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|| News Item: Posted 2012-04-19

Sports Shooter Venue Guide
The Lazy Elk High School Basketball Gymnasium

By Trent Nelson, The Salt Lake Tribune

Photo by Trent Nelson, The Salt Lake Tribune

Photo by Trent Nelson, The Salt Lake Tribune

The Lady Elk cheerleaders love to spread out on the baseline.
High school basketball. Are there any true sports shooters out there who don't love shooting it?

Over the years I've been privileged to spend many Friday nights in dark high school gyms photographing two teams struggling to combine for ten points in the first quarter, to the delight of thirty or more fans. It's a perk of the job, documenting history as it unfolds!

With that in mind here's an overview and some tips for shooting in the basketball gymnasium at Lazy Elk High School. You know, just in case you get an assignment there.

First off, make sure you come to town early so you can get a bite to eat at the legendary Dairy Kingzz Drive-In. I recommend a Triple Meatburger with an order of cheese fries and a malt to wash it down. If you aren't into burgers and can't decide between the chicken and the fish sandwich, don't worry—they use the same meat in both.

To avoid any unpleasantries make sure you check in with one of the assistant vice principals before you start shooting. In exchange for your drivers license they will give you a sideline pass. This pass must be worn around your neck and must remain visible at all times.

Next, the school police deputy will point out any players on the team that can't be photographed, either because their parents haven't signed a media release or because they're facing felony charges.

Photo by Trent Nelson

Photo by Trent Nelson

The white balance settings at Lazy Elk gymnasium.
Lazy Elk is a Go-Green (environmentally friendly) high school so you won't find any printed rosters. Not to worry. 85-year-old Ralph "Shaky" Longtree has been manning the scoring table for decades and you are more than welcome to copy Shaky's handwritten roster information from the official scorebook. For your convenience, the jersey numbers, last names and first initials of all players are provided.

Photo positions are plentiful. If you don't mind the occasional kick to the head you can nestle in between the Lady Elks cheerleaders who are spread out across the entire width of the baseline. I recommend sitting out on the three-point line near the school mascot, King Beaver, as I've found that having a blind mascot repeatedly trip and fall on me is less painful than kicks from the cheerleaders.

There is one sweet position along the baseline with a great view of the floor and safe from the marauding cheerleaders and mascots. It's a two-foot section on the southeast corner of the gym just below the substitution/time-out buzzer. Keep in mind that this buzzer will be triggered dozens of times throughout each game, emitting an ear-splitting 125-decibel blast (the same decibels as a pneumatic riveter at a four foot distance). They say it may cause hearing loss but I'll be the first to tell you that, in fact, it will.

If your hearing is important and you decide to brave the baseline make sure to clear out when the cheerleaders perform aerial stunts during time outs. More than one photographer has been hospitalized by a Lady Elk dropping from the sky.

Thanks to the Class of 2006 and Young's Electric, the scoring table is equipped with an illuminated sign that displays the school logo backlit by a bank of 4,000 watt fluorescent bulbs. You should consider the brightness of this sign when deciding which side to shoot from since its light can throw off your exposure. And don't say I didn't warn you—the light from the scoring table is so bright that shooting into it will cause permanent damage to your camera's sensor.

Like any high school gym, it's dark at Lazy Elk. I shoot at 1/60th at f2.8, ISO 3200. It's pretty dark but software can mask the noise from the typical newspaper-supplied eight-year-old digital cameras. The latest Adobe noise reduction will take any photo from Lazy Elk from "completely unacceptable" to "simply mediocre." Then again, most newspaper photographers should ignore this paragraph since their outdated laptops aren't capable of running the latest software.

Photo by Trent Nelson, The Salt Lake Tribune

Photo by Trent Nelson, The Salt Lake Tribune

The Lazy Elk High School's amazing scoring table. Don't point your camera toward it unless you're in the market for new gear— it is bright enough to ruin your camera's sensor.
The inconsistency of the overhead lighting in the gymnasium is the one drawback to shooting at Lazy Elk. The color temperature varies from spot to spot on the floor so you can't get a consistent white balance. It's so bad that not even auto white balance or RAW can handle it. You are better off manually setting the correct Kelvin temperature measurement for each spot on the court as the action dictates. The following graphic displays recommended white balance settings on the court.

One more lighting note: One side of the court is a full stop darker than the other. It's usually the side where the visiting team is shooting.

That pretty much covers the photography side of things. Just two more tips for your Friday night experience…

Make sure you watch (but don't photograph) the halftime performance of the school's all-region dance squad, the lovely Elkettes. The Elkettes are famous for their Austin Powers-themed pogo stick routine which they only perform when Lazy Elk's rivals, the American Fork Cavemen, come to town. At all other games the Elkettes perform a 20-minute zombie dance to Michael Jackson's Thriller.

All proceeds from the snack bar go to the wrestling team. You will find all the usual Costco snacks, soda and candy. Prices are so low that even a photographer can afford a small feast of sugar and fat. I recommend a Snickers Almond. Watch your back at the snack bar however, as a band of screeching monkeys have been known to swoop in and pickpocket customers. Wallet chains are highly recommended.

Hit me up if you're ever assigned to a game at Lazy Elk. We'll grab a Meatburger before tip off.

Tent Nelson is the Chief Photographer at the Salt Lake Tribune. You can see his work at his personal website: and on his member page:

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