From a Stanley Cup Championship to the Happiest Place on Earth: A Pro Sports Photographer’s Story and Inspiration
It’s 2011, and the Boston Bruins are on a charter jet flight home from Vancouver with a highly coveted trophy in tow. Their first Stanley Cup win in almost 40 years, the team’s victory over the Canucks would be met with much fanfare back in Beantown. In a window seat on the plane, Bruins team photographer Brian “Babs” Babineau sleeps with his feet propped up, blissfully unaware he’s smiling contently. To his right is the Cup, enjoying the full benefits of business class in the seat next to him.
While not every game he’s photographed has been an epic achievement, Babineau’s experiences successfully primed him for that once-in-a-lifetime moment. At age 15, the Medford, Massachusetts, native shot his first Bruins game from his family’s season ticket seats following a casual proposal from his father, a Bruins team photographer since the late ‘70s. "One game he gave me his camera and said, ’Do you want to take some photos?’" Babineau recalls. “I said sure.” Despite shooting only a single roll of slide film, one exceptional picture taken that day was selected for the box cover of the EA Sports 1994 Hockey PC Video Game, a catalyst for the initiation of Babineau’s 20+ year career.
After attaining official team photographer status with the Bruins, Babineau became both the Boston Celtics team photographer and Red Sox staff photographer in 2003. Though the flow of the sports he photographs varies, his shooting style doesn’t discriminate when it comes to capitalizing on his refined anticipatory skill. “Basketball’s a slower game, very coordinated,” Babineau says. “Hockey is much faster. You have to be on your toes ready to shoot at any moment. Basketball has those moments too—a fast break or someone steals the ball. The speed of the game is different, but overall you have to be focused the entire time and ready for anything to happen.”
During Bruins games, Babineau sits on the visitor’s side, where his team shoots at him twice during the game, allowing him to snap as many goal and celebration photos as possible during the first and third periods. In the second period, the Bruins goalie is in front of him, and Babineau positions himself behind one of the goal-line face-off circles, poking his camera lens through the hole in the glass. For events like the National Hockey League (NHL) Winter Classic, a nationally broadcast, annual outdoor game held in a different location every New Year’s Day, Babineau wears skates when he’s shooting team practice and the alumni game on the ice. “This year I was skating with the Canadiens and Bruins alumni in front of all the fans at Gillette Stadium (home of the New England Patriots),” he says.
To ensure he can successfully capture whatever’s in front of him, Babineau carries two cameras, one short lens and one long lens for both basketball and hockey, with a remote camera on one end of the court for basketball and the occasional net camera for special hockey games like the Winter Classic and the NHL Stadium Series. “My standard sports lens is a 70-200 [mm],” Babineau says. “24-120 [mm] is my go-to lens for basketball to cover what’s in front of me. I use a 70-200 [mm] with a converter down the other end. For hockey, it’s the 70-200 [mm] and 80-400 [mm] lens. And I’m shooting with strobes, so everything is lit up perfectly. I don’t have to worry about aperture.”
Up until a year ago, Babineau’s in-game editing for the Celtics and Bruins included reviewing shots during time-outs and tagging certain pictures to be cropped and captioned by his editor Jamie, who also happens to be his sister. Though that process is still the same for the Bruins, editing happens almost seamlessly now for the Celtics as Babineau shoots. Today at basketball games , his cameras are tethered with photos being transmitted instantly to the National Basketball Association (NBA) offices in New Jersey, where they are live-edited and captioned as he’s shooting. “There’s no postproduction or filters,” Babineau says. “In sports photography, what you see is what you get. Just the thought of me sitting at a Celtics game knowing my photos are being transmitted instantly to New Jersey is mind-blowing. If you had told me that 20 years ago, I would have said that’s impossible.”
Advancing technology certainly has its perks like allowing Babineau to savor more of the moments he’s capturing. Among Babineau’s most treasured memories are the 2008 Celtics NBA Championship triumph and the Bruins’ 2011 Stanley Cup win. “I’ve been shooting the Bruins since 1993,” Babineau says. “To be in Vancouver and shoot them when they won the Cup was a dream come true for me, and it was awesome for the players. Being friends with the players and seeing them hold the Cup up, the whole thing was just amazing. Flying home with the team with the Cup on the plane, drinking champagne out of the Cup in the locker room, picking it up over my head on the ice in Vancouver hopefully it wasn’t a once-in-a-lifetime thing, because I definitely want it to happen again.”
Shooting Boston’s professional sports teams has given Babineau the opportunity to explore other types of photography and expression as well. “Once I started shooting sports, learning photography more and appreciating it that opened doors like becoming the house photographer for the [TD] Garden shooting concerts,” Babineau says. “For me, sports is my bread and butter. But shooting concerts I love, also still lifes and portraits.”
Within the past year, Babineau has taken his portraiture to the next level, by incorporating a photo technology he calls “living pictures” into his NBA rookie photo shoot. “The NBA said, ‘Babs, we want you to do your thing,’” he says. “I did a little research on this new technology it looked really cool to me. Basically it’s a still image where part of it is moving, almost like a video. I decided to experiment with the NBA players I was taking portraits of with smoke behind them. The image is of the player, but the smoke behind them is moving. It’s different.”
With still cameras now able to shoot high-definition and 4K video, photographers are not just still photographers, they’re also making movies and short films. One of Babineau’s favorite projects is a short film he shot on former Celtics shooting guard Ray Allen. His first foray into film, Babineau’s short ended up being featured online by ESPN, an unexpected surprise.
When he’s not experimenting with the latest technology and other creative undertakings, Babineau says he tries to stay away from shooting, with one exception. “Photography takes up a lot of my time, it’s my job,” Babineau says. “But I have been guilty of bringing my camera to Florida. I like going to Disney World. It’s probably one of the most photographed places in the world. You can’t help it. Shooting stuff like that keeps my creativity flowing. When I’m not shooting sports or concerts, I try to do something totally off the wall and different.” It’s that curiosity and work ethic that has made Babineau’s work so sought after, and there are no signs that will stop any time soon.
About the Author:
Michelle Marino is a lifestyle features writer specializing in technology, photo and culture. Based in Boston, Michelle has written for multiple area publications, including Boston magazine, and was an expert tech writer for Forrester Research. She currently creates and produces digital consumer technology content for eBay.com, including cameras and video games.