How Getty covers championship basketball with a small army of cameras—and robots
We caught up with veteran Getty sports photographer, Jamie Squire, to chat about what it takes to shoot an NCAA national championship basketball game.
Jamie Squire has been shooting for Getty Images for 27 years. Now a Senior Staff Photographer, he’s covered countless sporting events on some of the world’s biggest stages, including six Olympic Games, numerous Super Bowls, World Series, Kentucky Derbys, Stanely Cup Finals, and more.
We caught up with Jamie just as he finished covering the 2022 NCAA men’s basketball national championship in New Orleans, right before heading out to shoot the Masters at Augusta National. Here we chat about how Getty’s coverage of blockbuster sporting events has evolved over the past three decades—Jamie photographed this year’s Final Four with no fewer than 8 cameras (3 handhelds and 5 remotes). We also touch on how mirrorless and robotic technologies are progressing the art of sports photography, and what budding sports shooters can do to jumpstart their careers.
How many photographers does Getty send to cover something like the NCAA men’s basketball national championship?
We had three photographers there. We had one on each end of the court under the basket and one overhead in a section in the stands. I was under one of the baskets. It was designated who was going to be where, but I knew I was going to be in one of the two floor spots. It was me and Tom Pennington [on the floor]. We had an inside spot and an outside spot and he took the outside spot. So I took the inside spot. So it kind of worked out well.
Is the inside your preferred spot?
That’s my preferred spot. And I was thrilled to get it because that’s kind of the most comfortable for me, but any of us can shoot in any spot. I like it because during free throws I can see the shooter. Whereas sometimes, if you’re on the outside, you can’t see that. And if the players fall towards me, which happens a lot of the time, I’ll put a camera right in front of me on the floor to capture the super-low angle.
Let’s talk a little bit about what kind of gear you’re using to cover a game like this?
Where do we start? So Getty shoots mostly with Canon. Canon offers us a huge amount of technical support and gear loaners for something like the Final Four. I’ll start with the handheld positions in my spot. I’m shooting with a 70-200mm lens for my near-court stuff. And I’ll use a 300mm f/2.8 for the downcourt pictures—I have my Canon R3 on each of those. And then on our “throw-down”—I’ll put a [remote-triggered] camera in front of me—there’s another Canon with a 24mm lens. It’s just a fixed 24mm.
And all three of those cameras are tethered. We run IT. We have our IT guys get there a week early and we run cabling back to the press center and we tether all the cameras back to the editors that are in the back. So as soon as we take a picture, it’s out within 30 seconds.
Tell me about what goes into setting up for an event like this? How many cameras in total is the team shooting with?
We all got there on Monday or Tuesday last week and the games didn’t start until Saturday. We hung remote cameras and we used a couple of robotic cameras. We went up into the catwalk and hung overhead cameras, and all that had to be tethered as well. So I think we had a total of eight floor remote [cameras], two catwalk overhead remote [cameras], and two robotic cameras which were in the scoreboard. Plus our handhelds, we had probably 24 cameras running during each game.
Is each of you assigned a certain number of remote cameras? How does that work?
We each have a throw-down camera and then on the side of the court, there’s a row of remote cameras. So we put four down on the side of the court. If it’s my near side, one is aimed at the basket and one is aimed at the bench. And on the far side, it’s the same thing.
The remotes we trigger are downcourt. So I’ll be triggering the remotes at the far end. And then Tom, who’s on the other side, will trigger the remotes on [my] end. You can better judge where the players are [from across the court] than if they’re right in front of you. You’re more focused on your handheld right in front of you and you’re more focused on your remotes when they’re downcourt.
Individually then, how many cameras are you in control of at any given time?
I’m really operating eight cameras at a given time. I tape a momentary switch to the [near-court] camera– I can shoot and push the shutter button, but I can also trigger the near-side remotes. And then on my downcourt camera, I’ll tape another momentary trigger and I can shoot the shutter button and I can also trigger those downcourt remotes as well.
Everything’s on Pocket Wizards (radio triggers) so that we can trigger the remotes that are in the ceiling, or in this case, in the dome, which was 270 feet above the basketball floor.
Of those remote angles, is there one that you like the images from the most?
I like the “mouse hole” personally—there’s a little cutout at the bottom of the basket. The TV networks tend to place a tiny “lipstick camera” or something down there. And it’s a super low angle. It’s right on the floor, directly center and it’s like the padding is cut out.
On the basket extension, we’re allowed to put a camera there and it’s super dramatic. I mean, the players are larger than life and they’re jumping up in front of you. And you obviously can’t sit there, so it has to be a remote camera—but I just think it’s a super dramatic look and that’s another favorite.
It’s cool trying to think of new angles and different ideas. And we tend to do similar ones from year to year, but then every once in a while we will have a new arena. Sometimes the arena lends itself to putting a camera here or there that gives you a different angle too. And at the end of the day, we’re trying to tell a story of the game as best as we can, from as many different angles as we can, to relay the story to our clients.
How long have you been photographing events in this capacity where you’re using both handheld cameras and remote cameras?
A bunch of years now. I mean, we used to do a lot on strobes and we don’t do strobes anymore because the cameras have gotten so good that the sensors pick up the natural light a lot better.
But back in the day with strobes and film cameras, we would be using zip wire and light cords to string everything together. And now it’s kind of been replaced with ethernet cords. I’m fortunate enough to have been with Getty for 27 years. And as it’s grown, our IT and our support staff have grown too. So when we approach a big event such as the Final Four—or every year I do the Kentucky Derby—we have several remote cameras running there. Or for the Olympics, we have a team of IT people that show up a week early. And we have a team of editors that are there editing the pictures at all the major events. We put a lot of technology and time and effort into setting all that up so that when the game happens, literally like I said, our pictures get out to the world within 30 seconds.
You mentioned robotic cameras, can you tell me a little bit about how those work?
The robotic cameras are built by Canon and they work with Canon’s remote software. We map the camera on there with a lens and we have the ability to look through the live view. We can see in real-time what’s going on in the frame. We can change the exposure, we can change all aspects of the functions through the computer—you can zoom, you can focus. And we have permission with the NCAA to put them up in the scoreboard so we can look straight down and center for the opening tip-off. Then you can also rotate it around and you could follow the play.
A lot of times you can rotate it around during a timeout and shoot down over the cluster of players around the bench or if one team is about to hit [a shot], or it’s coming down to the wire or whatever, you can rotate it around towards that basket and be ready for that shot. You can move it in real-time. You can shoot it in real-time and you can adjust anything you need to in real-time.
That’s the difference between the robotic cameras [and the remote ones], we can move and adjust and zoom and focus and everything. And the statics, we are able to set up and we point in one direction and pre-focus and then leave them there and that’s the angle. It’s creative. Basketball is a unique sport because most of what’s going to happen is going to be around the basket.
So your main handheld cameras are EOS R3s. Are all the cameras Getty uses now mirrorless?
We’re getting there. All of the sports photographers have mirrorless, and we’re almost a hundred percent mirrorless at this point. The remotes that we were using are still Canon 1D X Mark IIIs. And we used those mostly because the EOS R5 is harder to tether for the IT stuff. Canon also has a lot of 1D X cameras on hand at the moment. But when we were told that we could keep our [1D X] Mark III or we could switch over to the R3, I don’t think there’s one of us that chose to keep the Mark III. The R3 is that good. It’s the way of the future. We’ve kind of embraced it and we’re not looking back. And again, especially here at the Masters, golf is completely silent and [the R3] shoots without bothering anyone—the files look amazing and it feels good in your hand and it’s super light. It’s just a great camera.
What are some moments you’re looking for when covering a national championship? What are some moments that get you excited during a basketball game?
Really it’s the end of the game. I mean, it all boils down to the end of the game and you can be at a game where it’s a blowout and it’s a foregone conclusion about which team is going to win. And then you could be at a game where it’s kind of neck and neck and don’t know who’s going to win. And to me, the exciting games are the ones when the lead changes or it’s back and forth, or if it’s a tight game—those are most exciting for obvious reasons. That’s what I look forward to, a competitive game.
How important do you think it is to know the team that you’re covering?
I think it’s important. I definitely do a little bit of homework before big games like this. We know who the players are. We know who the leading scorers are likely to be. We know which players guide the team, like the point guards or whatever. Five or 10 minutes worth of research before a game goes a long way because you know what the coaches’ tendencies are. A quick search of our own website, Getty, and you can tell that the coach is super-expressive during the game and he’s putting his arms up and yelling and screaming and stuff. And so a lot of times I’ll look over to the coach during an exciting moment to see how he’s reacting. So it definitely helps to know some of the tendencies of the players and team.
What kind of advice would you give someone starting out in sports photography?
The best thing I would say is to go to as many games as possible and shoot as much as possible. Because even though I was on maybe the biggest stage shooting, somebody starting out can go to a high school gym or a college gym, and especially in basketball, you can shoot in a lot of the same places and get a lot of the same angles as you could in a stadium that has 60,000 people. The low angle shooting up towards the ceiling, or along the baseline, maybe in the corner or on the outside—the action in basketball happens around the rim. So if somebody wanted to become a good basketball photographer, a good sports photographer, my advice is it doesn’t have to be on the biggest stage.
The college I went to had no football, it was Division Three. And I spent my time learning how to shoot by shooting with the Division Three varsity soccer team. And a good picture is a good picture, it doesn’t matter if it’s Ronaldo or a player at your local college. If you have some spectacular play, I would rather see a really good picture of a spectacular play than a mediocre picture of the best player.