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Like Father, Like Son

by Deborah Lew / Los Angeles Kings

Any father who has ever owned a business has every reason to be jealous of Andrew Bernstein.

Not only is Andrew one of the most reputable photographers in the sports and entertainment industry, but he currently works with his son, Michael, as his right-hand man.

Bernstein Associates Photography, Inc., which was founded by Andrew in 1983, is the official photographer of the Kings, Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Sparks, STAPLES Center, Nokia Theatre and L.A. LIVE, just to name a few.

Andrew’s first experience photographing Kings hockey came in 1979 while he was a student at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. One of his term assignments was to shoot an annual report, of sorts, and he was the only one in his class to choose sports for his topic. The Kings were gracious enough to allow Andrew behind-the-scenes access for his project, which gave him a foot in the door.

At that time Andrew also worked as an assistant with Sports Illustrated where he was taken to the Forum and other venues, and learned how to shoot with strobe lighting. Andrew became one of the few photographers in the country who could efficiently incorporate the use of strobe lighting into his photography.

Strobes are essentially large flashes that a photographer sets up in the catwalk of an arena. Each strobe light is equivalent to 150 flashes of light from a regular camera, and on a regular game night at STAPLES Center, there are eight strobe heads in use. The strobes are connected to the shutter button on the photographer’s camera, and in that split second the button is pushed, the strobes cancel the other lighting in the arena so that the light in the moment of capture is crisp and the image is perfect. This allows for clearer, more brilliant images of fast-moving objects that can be greatly enlarged.

From 1980 on, Andrew began working for the Kings, Lakers, and the Forum on a special projects basis, as there was already a team photographer at the time. In 1999, when the Kings, Lakers, and Clippers moved to STAPLES Center, the previous photographer retired, and Andrew became the official team photographer for each team.

One of the co-founders of NBA Photos, a division of NBA Entertainment, Andrew is the NBA’s longest tenured photographer, and regularly draws the biggest basketball events in the world, such as the NBA Finals, All-Star weekend, USA Basketball Olympics events, and international tournaments. Between the NBA and the Kings, Andrew has shot 32 NBA Finals and two Stanley Cup Finals.

Aside from his sports responsibilities, Andrew serves as the Director of Photography for STAPLES Center, Nokia Theatre at LA Live.

“My crew and I are responsible for all the non-sports events that happen in both buildings – award shows, all the family shows, entertainment, concerts, the Grammy’s, all that stuff. We are very busy, we have multiple events on many nights a year, it’s a year-round commitment,” explains Andrew.

The high business volume is where Michael comes in.

At the tender age of 20, Michael is the Director of Photography and Business Operations for Bernstein Associates Photography, Inc. Not to be fooled by his boyish looks, Michael is bright, extremely business savvy and is responsible for many of the new projects taken on by the company, including the Stanley Cup photo shoots during the summer that enabled fans to have their photos taken and accessible via web in the same hour.

Michael began coming to work with his dad at the age of eight, and it’s safe to say he was in training even then.

“I work a lot, and I didn’t have a lot of time with my kids, quite honestly, so I’d bring them to games,” admits Andrew, who was a single dad for eight years. “My kids were part of my work life.

“Michael took more of an interest in coming to games with me than playing sports. That worked out great for me,” continues Andrew, who is grateful to his employers for allowing him to have his kids with him. “He used to help me carry stuff out, and he used to love packing things up. Michael’s a very meticulous guy, he used to love taking apart my cameras.”

The responsibilities have increased significantly from the bag-packing days for Michael, who began photographing games for STAPLES Center at the age of 16, and officially became a credentialed member of Dad’s team in 2012.

For any given Kings game, the Bernstein’s will have between two and five photographers shooting, and it’s Michael’s responsibility to make sure not only that they are assigned to certain spots, but that every credentialed photographer is assigned a spot in the building. Michael also ensures that the editor’s computer functions, and photos are posting to Getty Images as they should be.

While he is happy in his current role, Michael is excited about seeing new ideas and projects come to fruition and taking the family company to new heights.

“Michael has great ideas, and I tend to be a little bit stuck in my old guy ways, and sometimes he has to kick me in the butt a little bit, and sometimes I have to reel him in a little bit,” says Andrew, who didn’t really have plans for Michael to take over the business as he was growing up.

Michael knows that working with his dad presents a unique situation.

“He expects a lot more of me in general. Some stuff he is harder on me for and some stuff he’s a little more lax with, and it’s very interesting navigating which things he’s more concerned about than others,” says Michael, a self-proclaimed ‘nerd,’ who more enjoys the tech side of the business.

Dad echoes a comparable sentiment.

“It’s a little hard to wear the ‘dad hat’ at the same time I’m wearing the ‘boss hat.’ Sometimes we have interesting differences of opinion and I sometimes have to throw a little bit of boss weight around to my kid, who is also my employee. It’s an interesting dynamic,” observes Andrew, who recently had a similar chat with Clippers Head Coach, Doc Rivers, whose son, Austin, now plays for the Clippers.

One of the most outstanding memories for Andrew and Michael was back in 2012 when the Kings won their first Stanley Cup. During the victory party, as the Cup was being passed around, Andrew was able to hand the Cup to his son, a moment that he understandably calls “surreal.”

Unfortunately for the duo, the same thing didn’t happen in 2014, as Michael was stuck in San Antonio for the NBA Finals when the Kings won the Cup. Andrew was flying back and forth, but Michael was actually watching the game at a restaurant with NBA employees who, being from New York, were cheering for the Rangers.

“I was pretty devastated,” tells Michael about missing the Cup-clinching game. “I was honestly really hoping the NBA Finals would end in five and the Stanley Cup Final would end in seven.”

You know you’re doing something right if this is one of your dilemmas. Perhaps Andrew isn’t the only one worthy of a little envy.

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