Client Stories: A talk with Steven Lipofsky, fine art photographer and creator of classic NBA images

Steve's 2008 Sports Illustrated cover. He was thrilled with the photo editor's decision to include the slide mount as opposed to the usual full bleed photo.
Steve's 2008 Sports Illustrated cover. He was thrilled with the photo editor's decision to include the slide mount as opposed to the usual full bleed photo. "It's a fun, artistic choice, and much more interesting", he says.
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Steven Lipofsky was the official photographer for Boston Celtics for 23 years – and this happened kind of accidentally. Now, as an established fine art photographer, he talked to us about his career, journey with NBA, and inspirations.

If you like sports and have not heard of Steven Lipofsky himself, you most likely have at least seen one of his images – he has been the official photographer for Boston Celtics for 23 years and the official one for Boston Red Sox. His work has been featured in many renowned publications, such as Sports Illustrated, TIME, The New York Times, and USA Today. 

If you are a basketball fan, he also has one of the largest collections of classic NBA photos available for editorial use and prints. As if this is not enough to be an established photographer, he also has the following clients in his portfolio: Harvard Medical School and Boston Properties.  

Apart from all the nice stuff Steve has accomplished, he is a fun, engaging person to talk with – and he is a certified drone operator! He has joined RYDE this year, 2021, looking for a way to keep track of his photographic work. We had a cool and inspiring talk with him about his career, journey with the Boston Celtics, and his unlicensed image use experience. Check it out.    

When was the first time you knew photography is your passion?   

My Dad was a very good photographer. He wasn’t a professional but well could have been. 

He taught me the basics of photography when I was a kid, including developing film and making prints. Making my own prints was key to my passion for and continued interest in photography. The image that you create in the camera is only raw material that must be enhanced and interpreted. 

Why basketball? What caught your eye in that sport?   

I had no specific interest in basketball photography. The first photos of basketball that I ever took were of the NBA champion Boston Celtics. The short version of a longer story is that I showed a man photo of cows looking at their reflections in ponds and then I was the official photographer of the Boston Celtics within a few months.   

As it turned out, that position led to a wealth of lifelong friends, and experiences that a billionaire’s money couldn’t buy. 

What was the most spectacular event or photoshoot that you did?   

To pick one, I was sent up in a WWII fighter trainer, with the canopy pulled back to the open air to photograph a Boeing B-17 bomber as it flew up and down the coast of Massachusetts. I had a headset on and was able to direct the pilot to “model” the plane as to my command. I subsequently got to take an eight-hour flight on the vintage bomber from New Hampshire to Florida, looking out through the various large “picture windows” throughout the plane.   

This previous instrument of war was transformed into a wonderful device for exploring the skies and countryside.             

Aerial drone photo of Peterborough NH. Steve photographed the B-17 from a WWII fighter trainer, duplicated it, and added the planes to the photo.

 

What personality traits would you say helped you to establish yourself as a photographer?   

My gadget geekiness and insatiable curiosity about how things work have served me well as photography has become more technical. If I had known that there would be these amazing drones to fly and photograph with, I would have grown up much more quickly! 

I genuinely like and am curious about people and the whole world around me. It is such a wonderful pleasure to meet so many interesting people and get behind the scenes to learn how things work. 

 I crave variety and don’t do well with 9-5 or routine. Having a wide variety of work keeps me motivated. The nature of my work feeds my passion for travel and exploring different settings.  

What piece of advice would you give to photographers starting now?   

This is the best time in history, in terms of the technology, to be a photographer. Whatever you can imagine, you can create. ANYONE can express themselves through photography. 

Think about where your passions lie, sports, technology, people… Photography can become a means to explore that passion and you will be motivated to do the work needed to monetize your photography. 

Find a photographer whose work you admire or is working in a field you are interested in and ask LOTS of questions.              

Last year, when the world entered a lockdown, most of the events had to be cancelled. How was 2020 for you, and how did it affect your work?   

Most of my work involved photographing events on location. That was suspended during the pandemic.  

I shifted my focus to looking for more work involving drone photography and video, including mapping and documenting construction projects. 

 The pandemic has allowed me to pursue projects such as my book on my time with the Celtics, “Boston Garden: from where I sat,” and other endeavors that were precluded by my regular work, including marketing my NBA images.  

 I have an extensive library of the classic NBA images that I’ve shot, and there has been a lot of activity involving the use of these images for the book and video projects. I’m one of every few resources outside of the NBA itself for classic images of NBA players and teams. 

Do you seek inspiration to photograph? If yes, where? Or is it more just to capture the right moment?   

As I mentioned previously, I’m very curious about the world around me. Whatever setting I find myself in, my head is always on a pivot as I scan for subjects to “put a frame around”. 

Frozen river and pedestrian bridge shot from above with drone. Multiple photos were shot and stitched together to make a very large file.

Do you have experience with unlicensed image use? How was the first time you experienced it?   

 I’ve had numerous experiences with the unlicensed use of my images. An early one was finding a vendor selling poorly reproduced copies of some of my NBA images at a sports memorabilia show.  

I confronted the person, and it was not a fun experience.  

It is difficult for a photographer to keep track of unlicensed usages and more difficult still to marshall the time and resources to address the problem.  

I was very happy when RYDE reached out to me with a solution to the problem. Carmen, my RYDE contact, has been a joy to work with! 

Do you think it is important to claim your rights in the digital world? Why?   

Now that most all images either originate as digital or are scanned to digital, there can be innumerable “originals” of any given single image.  

As it becomes increasingly challenging to monetize one’s images, it’s imperative to maximize revenue for usage. It is bad enough to have images stolen, but that unauthorized usage also dilutes the value of the image. 

 

#14Answers with Steve n Lipofsky

Me and Boston Celtics Kevin McHale at his Basketball Hall of Fame enshrinement

 

We played our usual association game with Steve. He is supposed to answer it with what comes on top of his mind: a word or a sentence. Take a look and get to know a bit more about the professional photographer Steven Lipofsky.  

 

1. Photography 

Technologically driven art 

2. Art 

Sharing your vision 

3. Sports 

Like dance, but you keep score 

4. Basketball 

Like Jazz, an American invention that has enriched the world and made it smaller. 

5. Videography  

Visual storytelling now available to all             

6. Perfect Shot 

A great Anejo tequila at room temperature 

7. A place 

Gordon Lederer Memorial, Banovina, Croatia 

8. A Song 

Take On Me by Aha 

9. A Book 

Devil in the White City 

10. A Motto 

What me worry? 

11. A Food 

Crawfish Etouffee  

12. Inspiration 

George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart in “It’s a Wonderful Life” shows the value of friendship, decency, looking out for one another.  

13. Digital 

Made photography magical in ways that I could not have dreamed of 

14. Infringement 

Theft 

 

You can see more of Steve’s work on www.Lipofskyphoto.com

 

Have a story to share? Reach out to us and let’s talk!

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