Little Netcams Get Big Pictures

May 14, 2008 | By Bruce Bennett | Sport

Here I am replacing the digital card between periods and making sure the camera is still firing.

Without a doubt, one of the best selling hockey images is the shot from inside the net. This is especially true during the playoffs. With the correct combination of experience and a bit of luck, you can usually come out of a game with at least one netcam image that will be published by many websites and national publications.

Even when your learn-from-experience days seem to be over; you are at the mercy of spotty remote signals, the possibility of players ‘relocating’ your camera (with force) and a host of other maladies that all appear on the list of Murphy’s Laws of netcam usage. That list is too long for me to delineate here. It is best explained with the phrase “this is not an exact science.” That being said, it is a stellar spot that brings you back the following game for another chance for a winning image.

Currently the equipment of choice is a Canon 5d with a Canon 15mm lens. This combination provides for a full frame view of the hockey net, so the image includes the red bars which frames the photograph nicely. The camera is placed in the housing unit and protected on two sides, front and bottom with shatterproof Lexan plastic. The Lexan provides good visibility and is strong enough to withstand impact. Even so, any scratch or abrasion creates a star-like effect in an image which could slash across a players face making the shot unusable. The other sides of the housing are protected by padding that helps disguise the camera in white, but provides very little protection from impact. However, the chances of taking a shot from the side are limited and the padding, which is stitched in Velcro, provides for easy access to changing batteries and pulling digital cards between periods.

All of the pieces are put together 3 hours prior to game time and the image framing is checked on the computer.

Our Philly stringer Len Redkoles and I check out the installation.

Attached to the bottom of the case, there are clamps so that the box can be mounted in the back of the net. A Pocket Wizard receiver is tethered to the camera through a “stay awake” cable so that the camera stays on throughout the game. It can then be tripped from the other end of the ice which is 200 feet away. That is, of course, if there is no radio interference or signal blocking electronics in the building. In some buildings the placement of the transmitter is crucial to getting a good signal. In more recent days, we have experienced jagged patterns on our images as a result of radio waves from the TV camera we share the net with – creative maybe…but certainly not desirable.

Here I am testing some shots before the game starts…

The NHL issues guidelines that outline the box specifications as well as the placement of the camera. The ideal placement is about 6-8 inches off the ice and centered in the back of the net. I use a level to try to keep all lines horizontal, and on bigger games wire the camera to a laptop to shoot test frames which will tell me if the placement is good and if I have been successful in limiting the TV netcam from view. This is not an easy task but we have been working with the NHL and the broadcasters to come up with a mutually agreeable standard.

The camera is in the net, ready for action. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Once all of the above is checked and complete you are almost ready. You just have to get one more thing in the net…your head. Being able to visualize when to push the button, especially when you are usually at the other end of the ice is sometimes a problem. So concentration is key, but failing that, the motor drive at three frames a second, and a large capacity digital card help make up for any uncertainty.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Now we sit back and wait for the goalie to miss the puck and spread out nicely in the crease with the opposing player towering over him with his arms raised. With most games, this never happens. The end result could be a winning goal, a great play, or simply a good generic image of a goalie making a save shot from a highly unusual and unobtainable angle. Historically, the netcam shot, although a cliché in my book, is a proven seller.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

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