Archive for March, 1996

Bruce Bennett

March 22, 1996
“I just started as a fan taking pictures from the balcony of Madison Square Garden in 1973.” New York based Bruce Bennett Studios is the world’s largest provider of professional hockey photographs. Within six months of those balcony shots, Bruce began to sell his pictures. The Hockey News (an international publication established in Montreal) paid about $3 a picture for New York Rangers and New York Islanders shots. Now, his pictures appear in Sports Illustrated, Life, People Magazine, Rinkside, Center Ice, and Hockey USA along with several other league and foreign publications.
Bruce Bennett Studios is not clearly visible from the road, but once you enter the doors, you will never forget the experience. Bruce, along with a staff of about 14, are constantly answering phones, setting up shoots, and doing research. Yes, research. Along many of the walls of the studio, from floor to ceiling, are boxes filed with team photographs. These boxes are organized by team, year, and finally, player. It is truly an awe inspiring sight.
In his processing room are two huge E-6 machines which are constantly running. The studio has the ability to handle a great deal of the work, but sometimes it is just overwhelming. All the game shots are taken on Fuji chrome 100 35mm, which is processed in house. The processing of color negative and 4×5 are farmed out.

All members of Bruce’s staff are cross trained to do a variety of tasks. Although each person has a main function, the movement from job to job keeps the interest level high and allows for multiple learning experiences. Most importantly, Bruce needs them all cross trained inorer to handle his business schedule of photographing four NHL teams.

Bruce became the Islanders team photographer in 1981, with the Flyers next in 1988, the Rangers in 1990, and the Devils this season (1995-96). Many people wonder how the studio can choose which games to photograph and how does the studio manage at all. Bruce simply chooses based on proximity. Which ever team is closest in wins. It also depends on the type of contract the studio has with a team. Some teams want all the games shot, while others want just a few. Huge rivalry games are always covered because that is where the best picture taking opportunities are. The action is more intense and there is a higher level of emotion running through the players. To cover every obligation, Bruce send his assistants to the game to make sure every team gets their allotment of pictures.

Prepared with Fujichrome 100, he exposes his subjects with a bank of overhead flash units at f4, 1/250 sync speed. Bruce and his photographers are willing and eager to shoot 25-26 nights a month, and several public relation events during the hockey season. His photographers are switching their equipment to Canon due to Canon’s exceptional autofocusing capabilities. Bruce, however, still loves his traditional, manual focus Nikon. He is just used to focusing the camera himself.

Although lighting varies from arena to arena, no publication wants color pictures unless they were shot with strobes. Photographing for several NHL teams, Bruce has the freedom to put the lighting where it is necessary and he also has the responsibility of maintaining the flashes. Bruce uses Speedotron 2400 watt/second packs with quad tube heads in all arenas except the Spectrum. There he uses Balcar Star flashes with bi-tube heads.

When he or his associates travel, they use 12-1800 watt/second White Lightning units which are nice and portable and have an adequate flash duration. From his perspective, considering how fast hockey moves, recycle time for the units are relatively slow. White lightnings are easy to setup and take on road trips.

The strobes are necessary for Bruce’s pictures since Madison Square Garden and other arenas are tungsten lit which gives a yellow cast on daylight film. The strobes overpower all light in the building so that there is no color cast on the Fujichrome 100.
Bruce and the studio have been shooting the Stanley Cup for 18 years. Whether on their own or as a team photographer. Bruce traveled with the Islanders and Rangers in their bids for the Stanley Cup. After the Stanley Cup is over, it takes one week to clear out all of the pictures in the studio. Next, they cover the NHL draft and NHL awards. The studio is constantly moving, all year round.

Out of all the events and record breaking occurrences, the all time favorite moment and shot for Bruce happened in 1981. This was when Wayne Gretzky scored his 77th goal breaking Phil Esposito’s most goals scored in a single season record in Buffalo, New York. Bruce felt the photograph captured the action of the moment. The picture has been published more than 30 times and it is the shot which earned Bruce the most profit.

How do the players feel about having their pictures taken? Bruce tries to keep his distance from them. He does not ask for autographs and tries to keep communications minimal. Bruce thinks that there is very little in common between him and the players. He is very friendly with a few players since he has done 1-on-1 shots with them. Others he has known since their early years, like Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky. Outside of the rink there is very little communication. The referees? He chuckled, “Actually, they are some of my best friends. They skate by and make sure I am awake. Most of the time, the refs want pictures taken with the players, so they’ll come over to me and try to direct the shot.” Then, with a somewhat straight face, Bruce spoke about how hard the refs work and how they receive very little appreciation for the job they do. “So I can completely identify with them,” he added jokingly.Occasionally, players buy Bruce’s work, but most often they ask their PR person, who then contact Bruce. People also look to Bruce for purchasing pictures because he has a good relationship with most NHL teams and is always ready to help. Plus, he covers international tournaments and junior competitions so people can find pictures of almost any player at any level of play.
The studio has found another way to meet the needs of its customers. About mid 1985, Bruce and Jim Leary (his digital imaging manager) used TeleFinder 4.0.1 software (made by Spider Island Software) to set up a bulletin board system that allows clients to install software and then call the studios computer system to view and download photos. The system is divided into several into several folders which allow for quick and easy access to the studio’s library of pictures. For example, the folders are broken down by league, division, team, and other classifications such as arenas, coaches, trophies, generic and so on. By clicking on particular photos the clients can see an actual preview of the picture and a short explanation including the photographers name.
Besides these folders, there is also PC and MAC shareware, which includes useful programs, games and humorous files. The file “Hockey Today” provides daily updates of scores, statistics, transactions, and news in the world of hockey. They also have an information folder (BBS News) that gives clients helpful information on how to use and get the most out of Bruce’s computer system. Each day, Jim scans more photos into the computer, keeping the folders full and current. The studio also provides an E-mail service, which clients often use to request a photo that might not currently be on the system. Jim then fills the request and places the photos directly in their personal mailbox for downloading.
The studio’s photographic supplies are purchased from Unique Photo, in Orange, New Jersey. Since Bruce uses vast amounts of film over short periods of time, he needs low prices, great service and fast delivery. Bruce finds his account executive extremely helpful because of his extensive product knowledge. Bruce counts on quick turn around and delivery. “If you can count on that, that’s half the battle.” Unique Photo scores a winner for Bruce Bennett Studios every time.