Shooting the perfect dunk

February 24, 2011

Kids playing streetball or millionaires performing in a highly choreographed show? Sport or showbiz? Welcome to the NBA All-Star weekend slam dunk contest.

Singer Rihanna performs during half-time of the NBA All-Star basketball game in Los Angeles February 20, 2011. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

One of the most satisfying moves to watch in basketball, and one of the easiest to photograph is the dunk, as the player soars above the rim and jams the ball through the net.

West All Star Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers dunks during the NBA All-Star game in Los Angeles, February 20, 2011.  REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

The contest pits some of the most athletic NBA players against each other as they compete to execute the flashiest, most difficult, or original dunk.

We’re only given one floor photo position next to the basket, so the challenge is to capture the winning dunk from the best angle. Previous winners have leapt over other players, twisted 360 degrees in the air, extended the height of the basket with a forklift, and jumped over tables.

I mounted a camera with a 400mm lens in the catwalk in the roof of the arena, which I triggered with a Pocket Wizard radio transmitter, to give an overview of all the dunks. I positioned another remote camera on the floor to the side of the court with a wide-angle lens. I was sitting on the baseline to the right of the basket, Gary Hershorn was up in the stands with a 400mm lens and Danny Moloshok was shooting the action from the far end of the court.

Washington Wizards’ JaVale McGee dunked three basketballs in one leap.

Washington Wizards' JaVale McGee dunks three balls during the slam dunk competition at the NBA basketball All-Star weekend in Los Angeles, February 19, 2011.  REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Oklahoma City Thunder’s Serge Ibaka snatched a stuffed animal from the rim with his teeth.

Oklahoma City Thunder's Serge Ibaka grabs a stuffed animal with his mouth while competing in the slam dunk contest during the NBA basketball All-Star weekend in Los Angeles, February 19, 2011.   REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

Los Angeles Clippers Blake Griffin performed a 360 degree corkscrew dunk, and then hung on the rim with his forearm dangling through the net.

Los Angeles Clippers' Blake Griffin hangs on the rim while competing in the slam dunk contest during the NBA All-Star dunk contest in Los Angeles, February 19, 2011.    REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

With only one dunk remaining, the stadium went silent in anticipation. A gospel choir walked out onto the floor and began to sing ‘I Believe I Can Fly.’ An NBA official told us all to remove our remote cameras from the floor as a car drove onto the court.

I hastily repositioned my wide-angle remote camera to my left underneath the basket, made a quick, rough focus, and sat down. Seconds later, Griffin ran towards the car, leapt over the hood, fielded a pass from teammate Baron Davis poking out of the sunroof, and lunged at the hoop. Shooting at 1/1000 second, I squeezed off a frame of him sailing over the car, and then swinging on the rim in the aftermath of the basket as the ball shot through his legs. The novelty of his move and its swift execution sealing victory before the ball hit the floor and the crowd roared its approval.

Los Angeles Clippers' Blake Griffin jumps over a car while competing in the slam dunk contest during the NBA All-Star weekend in Los Angeles, February 19, 2011.   REUTERS/Gary Hershorn

Los Angeles Clippers' Blake Griffin hangs on the rim after jumping over a car while competing in the slam dunk contest during the NBA All-Star dunk contest in Los Angeles, February 19, 2011.   REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

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