The 2010 NCAA Basketball Final Four

April 19, 2010

NCAA Photos Backboard Cameras

Brett Wilhelm adjusts Final Four backboard cameras at Lucas Oil Stadium. ©Joshua Duplechian/NCAA Photos

It was both the large and the small of it.  It being the 2010 NCAA Final Four in Indianapolis, which happened to be the 55th Final Four photographed by Rich Clarkson.

Today, Clarkson and Associates provides all the photography for the NCAA’s 88 national championships and unlike the first basketball championship Clarkson photographed in 1952 (as a college freshman), a crew of five from the Denver offices tackled almost every element of what has become one of the top two or three sports events in the country each year.  And this year, any of the 71,000 spectators in the arena could Clarkson pictures almost as they happened, either on their iPhones or from the eight huge 40ft x 60ft video boards.  And all over the nation (world), iPod and iPad viewers could see the same thing in real time.

It was two months earlier that Clarkson began thinking how to use the instant images from their four remote cameras mounted on the basket standards and behind the glass backboards for something more than the pool they created ten years ago with the remotes.  To facilitate the pool, the Associated Press brings the images instantly via network cables to the photo workroom beneath the arena for editing and distribution to the other members of the pool including Getty, Reuters, Knight-Ridder and individual newspapers.  “Why couldn’t those same images go onto an app for Apple iPhones everywhere?” Clarkson wondered.

That began a partnership with Dan Burcaw of Double Encore who created and pushed the application through Apple at the last minute and the operation was underway.  And at about the same time, the NCAA asked if it was possible to do fast pictures for the huge video boards.  And for the iPad version from all those first years, the Clarkson group also put together historic portfolios of early day Clarkson pictures going back to that first game in 1952.  At that point, Bob Becker of Big Screen Network, the contractor for production of all material for the boards, entered the equation.  Thus, the almost instant delivery of pictures became reality.

During the games, not only were the remote cameras producing instant images but photographers Ryan McKee and Brett Wilhelm used Nikon wireless technology to deliver pictures from their hand held cameras.  And Clarkson and Josh Duplechian were adding to the mix.  Chris Steppig operated the remotes, all hard wired, from his position at the end of the court.

Nikon Professional Services with Scott Diussa and Mark Suban furnished the D3s and helped the SI assistants and Wilhelm mount and adjust the cameras for the remotes.  Everything worked flawlessly.  Porter Binks, formerly of Sports Illustrated, edited the images in the workroom and Burcaw moved them right onto the app.

And at the last minute, coinciding with the public release of the Apple iPad on April 3 (the afternoon of the NCAA semi-finals), we created an iPad version for the latest innovation from Apple — which of course, sold a record 700,000 the first weekend across the nation.  All those pictures were watermarked so there could be no commercial use of them, with that reserved for the pool and NCAA Photos.  Today, the NCAA Photos app is still alive and plans are now underway for similar other projects at other major athletic events the Clarkson group covers.

“I can remember not many years ago when photographers complained their pictures weren’t being used fast enough or big enough,” Clarkson said afterward.  “This seemed to answer that issue.”

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