NBA Behind The Scenes: The Photo Game (Part Two)


BROOKLYN Earlier this week, I spent an evening shadowing Nathaniel Butler from NBA Photos as he photographed the Trail Blazers-Nets game in Brooklyn. During the game, Butler gave me a camera and let me shoot the action. What follows are some of the images I took that night, with my thoughts and comments below each picture. These pictures have not been cropped or color-corrected or anything else. This is what I shot … for better, or for, probably mostly, worse.


As the Blazers took the floor to warm up directly in front of me, Nic Batum started hoisting 15-footers from the right wing. I picked up my camera, zoomed in a bit, half-pushed the button down to make sure the image was focused, and then fired off the shot. What I didn’t account for was that Batum would jump when he shot, so my photo chopped off his arms and the ball.


Once the game started, sure enough the Nets ran a play to get Kevin Garnett a shot at the top of the key. I saw the play developing and as soon as KG caught the ball and squared up, I took this picture. Unfortunately, as you may notice, I managed to capture all of the players out of focus. But the basket support and the fans in the front rows are crystal clear. Also, terrific job by me to cut off the shot clock.


It didn’t take me long to figure out that it was much easier to take portrait-style shots when the action had slowed down. Here Portland coach Terry Stotts gives his best, “Are you sure about that?” look to one of the refs. Also, I just clipped the top of his head.


According to the game recap, on this play Portland’s Joel Freeland had his shot blocked by Brooklyn’s Andray Blatche. I obviously missed the moment. In my version, Freeland appears to be attempting a backward shot.


Eventually I started getting the hang of timing the photo so I could catch the ball just as it was being released. But even when you get the timing right, you have to nail the focus. As I did not in this picture of Mo Williams shooting.


As the Nets made a run in the second quarter, Jason Terry went up for a three on the wing and drained it. The crowd had been rowdy for a few plays leading up to this, and as the ball neared the rim, I suspected he might do his trademark “jet” celebration if the shot dropped. It did, but I still wasn’t able to catch Terry in full flight.


When I took this picture, I thought I caught Garnett blocking a shot. He was credited with a block and Thomas Robinson missed this shot. Looking at it now, it’s obvious Garnett got mostly wrist.


One of the coolest things about sitting so close to the action is being able to hear the chatter on the floor. After Portland scored a bucket on one possession, as Terry inbounded the ball he called over to Stotts, who was JT’s coach in Atlanta and an assistant with the Mavericks when Terry played there. They shared a moment, apparently over the play the Blazers had just run.


As Paul Pierce and Batum battle for a rebound, check out Reggie Evans in the bottom of the frame tumbling toward me. He stopped before he got to me, luckily. As it turned out, the closest I came to getting involved in the game was once when a ball rolled over to me after a whistle had blown, and another time when Batum saved a ball, and his sneaker barely grazed my sneaker as he turned to run back up court.



Just because we had this high tech flash system rigged into the rafters didn’t mean it worked every time. When a ball was loose on the court, both Livingston and Lillard dove on top of it, and I was ready to capture the moment. Only the flashes weren’t, as you can see in the first image. The second image was the first time I was able to click after the flashes had reset. I felt like I was on “Jeopardy!” and had buzzed in too soon and was being forced to wait before I could buzz in again.


I found myself taking pics of Robin Lopez just because he was so interesting to look at. Unfortunately his twin brother, Brook, was injured and didn’t play, ruining my plans to document the clash of the Lopez brothers.


It’s funny how context goes out the window in some photos. Wesley Matthews had a big game against the Nets, finishing with 24 points. This picture makes him look as though he was celebrating after knocking down a crucial jumper in the run of play. In actuality, he was gesturing toward the bench asking about a defensive rotation while the Nets were shooting a free throw.


Another thing’s J.A. Adande had mentioned to me (see part one) was that just because you sit so close to the action, it doesn’t mean you always have a clear view. I spent a lot of time looking at the back of referees, in this case Tony Brothers. The saving grace was that as the ball neared the rim, the referees along the baseline would generally move out away from the basket, in order to give themselves a larger view of the action. In turn, this would give me a clearer view of the action.


As Matthews waited to throw an inbounds pass, I was looking at him through my viewfinder and noticed a row of arena lights just above his head, so I tried to get mildly artistic and take a photo with a little something odd but interesting happening in it. Actually, if you crop the ref out of this picture, it might be pretty cool.


KG. Enough said.


Much like the Matthews photo earlier, here’s one that, out of context, looks like Joe Johnson is bemoaning the Nets loss, the kind of photo you might see on the back of a newspaper with a provocative headline like BROOKLYN MESS. But actually, I took this in the third quarter with the game tied. Johnson was just wiping sweat from his face with his jersey.


Blazers win! And even though I had about three hours of experience under my belt, I still cut off the player’s feet in the frame.


  1. Patrick says:

    Great Story!


  2. Ros says:

    I didn´t know that were flashes at the top!!So interesting!

  3. ism says:

    This is a great idea and a reason why this blog is and has developed into something more than just trivia stuff. The NBA has been a league with tremendous photo coverage, and this in a very fast-paced sport. Kudos for lifting the curtain a bit because Mr. Butler & Co. are doing a consummate job and even I don’t know their names.

  4. ism says:

    Oh, and I might add: I am not a professional phtographer either but I would love to take the challenge and try to shoot some pictures better than yours, Lang. ;>

  5. Justin says:

    This is pretty much what I want to do in my future and I think this was an amazing story. Just by reading it I had learned a lot of new things. I really hope one day I could be sitting court-side doing the same thing. This has been my dream for so many years hopefully it will become true one day soon. Overall I must say this story was a great read.

  6. Volcano says:

    Wow that must be a cool job. Nice job Lang for your first time

  7. EXDS says:

    Thanks for sharing the experience! I’ve always wondered what it would be like to photograph an NBA game from the baseline!

  8. now i wanna be an NBA photographer

  9. digital says:

    Have you ever considered about including a
    little bit more than just your articles? I mean, what you say is valuable and everything.
    However think about if you added some great photos or videos
    to give your posts more, “pop”! Your content is excellent but with pics and video clips, this
    blog could undeniably be one of the greatest in its field.
    Fantastic blog!

  10. Lang Whitaker says:

    Thanks everyone!

  11. César says:

    Awesome article! More so for a sports photography and NBA lover like me!