Magic Johnson vs. Boston Celtics, 1984 ©Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images

Andrew D. Bernstein is recognized as one of the most important sports photographers working today. Though he is a master at capturing action, he is also a highly skilled portrait photographer. His gifts for composition, lighting and timing have resulted in some of the NBA’s most important and iconic images.

Since 1986, Bernstein has served as the senior official photographer for the NBA. His work finds its way into all NBA Entertainment media platforms. In addition to his NBA responsibilities, Bernstein is also director of photography at the Staples Center and the Nokia Theatre L.A. Live entertainment complex.

Bernstein’s photographic work has appeared in magazines such as Sports Illustrated, TIME, Newsweek, ESPN and many more. In 2010 he collaborated with Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson to produce the book Journey to the Ring: Behind the Scenes with the 2010 NBA Champion Lakers (Time Capsule Press). (See the “Noted” column in the Fall 2011 issue of Photographer’s Forum for a brief review.)

When I caught up with Bernstein in September 2011, I was impressed by how friendly and open he is. His positive energy is probably experienced by most, if not all, of the athletes he photographs. I think his friendly nature helps to create a special rapport with the athletes and results in some amazing work.

GS: When did your interest in photography begin?
AB: I was self-taught. My dad bought me a camera when I was 14, and it took off from there. I had a very good friend with a darkroom in his basement. Though I didn’t take any photography courses in high school, I became photo editor of my high school yearbook.

GS: You received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship that provided a partial scholarship to Art Center College of Design. How did that come about?
AB: I was on my dad’s four-year college plan, which meant he would pay for four years of college. But in the middle of my junior year, I transferred to Art Center — so when I reached my fourth term there, I had to pay my own way. I applied for every grant, scholarship, whatever. I received a half scholarship from Art Center, which was great; then I got the National Endowment award based on my journalism portfolio.

GS: Why did you select Art Center?
AB: My sister knew that I was yearning to learn photography from somebody who could teach me technically what was going on. She said, “I heard about this place in Pasadena called Art Center, and I think they have a night program. Why don’t you check it out?” So I did. They had a great Introduction to Photography class one evening a week. Art Center was very hardcore commercial and advertising, but I knew I would get the technical training that I needed.

More of this article can be read in the Spring 2012 issue.