You may not know him by name like the players and courtside celebrities do, but if you’ve been to the Air Canada Centre or seen a Toronto Raptors game on TV you definitely know him by sight.
His bald head and black Canada Goose vest have become as synonymous with the Raptors in-game experience as the dinosaur mascot itself. However, Ron Turenne is there to document the action, not create it, and he’s been doing it for all 23 Raptors seasons.
The Oakville, ON native is the first and only league-appointed photographer of the Raptors, shooting games for NBA Entertainment that are distributed to the team and the news wire service, Getty.
Over the course of the franchise’s history, Turenne has only missed six home games — three due to illness, two to be at the side of his dying father, and one for the birth of his son
The early days chronicling the team was a challenge because, aside from a few high school games, he had never shot basketball. In fact, he had never even watched a game. Turenne was avid hockey viewer and a diehard Jacques Lemaire fan. The setting didn’t help either, given the cavernous SkyDome wasn’t equipped with strobes to help light the court.
But the toughest stage of his career was the 2001-02 season when the NBA went digital. The learning curve from shooting on film to shooting with a computer was steep. But now the transition is smooth and the NBA headquarters in Secaucus, New Jersey have access to his photos mere moments after he takes them thanks to the help of his trusty assistant, Sara Labadie.
Turenne studied to be a journalist at Sheridan College but was told by professors that he had an eye for photography. When he came back to school from a co-op opportunity with no stories written and many photos published the career-path decision was official.
After he graduated in 1976 Turenne got his start shooting for local papers in Oakville. He became the official photographer for Tennis Canada and was offered a gig filming the World Championships of basketball in Toronto and Hamilton in 1994. Based off his strong work throughout the tournament he was offered a job to be the Raptors photographer of Toronto’s inaugural season, before the team even had a name.
“I thought that would be a good run if I could do that for a few years,” Turenne recalls, “and here I am 23 years later and I’m still going.”
His first assignment might as well be a trivia question. Shooting Vincenzo Esposito, the team’s first player, was the first time he worked as a team photog. Shortly after came the first team photo.
“I didn’t sleep for five minutes the night before because I knew I wasn’t getting up and taking the first team photo of the Raptors, which goes in to the Hall of Fame,” Turenne says. “So, I’m thinking, ‘What if I mess that up?’ It turned out great.”
Despite heavy athletes landing on him every night he’s been lucky to come away with just bumps and bruises. He does have to stay in great shape with a regiment of 70 push-ups a day, running and a gym workout regimen of stretching and weights to help counteract the fact his core and back are always in a forward leaning posture holding equipment. It’s a demanding job that requires him to arrive three and a half hours before tip-off to set up and to stay hours afterwards to strike his gear and go through the hundreds of photos he’s taken to make sure something good isn’t missed in the game recap gallery.
To capture all those moments Turenne runs four cameras simultaneously: A long and short lens, a glass cam (behind the backboard) and a pole cam. To make sure they all look good, Turenne is the only person with strobes at the ACC, four in each corner on the cat walk above the court. They act as huge flashes that illuminate the whole arena but go off so quickly most bystanders don’t recognize it with the human eye. As the bright bulbs go off every time he fires his camera, it allows him to get a shot where he can show the detailed expression on the face of Jonas Valanciunas when he’s warming up pregame on the other side of the court.
After spending a game day embedded with him it’s Turenne’s attention to detail that allows him to capture images with such great detail.
The details of his stories throughout the years is what I found most entertaining. Here are his recollections of some of his favourite people to photograph throughout the years:
Michael Jordan at SkyDome
“That’s taken 21 years ago at SkyDome on film. At the time, that was a record crowd we had there — 36,000 people. Arguably the greatest player of all time, so to shoot him was incredible.”
Ray Allen in Sports Illustrated
“It wasn’t my first full page but this was really something for me because I got Ray Allen to sign it. Normally Sports Illustrated has tiny little photo credits but on this one my name is huge. So, I thought I need to get that framed. I took two with me when I got Ray to sign it and he loved it. I said “I have one for you” and he said “that’s fantastic.” He rolled it up and gave it to his guy and said make sure this gets back to Boston. He was really excited to have it. And then I thought to myself ‘What was he reading when he grew up?’ That’s big for him to have a full page in Sports Illustrated, even though it’s Ray Allen. It’s bigger for me though as I’m sure he’s in Sports Illustrated a lot more than I am.”
Coach Casey and Drake
“I took this picture and it went on social media and it just went crazy, thousands of likes. I went and saw coach and he loved it so I said how about we get three of these printed up, you sign it, I’ll sign it and we’ll see if Drake is interested in signing it if he likes it. And coach said yeah let’s do that. So, I showed it to Drake and he thought it was great. There were great comments online, one of them I remember was ‘Coach going crazy doing his thing. Drake just chillin,’ and that’s what it was all about. This is a prized possession for me because he’s an international star. He’s an artist. My daughter is a huge Drake fan. She listens to him non-stop. She says if I ever introduce her to him she wouldn’t know what to say. It gives her great street cred that she can say her dad gets to talk to Drake.”
“I shot the concerts for over a decade, which is really fun. That’s a dream come true. I’m in the pit documenting The Rolling Stones. This picture is a prime example of being at the right place at the right time. I just happen to have a great spot or this. I’m down in the pit and I got all four guys at the same time.”
DeMar DeRozan scores 52 points
“Good ol’ DeMar DeRozan. He set the record, surpassing Vince Carter and then Terrence Ross with 51. I thought I better go in for the press conference afterwards, which I don’t often do. This picture developed right in front of me. I showed DeMar and he said ‘I need to have that.’ When the guy who is doing the work wants to have your work, that’s the best compliment I can get.”