The Emotionally True Exception

Gary Splash’s Robert Eldridge (top) shoots up and over Lansing’s Carlos Gill during the fourth quarter at the Genesis Center in Gary, Ind., Sunday, April 17, 2011.

With the NBA playoffs underway, and scores of local fans chasing after the bandwagons of their “favorite” teams, I decided to dig through my archives and pull some of my favorite basketball images from the 2010-2011 season. While there are a couple of images from college and semi-pro teams, the majority of them were shot at high school matches. High school games always seem more emotionally “true” for some reason, probably because the players are in it strictly for the love of the sport, free from the haze of endorsement deals and celebrity pomp.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to share with you another one of those morsels of truth I promised you when this blog got off the ground. Ready? While I enjoy photographing sports, I’m not a sports fan at all. I could care less about your fantasy (fill in the blank) league, and the only reason I know how American football is played is from photographing it all these years.

Despite my general disinterest in sports as a fan, basketball is the one I can make an exception for. I really enjoy watching basketball as a spectator in addition to photographing the action. The game play is very quick, often aggressive, and (save for a foul-heavy game) is free of the constant procedural stoppages that often make American football all but a bore.

My favorite basketball images are usually ones where the sport begins to blur with a heavyweight bout or a fourth-quarter football touchdown attempt at third and goal. I love aggressive battles for rebounds under the rim, as well as players sprawling out on the floor fighting for a loose ball. Images of players simply shooting the ball, while sometimes holding huge storytelling information (like a game-winning three-pointer), are generally pretty boring to me, and I try to avoid filing them unless I have to.

I light every basketball game I shoot, and have done so since 2004. I use everything from Elinchrom Style 600 units with sport reflectors on down to cheap Vivitar 285HV’s. While my current Canon 1D Mark IV cameras are more than capable or shooting in available light in most gyms, the polished look that strobes deliver simply cannot be beat. I love the way strobes cut out players from busy, cluttered backgrounds – the colors pop, the edges are sharp, and the player’s physical forms are sculpted and well-defined.  Additionally, images properly exposed on strobes often require little to no toning, a plus for both myself and the people at the desk when shooting on a tight deadline.

See if you can tell the difference between the cheap strobes and the big guns in the images featured in this entry, and check back soon for a blog where I’ll explain how I use both systems to light a variety of venues, usually in under ten minutes.

Battles for loose balls that end up on the floor, such as this one, are among my favorite thing to photograph at a basketball game. Here, Gary Lew Wallace’s Maurice Thurmond (center) fights for a loose ball with St. Louis Soldan’s Pete Sanders (bottom) and Kawan Griffin during the first quarter at the Martin Luther King Heritage Shootout Classic held at Lew Wallace High School in Gary, Ind., Saturday, January 15, 2011.

When everything comes together just right, a high school game can offer you opportunities to create images of players taking flight in NBA form! Merrillville’s Jeremiah Jones (center) dunks against Lake Central’s Max Faulkner (right) during the third quarter at Merrillville High School in Merrillville, Ind., Friday, December 17, 2010.

While it may appear as though these players are lamenting their defeat, they were actually joined in a thankful prayer after a sectional victory. Gary Roosevelt’s Ashley Anderson (center) prays with teammates after defeating Lew Wallace during the girls basketball sectional championships at Roosevelt High School in Gary, Ind., Saturday, February 12, 2011.

This image might appear somewhat pedestrian, but I felt this moment of sportsmanship displayed between these rival Gary, Indiana, teams was worth capturing. After all, anyone who’s ever been to a Gary Roosevelt vs. Gary Lew Wallace game knows the resulting uneasy, often riotous atmosphere in the gymnasium hangs heavily throughout the entire game. Roosevelt’s Michael Jenkins (left) and Jordan Grant help up Lew Wallace’s Branden Dawson following a play during the second quarter at Lew Wallace High School in Gary, Ind., Friday, February 18, 2011.

Valparaiso’s Adam Butterfield (right) jumps to block a shot by Crown Point’s Michael Albrecht during the second quarter at Valparaiso High School in Valparaiso, Ind., Tuesday, December 14, 2010.

The newspaper I shoot for most frequently, The Post-Tribune, recently switched to a tabloid format, necessitating a horizontally composed image to be filed from each game for possible cover art. I would have normally cropped vertically to #1 and #20 above, but I left this image wide to include the maroon defenders rushing down court. Sometimes a little context helps to tell the story. East Chicago’s Jerrick Ware (left) shoots against Thea Bowman’s Marc Seylan during the second quarter at East Chicago Central High School in East Chicago, Ind., Tuesday, February 22, 2011.

I didn’t know who Skylar Diggins was when I photographed Notre Dame against Valparaiso women’s basketball back in December, but I sure knew who she was when she led her team to the NCAA women’s championship game this spring. Rapper Lil Wayne proclaiming his adoration for her also increased her presence on my radar. Valparaiso’s Tabitha Gerardot (left) goes up for a rebound against Notre Dame’s Skylar Diggins (center) and Devereaux Peters during the first half at the Athletics and Recreation Center at Valparaiso University in Valparaiso, Ind., Monday, December 20, 2010.

The resulting fan scrum from Bishop Noll’s semi state basketball victory was among the most alarming situations I’ve been in as a professional photographer. As I ran onto the court, I was knocked to my knees by hundreds of hot, screaming bodies washing in behind me. I managed to keep my camera above water, and ended up with a nice “hail-mary” image of Noll players celebrating amongst the wave of fans. Bishop Noll’s Ronnye Beamon (top, center) celebrates with teammates and fans after defeating Tipton at the class 2A semi state championship game held at Huntington North High School in Huntington, Ind., Saturday, March 19, 2011.

Posted in Photography, Photojournalism, Sports by Guy Rhodes on May 11th, 2011.

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