Brian “Babs” Babineau: Boston’s Premier Pro Sports Photographer
In 2008, just moments before the Boston Celtics defeated the Lakers to win the NBA Championship, Brian Babineau spotted Celtics All-Star Paul Pierce approaching Coach Doc Rivers with a cooler full of Gatorade.
Instinctively, he got up, backed off, lifted his camera and pressed the shutter.
The iconic shot of Rivers under a deluge of orange electrolytes is one that basketball fans will look back on years from now and treasure.
But today is just a regular day for the Celtics team photographer more commonly known as “Babs.” Read along as we follow Babineau for the day at a Celtics home game against the Utah Jazz and learn what it takes to be Boston’s go-to pro-sports photographer.
Who Is Brian “Babs” Babineau?
A native of Medford, Massachusetts, Babineau grew up steeped in Boston’s vibrant pro-sports scene. When he was 15, his father, Boston Bruins team photographer since the late ’70s, asked Brian if he wanted to shoot some film.
“He handed me the camera and said, ‘Here’s your shutter, here’s your focus—go,’” Babineau recalls. Photos from that game revealed his innate timing, and launched his 20+ year career.
Now team photographer for the Celtics and Bruins, as well as a staff photographer for the Boston Red Sox, Babineau has experienced some of the most legendary moments in professional sports with teams he’s been rooting for since childhood.
Along with the Celtics’ 2008 NBA Championship win and 2011 Bruins Stanley Cup victory, he photographed the historic break of an 86-year losing streak when the Red Sox vanquished the “Curse of the Bambino” and delivered a World Series win in 2004.
Even though he’s not on the team, Babineau is vested in their successes. “That’s one thing about my job,” Babineau says, “being lucky enough to work for teams that have been playing so well and be right there in the middle of everything. To say that Kevin Garnett poured champagne over my head, to pick the Stanley Cup up over my head on the ice in Vancouver—those are things you dream about.”
According to Celtics creative director Keith Sliney, Babineau has a unique ability to record the feeling of those exultant moments. “That’s something I think Brian’s really good at,” Sliney says. “Not only capturing the moment, but capturing the emotion.”
When we meet up with Babineau, he’s been at the TD Garden since 3 p.m. setting up for the game.
He takes the elevator to level nine where his equipment is stored, then makes his way back down to the court to charge his batteries and hook up his pocket wizards (on-camera transmitters that sync to the strobes) and remote cameras. At an NBA game, Babineau carries two Nikon D4S cameras, shooting down the court with an 80-400 mm lens and a shorter 24-120 mm lens to cover the up-close basketball action. His remote camera is on the opposite side of the court.
Because of the strobes, he’s able to keep his shutter speed and aperture consistent the whole time. “Every time I shoot, the arena gets lit up and I’m at [f]5.6 the entire time—it’s perfect lighting,” Babineau says.
Though this setup provides an obvious advantage, there is another critical consideration. To take great photos, Babineau needs to be focused the entire time, ready for anything to happen—with strobes, he gets only one shot every three seconds.
Prior to the 7:30 p.m. tipoff, Babineau takes his designated game-time position. As the lights dim over the 17,565-seat arena, a spotlight draws the attention of fans and spectators to a 13-year-old girl standing alone on the court’s famous parquet flooring. She belts out the “Star-Spangled Banner,” and though he’s immersed in the arena’s energy of silent solemnity, Babineau must also capture this moment.
He’ll take between 350 and 450 photos during the game, including a designated shot list from the Celtics.
“I only press that shutter when I want to,” Babineau says. “I don’t make movies during games—I want to get that one shot.” Despite the emphasis on quality over quantity, Sliney estimates Babineau takes approximately 30,000 photos per season.
As Babineau snaps photos, they are immediately transmitted via tethered cable to the NBA offices in New Jersey, where they’re edited and captioned live. From there, they’ll be uploaded to Getty Images, a stock photo site, and become available to the world.
For the Celtics, Babineau’s sister Jamie gathers his CF (CompactFlash) cards and places photos in Celtics player folders for the team archives.
“When I first started, I was shooting slides and negatives,” Babineau says. “Now everything’s digital, everything’s superfast. Everyone has a camera in their pocket … Sooner or later for me at a Celtics game, I won’t be hooked up to anything and I’ll be able to take a picture of center court and it’s going to be transmitted to wherever—the moon.”
New technology has also allowed Babineau to express himself in innovative ways that set him apart. One of his favorites is the cinemagraph. He first used the technique on freshly drafted NBA rookies, taking photos of them with smoke moving in the background.
“That’s exactly the type of stuff that some people won’t even touch,” Sliney says. “But he’s always branching out and trying to learn new techniques and different things.”
Despite all the technological advances, the routine of setup, national anthem, shot list and equipment breakdown, will replicate itself for every game. For some, this daily routine, coupled with a demanding travel schedule, would have the potential to become overly laborious, even monotonous. But it doesn’t feel that way watching Babineau do his job.
For six to seven hours a day, he’s in his element. Though he could probably have his pick of photographing any pro team, Boston is where he belongs. “I wouldn’t want anyone else to have this job,” he says. And no one — save the person to the left and right of him — will ever have the chance to see the game the way he does.
Article by: Michelle Marino is a writer specializing in technology, photo and culture. Based in Boston, Michelle has written for multiple area publications, including Boston magazine. She currently creates and produces digital content for eBay.com, a great destination for cameras.
Taking it Further
- Don’t have an arena to shoot in? How about the opposite? Our Guide to Turning a Small Space into a Studio.
- It you can’t hang strobes from the rafters, read Tips for Shooting Natural Looking Photos at Night.
- If you are headed to a game, bring a Power Wallet. It holds cash and charges your phone to keep you snapping all game long.