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Q&A: UofGH's Chris Donovan explains what it's like photographing the NBA Finals

Chris Donovan

It's a little surreal when you see Charles Barkley and Shaq just hanging out.

Chris Donovan, the University of Guelph-Humber’s Visual Arts Technologist, recently photographed Game 2 of the NBA Finals between the Toronto Raptors and the Golden State Warriors for the New York Times.

Donovan’s work has been recognized by POYi, the Sony World Photography Awards, the National Newspaper Awards and the News Photographers Association of Canada, including being named Canadian Photojournalist of the Year for 2017 and 2018. His work has been published by the Washington Post, the Globe and Mail, ESPN and others.

We asked Donovan to share his experience on basketball’s biggest stage.

Would you consider yourself a Raptors – or basketball – fan?

Absolutely. There was one funny thing when my editor called me – he told me to check my fandom a little bit because he had a feeling I was a fan. He told me a story about a photographer who was shooting a Syracuse college basketball game against Duke. He was a big Syracuse fan, and when they shot a three-point buzzer beater to win the game, he was jumping and celebrating and he missed the pictures.

There are times you feel it. I caught myself once where they made a big three, and I was like: “Yes!” But it’s not like watching a game. It is work.

How would you describe the atmosphere?

It was insane. You couldn’t hear yourself think, honestly. I spent the second quarter out in Jurassic Park, and out there it was even crazier than there in the building. Everyone wants to get in the building, but it’s honestly better to photograph Jurassic Park, because you have amazing light from the screen, it’s usually dusk, and the atmosphere is electric.

What’s challenging about shooting basketball?

Shooting professional basketball is much easier than shooting college or high school basketball, because the players are so good. A high-school basketball team isn’t going to be spinning around and turning toward the camera a lot.

But the main challenge with something like the NBA Finals is just logistics – being able to get into a certain position, because everybody’s trying to shoot it, and every position has its challenges. If you’re on the floor for instance, you have to use a wide lens sometimes, but that doesn’t always work. But once you get into it, it’s fun. There are always good pictures to be found.

Are there any pictures you took that you were particularly happy with?

There was a play in the first quarter when (Raptors forward) Pascal Siakam went up for a big alley-oop from Fred VanVleet. I shot him right at the peak where he’s grabbing the ball, and he’s so far above the net – it’s unbelievable how high these guys get. That’s one of the things I like about photographing the NBA. It’s so fast when you watch live or on TV, so when you freeze it like this, you really get a sense of the athleticism.

Another picture I took went kind of viral. People have criticized (Warriors guard) Steph Curry for not showing in the series, but he draws so much defence that he obviously can’t perform the way others can. So I had one picture of him dribbling with four Raptors looking at him, ready to attack. All these Warriors fans shared it on Twitter.

What was it like stepping onto the court at the Air Canada Centre during warm-ups for the first time?

It was a little surreal when you see Charles Barkley and Shaq just hanging out. It’s certainly a bit of a surreal moment. But you only have a split second to be like, “Wow, this is cool,” and then you have to get to work.

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