Hands up if you’re confused

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I am constantly learning.

Yesterday I probably surprised many of my friends after saying I shot a few armpit pictures that I liked. I’ve been very vocal in trying to find more than the rebounds and dunks in the paper. They happen every single game. If you look at today’s Herald-Leader sports section, you’ll notice that on the inside there are three or four photos by Charles Bertram that almost all look the same. Their center piece is an example of a good armpit picture, but the rest are run-of-the-mill basketball photos.

After it was pointed out to me last year that all of the pictures I was editing for basketball looked the same, the face of basketball pictures changed for the Kernel.

Before I can get back to showing a few armpits that I like, I think it’s necessary to show a few that I most certainly don’t. These are the ones you are likely to see.

The dreaded armpit pictures:





This last one is closer, just because of the diagonal lines through the arms and the ball. It’s semi-interesting, but still falls short of being a good picture. The rest aren’t good pictures.

I’ve been trying to think of why they are often thought of good pictures. Why do newspapers run these monotonous shots of arms up? It’s exactly what the coaches tell their players, “Keep your arms up! Arms in the air!” To me, I see it as shooting an extra point in a football game. Who cares if Perry Stevenson got a rebound? Unless he completed the game with a career high or set some kind of record, it’s not important.

Some silly reasons to run armpit pictures:

* Sharpness. As photographers sit like ducks under the basket (really just waiting to be toppled by the giants running up and down the court), one of the easiest places to be prepared for a picture is right in front of you. According to the “Law of Averages” one can assume the more pictures you take of something in one place, the more you will get in focus. The more you get in focus, the more likely you are to have one that is interesting.

* Clean. Look at all of the photos I posted above. They all have the same bobble-headed fans behind them. The fans repetition forms a someone clean background, making the players pop. But you can have a clean and sharp picture of horse crap, and it’s still horse crap in the end. If nothing is going on in your frame besides a normal rebound and it is clean and sharp, it still may be worthless.

* Abundance. Once again to the “Law of Averages.” Since photographers sit under the goal, where rebounds and dunks are likely to happen, they have an abundance of these shots. If a majority of your pictures are rebounds, lay ups and dunks, you are likely to be picking from tagged pictures of the same.

If anyone else can think of other reasons, please post them so we can all learn.

What can make one of these typical armpit pictures stand out?

I asked myself that, and came to a few answers really. And after thinking about all of my responses, I realized one thing. The same things that make other pictures better, will improve your sports pictures too.

Great expressions

This isn’t an epiphany for photography or even myself. I’ve always known that good expressions are good in sports pictures. But after looking through my photos from the game, I realized that it’s this basic rule that led me to like a few of my armpit pictures. This picture of Ramon Harris isn’t amazing, but it’s a decent picture. His face is good, and it’s fairly clean (minus that ugly scoreboard). It’s an arms up picture that is decent. While I probably still wouldn’t run this, I have decided that great expressions could lead me to run an armpits picture.


Interesting compositions

With all of that movement under the goal, you are sure to see some interesting forms being made within your pictures. It’s possible that some of the arms that are stuck up in the air will be what frames your picture nicely and helps the photo in the end.

This photo of Patrick Patterson and AJ Stewart guarding a shot is interesting to me because the ball and Stewart’s arm frame up the NC player’s face and make it the first thing you see. Patterson has a good expression on his face and the NC player’s face makes me wonder if he was successful in his attempt (and he probably was).


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These two photos both have interesting faces and strange compositions with all of these limbs flying after the ball. They basically used the same formula as the previous photo.

Emotional reactions and telling the story

While the players are doing a lot of arms up, they are playing hard for something they are passionate about. When they make big plays, or fail to make them, they react.

If you were at yesterday’s game, you know there were a lot of fouls. Emotions were running high, especially among the freshman.


In this picture, senior Ramel Bradley throws his arm up to wave for his teammates after AJ Stewart, left, had committed a turnover. Stewart had just had a foul called on him (I think, it’s hard to pay attention and shoot well). Stewart had a look of disappointment, but Bradley, one of the team’s leaders, was trying to stay composed.


Other things to look for in those arms up pics are celebrations. Here the entire team cheers in the first half when the team was keeping the game within 5-7 points. All the way down the line you can see yelling and arm flying. This wouldn’t run in the paper unless you had a picture to show the second half disappointment in the team or in a player.

That is a part of the game. While these are not a typical arms up picture, I thought I would throw them into the mix since they do fit the category. Patterson seems like he will provide some very good photos for me this season.

To recap, when pictures have great expressions, interesting compositions and great reactions that are story telling, then it may be acceptable to run those armpits on the newsprint. These with a combination of sharpness and clean backgrounds can all combine to make powerful pictures. I don’t have any excellent photos for you today. But from now on I wont be so biased as to where they can come from.

But I still don’t like seeing rebounds run in the news.

Between the lines:

This photo had no relevance to this blog post, but is really funny. Michael Porter is heading straight for Mark Coury’s rear, and looks like he knows it. There are some excellent, monumental moments in sports. This one isn’t one of them.



The opinions of Beyond the map stars are Brad Luttrell’s. He works for the Kentuckian and the Kentucky Kernel, but in no way do they consider his opinion to represent their own.


3 Responses to “Hands up if you’re confused”

  1. Very good blog post, Brad. You’ve got a knack for explaining and presenting your opinions well. Also, I think I’m going to show Mark that last picture, haha.

  2. You said it yourself, people like to see the big plays. Most of the big plays involve scoring, mostly dunking. people like dunks. Other big plays involve steals and stuffs and people fighting for balls on the ground. Also, if it mentions that Bradley scored the most points in the game in the story, then you’d want a photo of him scoring (or shooting) to relate to the story. Armpits relate most directly to scoring, so saying not to run armpit pictures is like saying not to run pictures of what the game is about. It’s like not running a picture of keenan burton catching a pass in the end zone because he does that almost every game. Granted, touchdowns are far less common than layups, but it’s the same idea.

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