Hopscotching around the indoor athletic circuit on TV this dark and cold midwinter, a fan might understandably conclude that so far as taking pictures is concerned, one arena must be pretty much like another; at least, there does not seem to be much difference in the quality of the images that show up on his screen. The reality, as any SI photographer can tell you, is something else. Photographers live and die by available light, and in arenas across the country the amount of light available to them varies radically. Because the human eye is so splendidly adaptive that it adjusts almost instantly to the existing light at any event, a spectator at Pauley Pavilion, where UCLA plays basketball and where the houselights are actually relatively dim, sees the action just about as well as does a Celtic fan at the Boston Garden, where the light, from a photographer's point of view, is sensationally bright.
This is an article from the Feb. 18, 1974 issue
TV cameras can make some of the same adjustments the eye makes, but a photographer's color film operates in a much narrower range, and poor light yields poor-quality pictures. We can supplement existing light by bringing in heavy banks of strobe lights, which give a powerful pulse of illumination that lasts no more than .002 of a second but makes possible exceptionally crisp action pictures. Strobing can be an expensive operation: to light Louisville's Freedom Hall with 1½ tons of equipment for the NCAA basketball finals a few years ago cost SI about $4,000. And for reasons of their own (mostly self-serving), some arenas—Pauley Pavilion, for instance, and Madison Square Garden—will not permit us to install strobes under any conditions.
This week's indoor lighting card is a mixed one. We photographed the Celtics (page 18) on the road at the Milwaukee Arena—another well-lit building—and at home in Boston but did not shoot their game in Chicago because the stadium lighting is marginal. We covered the U.S. Figure Skating Championships at the Civic Center in Providence, where the photographic problems had an extra technical complication. The rink lighting is wonderfully bright for the spectator but comes from mercury vapor lamps, which give a distinctly greenish cast to color pictures. There is a solution—a heavy balancing filter—but it sharply reduces the effective speed of the photographer's film. Then Neil Leifer was at the Monzon-Napoles fight in Paris. The lighting turned out to be a puzzling mixture of incandescent and mercury vapor; the ring surface was green, which also produced odd effects; and layers of smoke almost obscured the action. "We were guessing," says Leifer. His good guesses resulted in the pictures on page 22.
Every photographer has his own favorite arena, not always because of the lights. Some places allow greater working freedom and some hosts are friendlier than others. The Houston Astrodome is friendly enough, though everyone here remembers the problems of lighting the first basketball game we ever photographed there, in 1968. Judge Roy Hofheinz insisted that our strobes blend with the magnificent decor of his new palace. So we put the big power packs underneath tables and hid them by draping the tables with gold lamé cloth. And we decorated our light stands in gold crepe paper. Very tasteful. UCLA lost to Houston 71-69 in a huge upset. Too bad for UCLA. But the pictures we got were just fine.