Interview with Austin Spurs Team Photographer Andy Nietupski

Amanda Janczak, Media and Community Relations Coordinator for Spurs Sports & Entertainment, asked these questions of Andy Nietupski, long-time Austin Spurs photographer.  Andy is the founder of Through the Lens Sport Media which helps sports organizations optimize their business results using the latest digital sales and marketing techniques. 

Amanda Janczak (AJ): When did you become a sports photographer?  

Andy Nietupski (AN): I started taking pictures in 2008 while on assignment in Japan for IBM.  Every weekend my wife and I would explore Tokyo and the surrounding cities, and I would take pictures.  It was a beautiful place to photograph and there is so much history (lots of old stuff to take pictures of).  We came back to Austin in late 2009 and I though photography would be boring... that was true until I started photographing sports in 2011.  

AJ: Why did you want to become a sports photographer?  

Figure 1 - Jonathan Simmons (17) went undrafted by the NBA in 2012 after playing at the University of Houston.  Simmons made the Austin Spurs starting line-up in 2013 as a try-out player.  Simmons signed with the San Antonio Spurs in 2015.  He is currently playing with the Santa Cruz Warriors (January 11, 2015 / Andy Nietupski)

AN:  I became a sport photographer for the beauty and the challenge.  Sports is full of color, intensity, emotion and speed.  Capturing that in an image is challenging, both physically and technically.  You have 1/1000th of a second to capture an image that will never be repeated.  I can summarize a 48-minute basketball game in to 1/10th of a second.  None of that is easy.  Sports photography really made me work to become good.  

AJ: What’s your favorite part of being a sports photographer?  

AN: The people.  I feel like a member of the team of every sport I photograph.  The people really appreciate what I do for them, and I find that especially rewarding.  There are lots of pressures on the people in the front office, especially during a game.  I like to think I make their lives easier.  Occasionally I get to know the players and that makes for wonderful stories.  

Figure 2 - Andy shot this commercial for Westinghouse in March 2017 featuring Ryan Arcidiacono during March Madness.  Ryan made the game-winning pass for Villanova to win the 2016 NCAA Men’s Division Basketball Championship in the final seconds.  Ryan now plays for the Chicago Bulls (March 6, 2017 / Andy Nietupski). 

AJ: How long have you been photographing the Austin Spurs?  

AN: I starting photographing the Spurs in the 2013 / 2014 season.  I still remember my telephone call with Perri Travillion.  She was a little cautious, but gave the benefit of a doubt.  It has worked out very well since.  

AJ: What is your favorite memory from photographing the Austin Spurs and why?  

AN: I'll never forget the deciding game of the Western Conference semi-final series against the Rio Grande Valley Vipers on April 7, 2016.  I'll wager that it was one of the greatest come-from-behind victories ever seen in the Cedar Park Center.  RGV led until very late in the fourth quarter, when a steal and lay-up by Keifer Sykes tied the game.  The Spurs took the lead with 0.4 seconds remaining on a free-throw by Sykes, to secure the win for Austin, 89-88.   Keifer posted a season and team-high 31 points.  Austin advanced to the Western Conference Finals with the victory.  I was so excited that I put down my camera just to watch (although I did get a lot of great images before that).  It was also the game where Perri's son proposed to his girlfriend in a pre-arranged halftime event.  

AJ: Do you have a favorite photo(s) from your time photographing the Austin Spurs and why?  

AN: Asking a photographer if he has a favorite photograph is like asking a parent if they have a favorite child.  No way.  I have tons of favorites. (Andy eventually relented and send Amanda some images for use in this article). 

Figure 3 - Photographing for the Spurs allows you to get close to the players, both physically and personally.  (Note the tattoos on Dejounte's biceps: “Gods Gift.") Dejounte Murray was drafted by the San Antonio Spurs in 2016 after playing one season at the University of Washington. Most of San Antonio’s first round draft pick spend their first season playing in Austin (November 13, 2016 / Andy Nietupski).  

AJ: Was there a particular Austin Spurs game/moment that was most exciting to capture and why?  

AN: It was Spurs winning the Western Conference Championship on April 5, 2018, but not for the reason you'd think.  The game moment I'll never forget is Darrun Hilliard crashing into me as he drove the lane.  Darrun and I were both sprawled out on the floor.  It was a pretty big collision.  Darrun has a steely demeanor on the court, but he was very gracious to me, especially at that moment.  Chris Covatta captured a great image of it that he later gave to me.  

AJ: Were there any Austin Spurs players that were difficult and/or easy to get good photos of (facial expressions, etc.) and why?  

AN: Without a doubt this is Orlando Johnson.  Orlando played with an intensity that screamed emotion.  He was amazing to photograph.  The biggest challenge was he always drove the lane with his mouth wide open, not the most flattering of poises to some, but I loved it.  I made it into a contest, trying to get an image with his mouth closed... it wasn't easy.  I especially like Orlando because he was such a contrast. On the court he played with the intensity of a street brawler, his facial expressions and tattoos added to the effect.  But he was an especially nice guy off the court, and the story of losing in mom as a child, and being raised by his grandmother was especially touching.  

Figure 4 – Orlando Johnson played with an intensity that screamed emotion. He also has an amazing personal story.  Johnson's mother was murdered when he was one year old.  He was then raised by his grandmother,  who watched her house burn down six years later. Four of Johnson's family members perished in that blaze.  His grandmother died when he was 11 and his two older brothers raised him afterwards and ensured that he graduated from college (December 30, 2015 / Andy Nietupski).

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