If you’ve followed Tennessee basketball, chances are you’ve seen one of those really cool overhead photos. That top-down, bird’s eye view is something you don’t see every day, and only very few have access to capturing this unique angle.
There’s a lot of gear, planning and time required to get those couple of shots, and after a lot of curiosity from others, I thought I’d give a behind-the-scenes look at how I do it.
It’s all remote
The number one question I’m asked is if I’m scared being so high up taking photos during the game. The answer is I’m not because I’m actually sitting on the court taking them. I use a radio transceiver called a PocketWizard to trigger a camera mounted in the catwalk.
With a transmitter in my hand, I wait until the action beneath the basket comes to its peak until I hit the trigger button. That signal travels up to a receiver mounted on my camera up above, thus firing the camera.
What gear do I use?
I usually arrive two hours before tipoff to mount the overhead remote camera, secure the transceiver, turn on the flash strobes and troubleshoot any problems that may arise.
For the gearheads out there, I use a Nikon D4S camera with a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens along with PocketWizard III radio transceivers and a pre-trigger release cable. A pre-trigger release cable is what keeps the camera on and ready to fire, preventing it from going to sleep mode.
Admittedly, it’s a juggling act. When I’m shooting on the court I am using my main camera in one hand, I have a camera with a wide angle lens to my left, and to my right I have a camera mounted on a telephoto lens.
In my other hand I have the radio transmitter with one finger on the trigger button. I switch between cameras as the action comes and goes, and in the end I’m a tangled mess of camera straps.
“There’s got to be an easier or better way to do this,” I think to myself, but so far I have not found a better solution.
As for the actual photographing, it’s all about timing. Shooting with flash strobes limits you to one photo every one-and-a-half seconds until the flashes recharge. Timing the remote camera is also challenging because I am unable to see what the camera is seeing. I’m honestly guesstimating when to hit the trigger to fire the camera.
So why do it?
My goal as a photojournalist is to present an accurate, unbiased account of what I am documenting. But I also want to offer the viewer something fun, interesting and unique and to show them something they may have missed. The ability to use remote cameras and find new angles is another tool in my camera bag to create those images.
Sure, it’s a lot of effort and sometimes it doesn’t work. For example, this last game the release cable shorted out and the camera fired 1,500 photos of nothing. Or when I forgot to turn on the radio transmitter. Or the classic camera battery dying on me.
But when it does work, the photos are pretty sweet.
This article was originally published by the Knoxville News Sentinel.
About the author: Calvin Mattheis is a full-time newspaper photojournalist at the Knoxville News Sentinel in Knoxville, Tennessee. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of Mattheis on his website and Instagram.