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|| News Item: Posted 2006-03-28

NCAA Tourney Diary: Sweet 16 and Elite 8
Sports Illustrated assistant Shawn Cullen reports from Washington D.C.

By Shawn Cullen

Photo by John Biever / Sports Illustrated

Photo by John Biever / Sports Illustrated

Sports Illustrated assistant Shawn Cullen works with the Wizard system in Washington D.C.
After being home for only 24 hours, I am now in Washington D.C. for the Sweet 16 and the Elite 8. Again, I will be working for Sports Illustrated with John Biever. The pressure and intensity start to rise a little. Instead of running a couple of pictures from each site for the first two rounds, the magazine will probably run a few from each game. We must produce!

Day 1, Mar. 23rd, 2006
As usual the day starts early getting to the arena by 8am only to find out that we cannot get into the arena until 9am. It is 35 degrees outside! John, being from Milwaukee is used to this. Me, I am freezing and trying to tuff it out! Once inside, the setup is slow going. We cannot put any tape of any kind anywhere on the floor or on the basket structure. We cannot even tape our sync and wizard lines to the floor so no one will trip on them. The arena folks only raise the baskets up for the practices and as soon as they end they lower them making it very hard to compose the remote cameras. Very frustrating! At least the remote camera positions will be similar to Detroit so we can mount the magic arms and set up the floor plates.

The strobe test is done a little different than what I am used to. CBS wants every set fired separately with three cameras running. The CBS official wants three people standing on the actual baseline and on the three-point line to make sure there is separation between the line and the shoes. Very different! Of course this takes a bit longer but everything goes well and no changes are made to the strobes. All are at full power and we are getting around f5.6.

The day ends without getting all the remote cameras set up. Having the baskets down is impossible to compose the remotes. We are able to get a few set up and test the exposure using a laptop to view the exposure and focus. Using the display on the back of the Canon cameras varies too much to be consistent.

Day 2, Mar. 24th, 2006
We finally have some games that start later at night so we can sleep in, and not have to be at the arena until 12:30pm. When we arrive at the arena we find that we cannot get access to the court except between team practices and the last practice ends at 4:30pm. The next few hours are spent meeting members, and other photographers that I have not seen in awhile. Once the court opens we get right to it. It takes time to recheck focus, composition, and lag each camera with the Flash Wizards. Then, when almost all cameras are set up it happens. We have a camera that goes down and will not lag properly for us to use, and the time spent trying to diagnose the problem is pretty costly. We switch out the camera body and get it going but by now I cannot eat dinner, I need to get the Flash Wizard system ready for the game.

The game action is great. There are a lot of good pictures and everything runs smoothly except for one pack that tripped a breaker and was fixed in no time at all by the arena folks. Some select images are transmitted to the magazine for use on the web site and are displayed; all others are burned to DVD and shipped air cargo to New York. We got the last second three point shot by UConn to tie the game and hopefully the magazine uses it.

Day 3, Mar. 25th, 2006
An off day and I am getting sick! This always seems to happen during the NCAA Tourney. It is always a cold and I am starting to lose my voice. Oh well!

This is my last day off until next Sunday. I spend the day with John Biever and Sporting News staffer Robert Seale visiting the National Air and Space Museum near Dulles Airport. It is good to get our minds off of basketball, even if for just a day. This is definitely one of the benefits of assisting for Sports Illustrated, to be able to travel and work at the same time. I am very fortunate to get to experience all the different cities I have been to. I am honored that the editors and photographers from the magazine have the faith in me, to send me all over the U.S. to do this job. In the last five years I have spent almost 300 nights in hotels and with this come sacrifices, as anybody in this line of work will tell you. I miss my wife and son.

Tomorrow is a big day! The magazine will need great shots of the winner of the game tomorrow for next weeks Final Four preview. Everything must work! Hopefully John and I can get into the arena early to double-check everything.

Day 4, Mar. 26th, 2006
We get to the arena four hours before tip off and go through our routine of check focus, composition, and lagging each camera. About 10 minutes before game time the butterflies start to fly. This is a big game, especially if George Mason wins. So far it is a great game and we transmit five images to the magazine at half time for use on the web site. The second half is even better trading the lead back and forth. Everything runs smoothly and George Mason wins in the upset. The magazine will definitely use some images! This is a great end to the week.

Tomorrow I fly to Indianapolis to start the set up for the Final Four. There will be three photographers shooting, and five assistants to set up all the lights and remote cameras. Five days of long hours and hard work until the first game on Saturday.

(Shawn Cullen is currently a Sports Illustrated lighting technician. Cullen is a frequent contributor to the Sports Shooter Newsletter. He can be reached through his member page:

Related Links:
NCAA Tourney Diary: First and second rounds
NCAA Tourney Diary: The Final Four
NCAA Tourney Diary: The Final Four Part II
NCAA Tourney Diary: The Final Four Part III

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