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The Daily Tar Heel

After 20 years behind the camera, Camarati makes student-athletes look their best

Jeffrey Camarati Portrait.jpg

Jeff Camarati has shot four men's basketball national championships as UNC Athletics' first official University photographer, along with countless other games for all 28 of UNC's varsity sports. 

In his scanner is a photo of Bob McAdoo in a Tar Heel uniform from the 1970s. On his computer are lifestyle portraits of first-year Coby White. Within this office, the visual past and present of UNC men’s basketball are kept and to Carolina Athletics Director of Photography, Jeffrey Camarati, both are of equal importance. 

Camarati did not enter Kent State University thinking he would end up photographing Tar Heel greats. He was a math major, then political science, then finally found photojournalism.

"I was like, 'Oh, you can do this for a living?'" Camarati said.

After graduating, Camarati eventually landed at Duke University where Steve Kirschner, UNC senior associate director of athletics for Communications, found him at an NCAA Men's Golf Championship in 2001. By 2005, UNC Athletics had its first official University photographer.

"(Jeff's) art-making ability allows us to tell the story of our student-athletes, our team, in the best visual way possible,” Kirschner said. 

Camarati shoots all 28 varsity sports at UNC, which means he enters the Smith Center with the same mindset as he would have with any other shoot.

As the photographer for four men’s basketball national championship games, Camarati is no stranger to the bright lights. He carries the same focused mentality to the high-stakes of the postseason.

"If I get emotionally caught up in it, I'm not gonna do my job," Camarati said. 

Camarati finds his artistry when given the opportunity to shoot staged portraits that showcase the student-athletes’ personalities. When Tyler Hansbrough was in contention for National Player of the Year, he thought to place himself under a clear flooring looking up at Hansbrough giving the illusion that he was as tall as a building. These kinds of ideas make Camarati good at his job. 

"The kids' personalities sometimes come out, even more, when they can work with Jeff," Kirschner said. 

Many fans find themselves drawn to action shots, so what Camarati looks for during a game changes throughout the year. Camarati makes sure to capture athletes’ dominance in all areas of the sport. Many photographers switch sides during a game to follow the offense. Camarati does not. 

"I am looking to tell the story of that game, but I'm also looking to tell the story of the season," Camarati said.

While the in-game photos are important, Camarati believes the portraits and lifestyle shots taken in the preseason can be just as vital to telling the story of team. Not only will they be used for off-season social media content, but the pictures become part of preserving the visual legacy of the program, a mission that Camarati has dedicated himself to. 

“We have to consider having these types of things available for future generations, so when something timely comes up in 20 years there's something to look back on," Camarati said. 

With technology advancing and the greater storage digital photography offers, Camarati has been instrumental in making sure all athletes are well documented during their time at UNC, something that has not always been true. 

"We do not have a lot of photos of Michael Jordan, we do not have a lot of photos of Mia Hamm, because it's just a different time," Camarati said. 

This is because printing film photos was expensive, so the photographers at the time were taking fewer photos. Advanced technology and the existence of social media has caused a higher demand for visuals. Now, a UNC athlete can have hundreds of pictures taken of them before they graduate.

One of those athletes is sophomore guard Andrew Platek. Platek attended Northfield Mount Hermon School in Massachusetts and grew up in small-town New York. Platek said the exposure he encountered at UNC required adjustment.

“It’s definitely weird to go online and you just type in your name or go on UNC basketball and boom, there you are,” Platek said.

Preserving athletes’ stories through the digitization of old photographs has been used everywhere from the building of the Karen Shelton Stadium when they required photographs of the program’s national championships to recent social media posts for the men’s basketball team. 

"We feel like we have an obligation and a responsibility to the history of the University of North Carolina to make sure that we properly store these digital images," Kirschner said. 

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Between social media, preservation efforts and media demands, Kirschner said the department could stand to hire another full-time photographer, but after almost 20 years together, he fully trusts Camarati.

"He doesn't pay attention to how many hours he's worked, how many days in a row he's worked, how many games he has to shoot in a particular day, he wants to get it right because he wants to put the student-athletes in the best way possible, and that's the highest compliment I could pay," Kirschner said.