots? Also did you get to move around much or were you pretty stationary?

  5. Hi Scott,

    Did you bring a camping chair? One of the nylon covered foam-core ones with the straps? If you didn’t I bet your back was killing you. I shoot basketball for my university and the chairs are an absolute must. Just something I wanted to pass along to anybody who might be shooting from the court.


    1. Chase,
      Scott did indeed learn that lesson the first time that he shot an NBA game, so I’m assuming he brought his chair with him to this game. I recently bought one myself, so I agree that they are a “must”.

    2. Hi Chase:
      You know I did! Not only that, I had Erik pick up one, too and he loved it (we both were chairless at my first Magic shoot, and it was brutal). I wrote about the chair in my coverage of the Chicago Bulls game.


  6. Hi,
    similar weekend for me (shooting at the UK Indoor Athletics trials). Hired a 300 2.8 for the weekend (£43! – was worth every penny on my D700). Still ended up shooting at 6400 most of the time as the lighting was ok but not great. Spent a lot of time next to a pro from London. He had a D3S with 200-400 zoom, a D3 with 70-200 as backup, and trackside he was running a D700 with 16-35VR on a remote trigger that went off each time he triggered it from one of the other cameras. I felt very lightweight next to him, but he was kind enough to pass on a few focusing tips to a newbie.
    The experience was fab and I was the only photographer in the right place for the winning high jump and was chuffed to get some good pix at the end of the weekend. The 300 2.8 is just soooo nice. But I know that to afford one I’ll have to practice, practice, practice.

    1. Hi Andy:
      I love your story, and congrats on getting that winning high jump shot. That is really a thrill! Luckily for us, we can rent lenses when we need them, and of course, there’s that whole pesky practicing thing. Hey, there are worse things than having to shoot a sporting event, eh? :)



      1. Scott,

        many thanks for taking the time to read and reply. Any chance you could share your tips sometimes on focusing/tracking at sports events?



  7. Nice shots Scott! I had the change to shoot some a Junior match yesterday in Valencia, Spain, lighting was awful to say the least, iso 6400 at times with long lens, then used 50mm 1.4 for some other shots. If your interested, they are on “You Tube.”

      1. Thanks Scott, no flash used, although I was tempted to assist the home team (who were being slaughtered) :(

  8. Terrific shots, Scott. The fish-eye shot looks great, and I love the detail on some of the players faces. Thanks for sharing with us the difficulties you had, especially the transition from shooting football to shooting basketball. It really helps to have the right equipment! No shout-out of the name of the NAPP member sitting next to you? Is he not a reader of your blog? :)

    Last week, my camera club went to shoot a local high school hockey game, and I was really challenged to get a good clean shot of the action. I used my D300 and a borrowed 70-200 f/2.8 lens, but was forced to shoot up high in the stands due to the crowd (big rivalry). Pretty good lighting, but I should have had my ISO up a bit more to get a higher shutter speed. Hey, everything looked so sharp on the LCD panel, ya know what I mean?? :D I also didn’t think about the short DOF shooting at f/2.8, so I got some blurry photos of players, but some really sharp photos of the boards behind them! Overall, it was a fun experience, though, and I will do it again.

    Can you talk a bit more about the AP photographer’s basket-mounted camera? Where did he position it? Was his camera the only one there? I know the networks always have a video camera positioned at the top of the backboard, but I have never seen a still camera mounted anywhere on the basket.

    Thanks again and have a great day!


    1. Hi John:
      I wish I had thought to take a shot of it, because last time a lot of people asked about it. I might a LOT more info on shooting a remote camera at an NBA very soon, so……. :)


      1. Scott:

        I watched SportCenter this AM to see the highlights of the Celtics/Heat game and I could see where the still cameras are mounted on the baskets. Very cool, and I don’t know why I never noticed them before. Of course, I pay much more attention to the photographers and their equipment on the sidelines now, for some reason…. :D

        Hope to see your in-depth remote camera exposé soon! ;)


  9. Nice work. Aren’t sports assignments fun? It’s a bit like going hunting. We’re unfortunately NBAless here in my part of Ohio (some might include Cleveland in that statement), but I’m off to shoot the Buckeyes and Michigan State Tuesday night. You should come back to Columbus for a game sometime…

  10. Great shots, Scott. I’ve been shooting basketball games this season for a local college so I appreciate your post. It gives me a lot of great ideas. I notice that you didn’t use a monopod for the 300mm. I assume is has IS (or the Nikon equivalent). Is that how you normally shoot such a large lens at a basketball game? I notice the cool NAPP guy didn’t use one either so perhaps that is the “standard”.

      1. Hey Scott,

        How do you get into a Pro or College football game to shoot. What is the procedure to get credentials. I live in Tampa and would love to do some Gator games next year…or the Bucs. Please any insight? Also, Scott I really like the Training site. I am learning a lot.

        Best Regards,

        Ken Cooper

  11. Hi Scott,

    Awesome shots! Great job. Glad no monopods were harmed during the making of these shots.

    You’re an inspiration! Now if I can just get on the field during a Yankee game, my life would be complete. Having a 300-f/2.8 wouldn’t be bad either!

  12. Of course if you really wanted more practice shooting bball, try it the old way. Get yourself a speed graphic, a big flash, and a dozen or so film holders. With only 24 shots you have to carefully watch the action. And then hustle to the darkroom afterward to prepare a print or two for the morning paper. That will teach you to shoot. You young guys have it too easy. :-)

  13. Hey Scott, Nice shots. (Even though it is basketball.) The football shots are a thousand times better. I love the piece you did with the out takes. Hilarious. My question though is, how does Joe photographer like my self get to games to shoot with the vantage point you have? Can anyone apply for a pass like that, or pay? Last, what is the copyright on stuff like that? Do I need releases to sell for myself? I remember Maisel saying something on the training, that he never gets a release unless it is for commercial. Thanks


  14. Scott:

    I loved the last shot with the two women behind you with p&s cameras looking like it was a job to be at the game. Wonder if they had their flashes going off. I was able to sit 2 rows under the basket at a Nets game years ago. They hassled me about by 80-200mm on a D200. They said no “professional cameras.” I had called before and got an okay for the camera, so when they hassled me I mentioned I took public transit relying on their word, and no place to put it, so they let me in. The rules are king of fast and loose, and the main concern is selling the shots. I did get a great shot of Jason Kidd (I said it was years ago). Great work.

    How are your knees? Carpet installer knee pads can be a great trick.

    Bill Bogle, Jr.

  15. I am going to dig a little deeper into what I think Allison was getting at. I looked at Allison’s shots and James’ and comparing with my own (elementary age) basketball shooting and there is a major spark missing in all of ours compared with Scott’s. I have some guesses as to the difference but am wondering if there is something I am missing to make mine (ours) better. For example in the gyms we all shoot in you get this sick colored background where Scott has the background going to black. Is that only a function of stadium size and/or lighting or is there something I could do to isolate the player better? Also, your colors are so much more vibrant – especially noticeable compared to what I get. Everything seems washed out and blah in my photos – so is this something you add post processing to make the colors so bright? Thanks – I am a relative newbie so any insight is appreciated! Also, fyi i am unable to use flash at the kids games.

    1. Hi Susan:
      There are a couple of things that I think make the difference (and since I didn’t really any color or exposure editing to the images, it’s not the post processing). I think the differences are:

      (1) The lens. I hate to say it, but equipment plays a big role in shooting sports. By be able to shoot at f/2.8, it means I can use lower ISO’s, you get more contrast and better color renditions. I can see a difference shooting at f/2.8 at 1,600 ISO vs. shooting at f/4 at 4,000 ISO when it comes to color and contrast. Also, shots taken with my 300mm f/2.8 look better than shots from just about any other lens I shoot wide open like that.

      (2) The Low-noise camera body. Because the noise is almost not noticeable at 1,600, it makes a difference in the color and contrast, too. I don’t get noise shots at all, and I don’t have to run any noise reduction software which softens the image and softens contrast. Again, I hate to credit the equipment, but….I have to credit the equipment.

      (3) I shoot in JPEG mode for sporting events. The color and sharpness look better coming straight out of the camera, because they camera has already processed the photos, adding sharpening, contrast, color enhancements, and so on, which are all turned off when you shoot in Raw mode.

      (4) The lighting in NBA arenas is actually very good. The light is all focused on the court, and not on the stands, so the player stand out, and the crowd is much darker, so you get some additional visual separation.

      (5) I don’t use any flash whatsoever—just a higher ISO, like 1,250 to 1,600.

      I hope that helps. :)


  16. Great NFL, NBA shots but how about some advice on shooting a real sport, ice hockey. Take in a NHL game and tell us what we need to know when shooting our kids Mites and Pee Wee games … Thanks Scott, great books, and sites.

    1. Done a fair amount of college hockey, some in some pretty small rinks. Shoot through the glass where it is the clearest, a couple feet away from the boards, to get good shots. Find something to white balace with, as the ice, the lights and uniforms can be very challenging with a color cast. I was a goalie, so I tend to concentrate around the net. Shoot from behind over the corner of the net, and don’t get spooked by pucks on the glass. Anticipate the save, you might get the goal, or a great save. Watch for faceoffs, and shoot in continuous bursts. I love the checks along the boards with a wide angle up close, getting the faces and bodies. I use a 70-200 VR most of the time except for the close ups. Push the ISO as high as you can to keep the action from blurring, and shoot wide open. I try to track some players with the puck, or who I know will get the puck. Anticipation and some familiarity will get a lot. Shoot a lot. I hope this helps.

  17. Hi Scott, thanks for all the tips; it really accelerates the learning curve. I’m curious how you set the white balance. I have an Expodisc that works fairly well, but I still find myself adjusting the Temp & Tint in LR. For that reason, I always shoot RAW. I’ve also found that when shooting in the same gym multiple times, I’ll set the Kelvin scale to settings previously used in LR. I’d like to find a better path to streamline the post processing. Thanks, Brad

  18. Fantastic images Scott. Love the fisheye shot. I’m having trouble focusing sometimes when shooting basketball games. What focus mode (manual, single, continuous) and AF Sensor mode (wide area, crosshair, fix) did you use to shoot the game?

      1. Yeah sure!
        It’s not that hard, basically you just need Manfrotto/Bogen Magic Arm and a super clamp which you clamp in to the basket.
        But the most important thing is safety!
        You really need to use safety cables to hold it in place. The shock to the basket is not small when a player dunks.
        Here is photo of my setup, but I will simplify it a little next time:

        The camera is been trigged by PocketWizard radio triggers, as Scott already wrote.

  19. Hi Scott,

    Good job! I love to “know how” it were done.

    Just a question, Do you ever use remote flashes shooting NBA? Other photographers do? Sometimes when I watch the games on TV i can see the “spark” just before a dunk.

    Thanks for your teaching.

    Best wishes from Barcelona,

  20. Couple of things. First, does the lady with the P&S over your left shoulder shoot for SI, or someone else? LOL

    I have to shoot the Ontario Senior Winter Games tomorrow and Thursday (volunteer, working for the Winterfest organizers). Hockey, curling and something called “prediction skating”, whatever that is. I’ve shot my grandson’s hockey with little success but I’ve been afraid to turn up the ISO. I guess I will tomorrow. D300 with 70-200 f/2.8 and 50 f/1.8 and my vantage point is: IN THE PENALTY BOX. Everything else is covered with mesh.

    So I’m guessing I set the ISO so that I’m getting 1/1000 sec spot metered on a player, right? As high as I have to? Do you set the high ISO NR to max? And is there any reason I shouldn’t shoot JPEG? I’m bringing a grey card with me to calibrate the WB (actually the one out of the back of your CS3 book!).

    Wish me luck. Never done this before.

  21. Hi Scott, great shots.
    I particularly like the fish eye shot showing the whole arena. I also really like the effect that Tonal Contrast has on my images. Do you know how it works and if there is a way to replicate what it does in Photoshop?
    I sometimes work on other computers and not everyone has the Color Efex suite but I’d still like to be able to produce a similar effect.


  22. Hey Scott! Great shots.

    I cover the Clippers here in LA for a local paper. I’m a Canon shooter and I’m shooting at ISO2500 @ f/2.8. From the looks of it, the new arena is much brighter than the Staples Center during Clipper games. Funny thing is, the lighting is much more different at a Laker at the same arena.

    Here’s my latest set from the Clippers vs Bulls game…


  23. Scott. Great stuff. Hoops is great. Back in film days I loved using a 35mm and 85 under the basket. 300 is perfect to shoot long. Love the new Arena. Got a chance to sit courtside Christmas day thanks to my son’s employer. We didn’t want to turn it into a shooting safari but I did get some nice snaps with my s90. Lighting is greats, seats were awesome. AP shooter probably was John Raoux. Used to work for the Sentinel, he’s a great guy. Been shooting forever. Here’s one of my s90 pix

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