What Makes a Great Basketball Picture? A View of the NBA Finals from Sports Illustrated

Greg Nelson / Sports Illustrated
Greg Nelson / Sports Illustrated
NBA Finals Dallas Mavericks vs. Miami Heat Game 6 at the American Airlines Arena, Miami, Florida, June 12, 2011.

To find out what makes the best basketball photos, LightBox spoke with Marguerite Schropp Lucarelli, a picture editor at Sports Illustrated.

The 2011 NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and championship-winning Dallas Mavericks was one of the biggest sporting events of the year. We assigned three photographers, John W. McDonough, Greg Nelson and Heinz Kluetmeier to cover the six-game series—shooting more than 29,000 images, and eventually culling to 2370 images.

Our photographers use different focal lengths to shoot “long and tight” or “short and wide,” which helps us to tell the story of the contest. We strive to use highly dynamic and resonant pictures that not only capture the action at high velocity, but also the drama and passionate emotion that unfolds on the court (as was the case when Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki plowed into Miami’s Chris Bosh at the baseline.)

The use of well-placed remote cameras—through the glass, on top of the shot clock, on the post, from the floor, under the scorer’s table and from the ceiling—allows the viewer to feel like they are playing the game, too.

Our photographers use advanced lighting techniques. Playing with wireless flashes synced to the cameras or utilizing available light inside the arena can create fun reflections or a theatrical aesthetic to the game. These techniques allow us to capture layups that look more like performances on Broadway than your typical basketball photographs.

With every basketball game, we challenge ourselves to make a new picture. It is paramount that we deliver a different angle with every picture we publish.  People ask, “why do you love it?” I love the challenge! It may take one basketball game or half a season to make a picture come to life—but when it does, it’s worth it.

—Marguerite Schropp Lucarelli, Sports Illustrated Picture Editor

To see more outstanding pictures, download SI’s “Big Ticket” app –a showcase of amazing sports photography.

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