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What it’s Like to Photograph a Boston Celtics NBA Game


A professional sports photographer has shared a unique behind-the-scenes look of what it’s like to shoot an NBA game — specifically the Boston Celtics — and details preparations, how he chooses equipment, and how a game-day unfolds.

Based in Boston, Paul Rutherford is a professional portrait and action sports photographer who covers all levels of play, from middle school to the professional level, and uses his YouTube channel to share his passion for sports and to teach and share tips and advice within his field of expertise.

Rutherford explains that in this particular case, similar to his experiences with photographing the Boston Bruins during the pandemic, he has to clear a COVID-19 check and then immediately continue to a designated section. After that, he sets up his remote cameras, quickly grabs food and water, and returns to his seat to cover warm-ups and perform test shots to assure correct white balance before the game begins.

As he is confined to sitting in one area because of COVID restrictions, there are limitations in which angles can be captured from his location. Rutherford says that as a photographer shooting from the stands, a long lens, such as the Canon RF 400mm f/2.8, is a must-have in order to be able to capture detailed action shots of players throughout the game. Conversely, a wider lens will allow for more open shots that showcase the court and give greater context.

To add a touch of diversity in the compositions, Rutherford uses a mix of lenses and takes into account the crop factor on his lenses which can allow for tighter shots that show the emotions and tensions of the game.

The remote camera, meanwhile, is set up to shoot wider shots using Rutherford’s laptop and WiFi connection for remote release. The photographer also uses this method as a safety net in case he misses any important moments while he is zoomed in and focusing on the players with one of his longer camera lenses.

There’s always room for improvement, even in a fast-paced sports environment, Rutherford points out. For his latest game shoot, he notes that he wanted to focus on capturing the celebratory shots of players, such as after a layup, as they run back down the court. He says that in the past, he often misses these shots because he jumps from capturing the action moment to previewing and tagging the images on the back of the screen right.

While it has caused him to miss the aftermath of important scoring plays, tagging photos during the shoot cuts down on post-production time, so it is still something he needs to devote his efforts to if possible. Rutherford ingests those marked photos into Photo Mechanic during halftime and at the end of the game which helps him speed up his workflow as fewer images get uploaded onto Lightroom for any final touches, such as white balance or crop. After this, the images get captioned and sent to, in his case, USA Today and are ready to be used. After that, Rutherford can pack up his gear and head home.

More of Rutherford’s sports photography work can be found on his website and Instagram, and his video lessons and behind-the-scenes content can be viewed on his YouTube channel.

Image credits: All images by Paul Rutherford and used with permission.