If you count when I started playing Biddy Basketball (If you think that name’s weird, please don’t ask what we called the grade school football program) I’m closing in on a four-decade relationship with the game. Through playing, coaching, and now watching my teenager, my connection to basketball is the longest lasting relationship of my life, but obviously not the most important. Hello loved ones!
Because my son has played on school teams all the way up through this year’s stint on the high school junior varsity, I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to capture the game I love. Like any pursuit in photography, shooting basketball has its challenges and I learn a little bit more every season.
Many of the same action shooting techniques I’ve picked up from photographing other sports also apply here, but because of my love for this game I find myself with more of a wandering eye with basketball. This is especially true when I’m shooting Jacob’s JV games. I end up “watching” a fair amount of the game instead of “shooting.” That’s why I started photographing some of his school’s varsity games as well. With the upperclassmen, I’m a little less personally invested so I can focus more on the photography and little less on the help side defense.
In addition to some of my favorite shots from this season, I thought I’d share a couple of things I’m learning and what shooting skills I’m going to try to improve before next season rolls around.
Unfortunately, Your Equipment Matters
Having fast glass and fast autofocus (camera AND lens) matters. With indoor sports in ill-lit gyms, there’s just no getting around it. You need shutter speeds in excess of 1/650th of a second at minimum, and you’re just not getting that with a variable aperture lens and a lower-level camera. I’m getting by with what I have on hand, but my equipment is a little long in the tooth (hold the jokes please.)
I have a mixed bag at my disposal. My crop sensor camera is built for speed and has decent autofocus for its age, but when it’s paired with a 70-200mm lens it can be a little too tight on the action especially near the basket. My full frame camera gives me more room to compose, and its ability to create added depth of field helps me separate my subjects, but its burst rate and autofocus are painfully slow. Both cameras are behind the curve in terms of more modern sensors’ low light capabilities, so the noise at higher ISO isn’t anything to get excited about.
Based on these limitations, depending on which camera I use I have to change the way I shoot dramatically. The cropped camera allows me to follow the action more closely and shoot continuously, whereas with the full frame I have to plan ahead and be more strategic when I pull the trigger.
In an ideal world, I would prefer to shoot a fast and capable full frame exclusively and switch between the 70-200 and 24-70 lenses depending on where the action was. Though without a winning Powerball ticket in hand, I’ll probably muddle through next year with what I already have.
Just like my non-sports photography, my shooting tendency is to get in tight and isolate my subjects. When I shoot sports, this leads to about 70-80% of my shots being verticals. I find that the vertical orientation cuts out clutter on the sides. Unfortunately, because of this preference I miss some of the more environmental shots that give you a larger sense of the game. Getting in close and focusing on one player can be great, but I have to improve on showcasing multiple players in larger scenes. I think shooting more in the horizontal will help with that.
I also have to remember I can crop in post. With modern cameras there are plenty of megapixels to work with. And lets be real here, no one is getting any prints made. Knowing that, I shouldn’t zoom in as much as I do while I’m shooting as to not miss any of the action on the periphery. I can’t count how many average photos could have been better had I not cropped out someone’s feet, hands, or the top of basketball in-camera.
The Process of Continuous Improvement
Even though I’m armed with a familiarity for the game, I would say that basketball is the toughest sport I’ve had to shoot so far. The changing lighting conditions from gym to gym, the speed of the action, and the tight confines of the court all prove to be difficult challenges in getting my best shots. I do think I acquit myself okay though. On most nights I get a fair amount of good, if not great, shots and I’m pretty happy with those kinds of results for now.
Hopefully, if I keep improving, I’ll be able to snag one or two of those coveted classic shots before my son’s basketball career comes to a close.
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