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Photo mystery

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 06, 2009

Hello photographers! I just ran across this photo (via TrueHoop) and was wondering if anyone out there knows how it was made. My guess is a combination of an IR camera, IR spotlight, and a bit of digital darkroom colorization after the fact. How else would you get lighting like that during an actual game? Anyone?

Update: Thanks, gang. Looks like a remotely fired strobe light is the culprit. No IR shenanigans needed.

Reader comments

RyanApr 06, 2009 at 3:52PM

I just saw that and my only thought would be that it was an accident and not all of the photographer’s flashes fired. I could be wrong though.

AJApr 06, 2009 at 3:54PM

IR cameras tend to produce an ambient bloom around people (IR spillover) seen as grain. This is too sharp; if it’s not a specially lit shot, it looks like an intentionally Photoshopped image.

jon_hansenApr 06, 2009 at 3:54PM

Well, the Nets can’t afford lights in their arena right now with attendance and all, so I guess that answers half the question.

Otherwise, I’m not sure…very cool though.

reginaApr 06, 2009 at 3:55PM

i don’t know for sure, but it seems like the light source is coming from somewhere other than the camera’s location. i wonder if this could have been done by selecting out the stars and darkening everything else around. bumping the contrast on the guys to match with the darkness to seem like there’s this one stark light source.

that’s just my humble opinion - i’m honestly as perplexed as you are and excited to see what others opine.

DavidApr 06, 2009 at 3:56PM

I am thinking really really really really powerful remote flash from on top of the net, triggered by the camera, and a really fast shutter speed (1/2000th or more?) and low ISO (like 100)?

Chad BaileyApr 06, 2009 at 3:59PM

I agree with David. It’s most likely a small flash (Speedlite-size) set on fairly high power and triggered remotely. A pretty common way to shoot sporting events like this is to set two remote flashes on stands and figure that they’ll be ‘close enough’ as you move around the arena.

In mixed-light situations, the rule of thumb is shutter speed controls the ambient light and aperture controls the flash light. This looks like one of his flashes didn’t fire, but other than that it’s a pretty standard wide-aperture, fast-shutter flash shot. The color cast of the background is due to the different temperature of the light.

TimApr 06, 2009 at 4:00PM

Generally in this type of setting, pro photographers use ‘house’ strobes up in the ceiling. you just have a jack that you plug into.

perhaps it’s a play on the strobes - like doing really fast sequential photos while the strobes were out and slightly different time before the strobe was at full power or not.

KateApr 06, 2009 at 4:00PM

Well, I can tell you what we know for a fact:
1. Light source is almost directly overhead
2. Light source is stroboscopic or, a hot light bright enough to allow the shooter to fire at 1/60th or faster (practically impossible in this scenario)

The way an image like this COULD be made is with an incredibly powerful strobe, one that is so much stronger than any other light source around it, that the photographer is able to (nay, must) shoot at an extremely narrow aperture in order to have it correctly exposed.

Because the ambient light and the other flashes present are not as strong as the strobe radio-tethered to the shooter’s camera, the result is that all thing not lit by this over-powered strobe are under exposed. This effect could be further enhanced in post.

Chad BaileyApr 06, 2009 at 4:00PM

I agree with David. It’s most likely a small flash (Speedlite-size) set on fairly high power and triggered remotely. A pretty common way to shoot sporting events like this is to set two remote flashes on stands and figure that they’ll be ‘close enough’ as you move around the arena.

In mixed-light situations, the rule of thumb is shutter speed controls the ambient light and aperture controls the flash light. This looks like one of his flashes didn’t fire, but other than that it’s a pretty standard wide-aperture, fast-shutter flash shot. The color cast of the background is due to the different temperature of the light.

AnthonyApr 06, 2009 at 4:01PM

Arenas use house strobes that can be controlled wirelessly. This would only be for 1, or a select few photographers. (Believe it or not, the giant lights don’t usually provide enough power for fast enough shutter speeds to freeze sports action. When you are watching basketball on tv, look for quick flashes at key moments - when someone is making a shot or dunking. Those flashes white out your whole tv screen. You can’t do that with a point-and-shoot flash.) My guess is that this shot was made by a photog who could wirelessly trigger one strobe in this exact spot. It was strategically placed over the basket. You can crank up the power on that one strobe and then underexpose the ambient light way down. Looks like 3 or 4 stops. This is not based on personal experience, but what I haven learned from the Strobist blog.

KateApr 06, 2009 at 4:02PM

The theory of high powered radio-slaved strobe is supported by the great depth of field present in this image - the camera had to be stopped down a great deal.

NoahApr 06, 2009 at 4:07PM

I think the above have it - powerful fast-sync strobe, fast shutter speed, low ISO, narrow aperture. Result: ambient light doesn’t matter, the one strobe dominates, broad depth of field from the aperture. Some selective adjustment of the highlights/shadows in photoshop to exaggerate the effect is also likely.

JoeApr 06, 2009 at 4:22PM

Strobe on top of the backboard fired by a pocket-wizard would be my guess.

From EXIF on the photo - ISO 250, F7.1 for 1/250th of a sec.

Considering a normal exposure on a basketball game is something like ISO 1600, f2 at 1/150th, this seems like it’s pretty in line. Nothing crazy going on here. It’s pretty easy to overwhelm house lights on a game like this even with a relatively small flash.

Stephen VossApr 06, 2009 at 4:39PM

Joe has it right, but light is probably mounted from the rafters pointed down. Given the quick flash duration (in the neighborhood of 1/10,000 second) shutter speed is more or less irrelevant to stopping the action and the extreme exposure variation between strobe and ambient is due to the relatively stopped down aperture.

Stephen VossApr 06, 2009 at 4:46PM

…in addition to the low ISO and shutter speed. Also, most digital slrs max out at around 1/250 flash sync meaning only a section of your photo will be lit if you shoot at higher speeds.

SamuelApr 06, 2009 at 4:56PM

Who even needs the Red camera?

JTApr 06, 2009 at 6:06PM

Been so long since Kottke allowed comments.. just had to get in here and stretch my arms..

*Stretch*

Ahh.. that’s nice.

Thomas Locke HobbsApr 06, 2009 at 6:36PM

C’mon Jason, you love photography so much that you owe it to yourself to learn a little about off camera flash [eg. Strobist].

jamesApr 07, 2009 at 7:23AM

Hi Jason,

It doesn’t look like there are any special cameras or digital darkroom work in that photo. Many of the photographers that posted here such as Anthony have it correct.

The photographer is just triggering one of his (4) lights that are in the ceiling.

It looks dramatic because you’re used to seeing all 4 triggered and the whole court lit up. Most photographers when they photograph basketball use a radio transmitter and 4 radio receivers with 4 lights. You can put them on custom channels to fire them individually. The product (transmitter and receiver) is called a Pocket Wizard.

So anyone could do the same thing with one light, one receiver, and one transmitter. They would never ever ever let you put a flash on the backboard. Usually only a few photographers (Sports Illustrated, AP, the team’s photographer, etc. )get to use the strobes that are permanently mounted in the rafters.

Cool picture, don’t you think? Makes the court look like a stage… which it kind of is for emotion, drama, etc.

Great question and obviously a talented photographer to get the right angle, lighting, and moment.

Best,

James
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James Ramsay
James Ramsay Photography
300 Broadway St. #407
St. Paul, MN 55101-1458

p: 651-338-0352
e: info@jkrphoto.com

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www.blogjames.com

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.