Many of the events that SI covers take place indoors in arenas that aren't conducive to good color photography. Pictures shot indoors in natural conditions tend to be dark or grainy. To get photos with snap and sparkle we rely on a three-man light brigade that charges to the rescue of our photographers with additional illumination in the form of strobes. SI's staff lighting assistants are Jon Hayt, who lives in San Diego, Lou Capozzola of Long Island (N.Y.) and Phil Jache of Milwaukee.
"We give them an assignment and off they go," says picture editor Barbara Henckel. "They're really on their own. If they have problems at a site, they handle those themselves." For example, for afternoon NCAA basketball tournament games last week in Minneapolis and Syracuse, respectively, Jache and Capozzola found they had to double the planned amount of equipment to compensate for the daylight that filtered through the translucent roofs of the domed arenas.
Each man travels with between 12 and 38 cases of equipment, weighing up to a ton. Then comes the task of getting the lights up to nosebleed heights in the rafters above the playing surface. Hayt's favorite building to light is Dallas's Reunion Arena—"It has a freight elevator right up to the catwalks." His least favorite? "The Seattle Kingdome. You have to light a football field for basketball." Jache prefers Denver's McNichols Arena, where "everyone is real nice, and it's easy to set up." But the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, where Jache worked last week, makes life difficult in many ways. "There are no catwalks there, so you end up running a lot of cable to the lights, which are on hydraulic lifts," Jache says. "It takes an extra day and a half to set up."
Lights are usually mounted above the four corners of a basketball court or a hockey rink. They must then be connected and synchronized, after which a wire is fed to our photographer at courtside or rinkside. This provides him with, in essence, four cosmic flashbulbs that never burn out.
March 24, 1986
Aspirants suffering from acrophobia need not apply. The work entails tiptoeing on catwalks—usually see-through metal grating—at dizzying heights above the floor. Hayt, Capozzola and Jache all admit they had to acquire the stomach for it. Hayt freely admits that he "completely froze" his first time aloft, but is now at home on catwalks, as is Jache, who feels "comfortable enough to let go of the handles. I had a fear of heights at first, but now it's not any different than being on the ground." Capozzola reports that "before this, a 10-foot ladder was my max. Now I just look straight ahead—and wear blinders. Sometimes a shadow roll."
Bright lights mean big headaches. All three men have had to scramble to fix or replace broken equipment. And most of the time the final buzzer signals that everything has to be taken down and repacked. "Set-up and tear-down time are most of the work," says Hayt. Adds Capozzola, "The game is secondary. That's when everybody sees you just sitting around and thinks you have a cake job."
We know otherwise. Lighting assistants are part roadie, electrician, diplomat, mountain goat and fireman. Fireman? "Sure," says Capozzola. "We sit around, wait for the phone call and slide down the pole."
"Ah, the late Monday calls to have an arena set up on Tuesday," sighs Jache. "I know them well."