Sports photography: from camera to cover

By IKU KAWACHI

Avid fans of sports often have beat writers, columnists and even bloggers who they follow on a regular basis, or whose articles to which they have taken a particular liking. It’s safe to say, though, that the photographers, designers and other professionals not directly involved in the “writing” process receive comparatively little exposure outside of the industry. How many of us have thought about the amount of work that goes into photographing a single basketball game? How about the process behind creating the visuals for a story, a sidebar, or a magazine cover?

ESPN.com’s Sept. 24 special feature titled “Snapshots: NBA photographer for a day” gives a rare glimpse into the typical day of a sports photographer. J.A. Adande, a senior sports columnist for ESPN, is assigned to shadow Andrew Bernstein, one of the most accomplished sports photographers in the industry and the current senior director of NBA Photos for NBA Entertainment for a game between the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors. The results are, well, entertaining, to say the least.

The story — told in the form of a slide show — gives sports fans a great perspective into the rigors and challenges that come with sitting courtside and getting off “1,000 shots a night”, as well as some of the tricks of the trade that allow them to take the images that are forever etched into the minds of sports fans. (Bernstein alone shoots using nine different digital SLRs at any given time, six of which are mounted in various spots around the arena and operated via remotes.) It’s worth a look for anyone interested in photography, even those that care little about sports.

Taking the photos is merely the first step, of course. Even the most breathtaking of shot must be carefully post-processed, adjusted, and cropped before it makes its way onto the cover of any publication. Joe Posnanski, a senior writer for Sports Illustrated, put together a purely subjective list of “32 Great Sports Illustrated Covers,” a fascinating mix of covers that feature in-game action shots, portraits, and, sometimes, no photos at all. Many of the cover photos are taken by some of the all-time greats in sports photography, such as Walter Iooss and Robert Riger, and range from Milwaukee Braves third baseman Eddie Matthews hitting a home run in 1954 to Kansas City Royals right-hander Zack Greinke toeing the rubber last season.

The next time you see a neat-looking sports photo, why not take a moment to imagine the kind of work that went into it before it found itself in front of you?

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