Column: Basketball photographers know you always have to give it your best shot

Jake Keeley
Oxford Stories

Throughout high school, I was never interested in watching basketball. Whether it was high school, college, or the NBA, basketball was never a sport of which I considered myself a fan. Then suddenly, during my senior year, that all changed.

It really started in the fall of my junior and senior years. I was a photographer for the boys’ soccer team. My pictures were getting a lot of views by both players and parents, and sometimes my pictures would end up in the school paper or the student news organization Trojan News.

My senior year, after the boys’ soccer team season ended in a heartbreaking loss in the quarterfinals of the state playoffs, I was thinking that my sports photographer career was over.

A few weeks later, one of my friends on the varsity basketball team told me they didn’t have a photographer for the season, and the head coach wanted to know if I was interested.

I was intrigued by the idea of taking photos for a new sport, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to take pictures for a sport I wasn’t really interested in. After thinking about it for a couple of days, I decided to do it.

As I eventually learned, taking pictures inside a gym is a lot more difficult than taking pictures in natural lighting. There is more variation in the lights gyms use, and pictures can be different colors as a result.

Some pictures can be too white. Some can be too yellow. That’s when I had to consult my dad and have him teach me how to change the settings on my camera to balance the whiteness in my photos.

Once I got settled and more comfortable with shooting photos inside a gym, I started really getting into shooting pictures for the team. I had more fun doing it than shooting for soccer.

I think the fact that it has a much smaller playing area and is really fast-paced helped keep me engaged and ignited my passion for shooting and watching basketball games.

I was grateful I was asked to take pictures for the basketball team because something special was happening that season. Two talented freshmen broke into the starting lineup. They were head and shoulders above pretty much every kid in the county, from a skill perspective.

Games started selling out to see these two kids play ball, and the atmosphere at every home game was electric. It was the first time throughout my entire high school career I was actually looking forward to attending a sporting event.

One of the freshmen, Jao Ituka, is a 6’1 guard who completed nightly highlight reel plays. He is an incredibly gifted athlete who can dunk the ball with ease.

One of his plays, I’ll always regret missing was when I was checking the pictures I took on a previous possession when I heard the gym erupt in a roar. Jao had leaped into the air and threw down a dunk on top of a kid’s head. That dunk would eventually win him Dunk of the Year out of all the kids in the state.

It was always disappointing and frustrating when I captured a great moment during a game, but the camera was focused on something in the background, so all the action in the foreground was blurry. It was and still is a pet peeve of mine, but as I got more comfortable handling a camera, the less those mistakes were made.

It was always rewarding to see the players on the team put my pictures on their social media. I think some of the basketball players use my pictures for a majority of their basketball-related posts, which always makes me feel good – especially if I’m the only one ever taking pictures of them.

A moment I will never forget while taking pictures for the basketball team was when they made it to the final four in the state playoffs, and they got to play at the University of Maryland. I got a press pass and got to sit right on the sidelines and take pictures for the team in a college arena.

It was surreal sitting courtside at an NCAA sized court, and is a memory I will never forget. The team lost the game to the eventual state champion, but the memories of taking pictures at College Park are memories that will never be lost.

Taking pictures for my high school basketball team isn’t something I’ve stopped doing. Over my winter break this year, I stopped by a couple of games with my camera and did them a favor by taking pictures for them. All the guys remembered me, and I said “hi” to them. It was nice to know they were looking forward to seeing me and having me take pictures for their game.

In fact, I just applied for a summer internship as a videographer for Capitol Hoops, a prominent D.C.-based basketball production company that covers high schools in D.C., Maryland and Virginia.

Overall, taking pictures for my high school’s basketball team was an opportunity I was hesitant to take, but I am so glad I did. It sparked a passion in me for the sport of basketball and for taking pictures of basketball in the future.

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