Editing photos from the University of Dayton vs. New Mexico men's basketball game today led me to consider the relationship between art and sports. Reviewing my galleries, most sports editors would agree my work isn't always suitable for the news pages. Frankly, I like it that way.
I don't see a scene in terms of whether it follows all the rules for sports photojournalism (every frame needs a ball and face, for example). Instead, I consider the available light, the personality of the subject, and the aesthetic of the form. I photograph sports to capture the beauty of the game, and that often means ignoring the box scores.
Studying art history in college, I was drawn to baroque painting. Though formal portraits, stark landscapes, and abstract splashes of color all have their merits, the candid movement and intensity from artists like Caravaggio most inspire me when it comes to photographing athletes. The lights, the darks, and the passion motivate me to find similar scenes on the court.
Backdrops are enormously important in achieving this look. Distractions can be minimized by shooting with a wide open aperture. (The basketball shots here were taken at f/2.0.) Well-placed, careful dodging and burning in post processing can be helpful as well.
Perhaps most important is the venue. Who hasn't seen the shots from Ali in the ring or Jordan taking flight in the old Chicago Stadium? What helps those photographs stand out from the rest -- beyond the incomparable gravitas of the subjects -- is the jet black background.
UD Arena in Dayton offers such a stage. The historic building, unveiled in 1969 and recently remodeled, has hosted more NCAA tournament games than any other venue in the nation. Its house lights are always turned down, spotlights are centered on the court, and the scene resembles that of a prize fight.
On Saturday, I shot Dayton's double overtime 76-73 victory over the New Mexico Lobos. Inexplicably graceful athletes, including standouts Chris Wright and Drew Gordon, combined with a cinematic location and passionate fans to create a perfect setting.
Although college basketball isn't as dangerous as an historic battle or as choreographed as a performance of The Nutcracker Suite, many of its freeze frames can be just as striking.
Consider these examples:
Readers, what motivates your style of shooting? Is it the editorial requirement for an assignment? Artists of other mediums? The imagery from a particularly memorable dream you had last night?
Sports fans, which do you prefer seeing in your daily paper? Stock issue photographs from the foul line, or an artistic look at sports from a different point of view?