Meet the ‘Air’ Photographer of Basketball Courts Petra Leary

If you have ever seen a mesmerizing overhead photo of a basketball court, chances are one of them were taken by award winning photographer Petra Leary. Courts of the World talks to the New Zealand born aerial photographer about her passion for photography, background in playing hoops herself, favorite photos, and her best cities to shoot down on.

You have so many different targets for your aerial photography, but you have focused mostly on basketball courts. Why the interest?

Yea, you’re totally right about that! I like to change things up every now and then and am always down to take photos of new subjects. But the courts (Especially the Basketball Courts) are for sure my favourite! I’ve been asked a few times why and what it is that draws me to them, and I keep thinking if there is something else to it, but I really just put it down to the symmetry and geometry that comes with them.  

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It’s a very satisfying feeling for me looking at a photo that reflects symmetry and balanced lines. Obviously not all courts are completely straight, theres ones I’ll find in the strangest places that look like they were built 30 plus years ago and probably haven’t been used in nearly as long, and they tend to be the ones with rougher and not so perfect alignments, but still offer some interesting imagery and detail to them. I like the way that they all follow a format, with variations depending on the time they were built, as well as the court size, half court full court etc. 

This photo “Basketball Game” won

“The other thing with shooting the courts is that they look rad with or without people playing on them!”

The different feeling it creates with photos of just a empty court, they become somewhat abstract and more artistic which I really enjoy, and then I also really like the  look of a court in use and especially when you get the shadows of people in action playing (This is something I’m very into, as it means I can play with the shadows and create the surreal like images) 

Are you a basketball player?

Haha, it’s crazy because I have never actually played Basketball in a team! I’ll play with friends or just shoot hoops at the park though for fun. I put that down to the fact I was a tall kid and was constantly being told by adults I should play basketball, and me being a defiant kid, I pretty much didn’t want to do anything an adult told me to do, basketball included haha. 

Do you have any favorite hoop courts?

My favourite court looks wise, has to be the Potters Park full court, its in Balmoral, Auckland, designed by Parklife NZ. Thats the blue and orange court that I photographed originally in 2017 and it s gone pretty viral since, even making it onto the Instagram account.

In saying that though there are so many new ones popping up around Auckland especially and they all look rad. Overseas my favourite would have to be the Elmo KAWS painted courts in New York City. 

My local favourites shoot hoops at (My dog included, he loves basketball and will literally run up to the court and sit there waiting for someone to play) are the half court at Grey Lynn Park, and the old half court in Ivanhoe Reserve, Grey Lynn, Auckland. Ivanhoe is really a pretty terrible old court but I like it because its the court I decided to go and paint with nickelodeon esk patterns for fun, 2 or more years later and its still there although pretty faded ha. 

When do you plan on traveling to shoot more courts?  Any dream locations you want to hit next?

I just got back from New York a month or so ago, and was working on photographing a series of the courts I could find in different boroughs of NYC. It was such a fun time and I was with my partner who was shooting portraits of people that were ether playing ball or just locals of the area. The series together with his portraits and my Aerial photos worked really well and we are just in the process of organising an exhibition to show them all. 
Theres a lot of places I would love to go to photograph all the courts! ticking off the list slowly haha. Im really keen to go back to Hong Kong as I know there are some rad courts throughout the city’s. The Philippines also apparently has a huge basketball culture and I think that would be really interesting to see the different courts around there. I think Basketball is such a global thing that you could go almost anywhere in the world and find some interesting courts. 

Any recommendations from those shooting courts and using a drone?

Well for me in particular, I’m so OCD about having things straight that that would probably be the first thing that I notice on court photo, but really thats just my own personal preference haha. I think its hard sometimes not to get too caught up in the overflow of imagery we see everyday via instagram and social that you can end up loosing your own style. I love seeing a photo of a court thats unique and not trying to look the same. 

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