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|| News Item: Posted 2006-04-03

NCAA Tourney Diary: The Final Four Part II
Sports Illustrated assistant Shawn Cullen reports from Indianapolis.

By Shawn Cullen

Photo by John Biever / Sports Illustrated

Photo by John Biever / Sports Illustrated

LSU guard Garrett Temple splits four UCLA defenders on his way to the hoop during Saturday's Final Four loss to the Bruins in Indianapolis.
The set up for the Final Four is really starting to come together now that we are done with the lighting and starting with the remote cameras, Flash Wizards, and connecting all the computers from the photo room through laptops to the all the cameras. You can really start to see how much is put into this one event. The cost will probably run well into the six figures and that alone adds pressure to get everything to work, and to make pictures.

Day 4, Mar. 30th
As I expected, I see more photographers coming in to start their set up. There are a few wire services setting up similar high-speed feeds from their cameras on the court to the photo room. I think one or two media outlets are using a wireless system. It is pretty cool to see all this technology at work.

We spend part of the day waiting for more camera equipment to be shipped in from the magazine (Sports Illustrated) headquarters in New York. When the equipment arrives, we quickly set up a few more remote cameras which bring the total to about 20. For most of the day we go around to focus and test the exposures on all the remote cameras and make sure they all have safety cables on them. After testing for exposures we then go to the photo room to see them on the computer screens.

In all it is a pretty light day but we are there all day long. We are all tried and really need some sleep.

Day 5, Mar. 31st
Today is a big day, we get to test the entire system we have setup. We are using the four teams practice sessions as though it where a real game situation. As usual we find a few problems with some remote cameras and a Flash Wizard unit. After trouble shooting for a sort time, we find that a couple of Flash Wizard cables are not working. We switch them out and take care of that problem. The issue with the Flash Wizard is a little more complicated. A stray basketball hit a Flash Wizard and broke the post holding it onto the super clamp, and part of the post is still inside the Flash Wizard unit. To get that piece out I have to drill the broken part out and eventually get it fixed before the practices start.

Everything is running smoothly throughout the practices. The editors and technology personnel are receiving every image we shoot, and we are shooting at a very high pace. For this test we are shooting the remotes almost every time we take a picture regardless if there are plays near the basket or not. We do this just to make sure the system can handle the work load. With 20 remotes and handhelds firing at the same time we can have about 14 images being taken at the same time depending on which end of the court the ball is at, and the staff in the photo room will receive all these images in seconds. It is truly amazing when you think about the work load that can be handled by the computer and technology and more importantly by the SI staff.

Click here to see more images of the set up at the Final Four:

There are a lot more photographers setting up remotes today than I expected. The Pocket Wizard channel list that Sporting News always starts fills up fast and the last time I check there were only about five channels left. The strobe test is a breeze and thankfully we do not have to bring down the lift to make changes or move any strobes. This ends up being one of the easier days and a successful one as well. Tomorrow should be smooth sailing.

Photo by Nils Nilsen

Photo by Nils Nilsen

Shawn Cullen making a last minute repair to a Flash Wizard unit on the court just before the practice sessions on Friday.
Day 6, Apr. 1st
Today is a hard day for me personally. It is my sixth wedding anniversary and the fifth one in a row that I have missed. Unfortunately as long as I continue to work the Final Four, I will continue to miss my wedding anniversary. All I can say is that I have the best wife in the world, one that will let me follow my dream and still be incredibly supportive to this day. I know that I am not the only person in this situation in the sports photography community. This type of career can put a huge strain on relationships, and it can be a very lonely road to travel at times.

Anyway, call time for today is 1pm, so I finally get to sleep in after a very long night. Before heading over to the RCA Dome, I get the chance to catch up on laundry and work on this diary. For the games tonight, my job is to help make any changes to remote cameras and to trouble shoot any problems that might come up with the remotes and Flash Wizards. Greg Nelson will be constantly monitoring the Flash Wizards and all assistants will have radios with headsets, and we will be in constant contact with the SI staff in the photo room in case they detect any problems with the remote cameras or the laptop computers.

Sure enough as the game starts there a few problems that comes up. The fire wire adapter has been kicked out of the computer and is not transmitting the images to the photo room. Also, a stray basketball hits a remote under the press table and knocks it out of position and changes the shutter speed to 320th. Both are taken care of quickly and the rest of the night goes without any more interruptions. A very successful night, even with two very boring basketball games (George Mason vs. Florida; UCLA vs. LSU). In all there were over 8,000 images shot over the two games. The computers held up to the workload as expected.

Tomorrow is a sleep day and I will get lots of it. Good night!

(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:
Special gallery from Final Four
NCAA Tourney Diary: First and second rounds
NCAA Tourney Diary: Sweet 16 and Elite 8
NCAA Tourney Diary: The Final Four
NCAA Tourney Diary: The Final Four Part III

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