There is a certain level of skill and proficiency required to successfully photography a fast moving sport like basketball, especially if its shot indoors in a poorly light gym or stadium. But there are a few things that you can do to help you capture that special moment. I’ve focused on basketball photography for the purpose of this blog, but these tips can be applied more broadly to other sports. Here are 10 basketball photography tips that will help you out!
1. HIGH SHUTTER SPEED
This is my number one basketball photography tip – shoot at or over 1/1000’s of a second.
The key to sports photography is freezing the action and having a crips and sharp photograph. And the only way to freeze fast moving subjects is to have a fast shutter speed. There is no other way to freeze fast moving action. A fast shutter speed is your friend in sports photography. As a general rule I shoot all of my basketball games with a shutter speed of 1/1000’s of a second or faster.
2. USE THE LARGEST APERTURE YOU HAVE AVAILABLE
Photographing sports, especially indoor sports such as basketball, you want to be using the largest aperture you lens is capable of (up to F2.8 – beyond that there may not be enough depth of field in the photograph). Using a large aperture has two big benefits:
a) you maximise the amount of light hitting your sensor, which then allows you to have a lower ISO than if you were using a smaller aperture (ie reduce image noise / improve image quality)
b) there is a shallow depth of field. This is prefect for creating a separating between the foreground (ie court and players) and the background (ie the crowd). It also allows you to create a natural point of focus, drawing the viewers eye to the subject
3. LOOK FOR INTERESTING ANGLES
The motto I live by for my photography is to be different, not better. Better is subjective. What one likes another may not like. Different is different no matter how you cut it. And that goes for the angles you look for on the basketball court. Try something new and it may pay off. Don’t just fill the frame with the player carrying/shooting the ball….this only tells part of the story.
4. CAPTURE THE EMOTION
There is emotion everywhere on a basketball court but capturing it isn’t as easy as you may think. Its often a fleeting moment. A reaction. Heart break after a loss. Anger after a bad call by the referee. A fist pump after sinking a winning shot on the buzzer. But if you manage to capture the raw emotion you will have a winning photograph. The key is to be prepared and to pre-empt the emotion…be one step ahead. After a big loss, such as a Grand Final, every photographers intiial instinct is to photograph the winning players, but don’t forget about the losing team – that’s where you will often find the most raw emotion.
5. LOOK INTO THE CROWD
Sometimes the interesting pictures are waiting to be captured away from the spotlight. The fans reactions to big plays or a close win can often be priceless. Keep an eye out for those magic moments!
6. USE A VARIETY OF FOCAL LENGTHS
Basketball is often shot with a zoom lens, with the 70-200mm lens a firm favourite. But it’s important to change it up once in a while and break out the zoom lens. I’ve said it before…don’t feel like you have to always fill the frame with a player. A wider shot like the one below gives the viewer a feel for the atmosphere of the game. And whilst the majority of your images will be captured in the 120-200mm range, keeping the wide-angle lens on hand will ensure your portfolio has plenty of variety.
7. DON’T USE FLASH
Not much to say about this basketball photography tip. Unless you have the ability to put strobes in the rafters and control them remotely via a PocketWizard (or similar RF remote system), there is not much use for a flash in basketball photography. Notwithstanding the use of flash is likely to banned at your local stadium/gym, a speedlite on your camera will be useless to you for sports photography. Instead bump up the ISO and open the aperture up to maximise the light hitting the sensor. But leave the flash at home or have it armed for the locker room.
8. BUMP UP THE ISO
Lighting conditions for basketball games are often very poor. It doesn’t matter if your shooting a National team or the local club, the lighting conditions inside a stadium will never replicate the strength of the sun. Bumping up the ISO will help you in achieving that 1/1000’s + shutter speed required to freeze the action on the court.
High ISO is your friend for indoor sports photography, but you must keep in mind that as you pump up the ISO you will introduce noise to your images. Modern mid to high end DSLR cameras such as the Canon 6D and Canon 5D are capable of very ‘clean’ images at ISO ranges at and above 5,000. That was unheard of even a few years ago. The below image was shot outside before the 2012/13 NBL Grand Final in Perth (Perth Wildcats vs New Zealand Breakers) with an ISO of 8000 – without increasing the ISO to excessive levels I wouldn’t have been able to get this picture handheld.
9. DON’T CHIMP
Chimping is a term used to describe the habit of checking every photo on the cameras display immediately after capturing the image.
Whilst the LCD on the back of a DSLR is a great tool and its important to review your images to ensure your on the right track, chimping is especially dangerous in the fast paced world of sports photography as it can, and will cause you to miss vital photographs. The common mistake is to photograph the offensive player shoot/layup/dunk the ball, and as soon as the ball leaves the players hands the photographer starts to chimp….causing him/her to miss the hustle thats happening for the rebound.
Trust me….don’t chimp. Keep you camera to your eye at the ready! This is one basketball photography tip you won’t be disappointed about!
10. SHOOT IN HIGH BURST MODE
My final sports photography tip. Always have your camera setup on burst mode. Period.
This is why…
That’s my top 10 tips for photographing basketball. Apply this advice to your basketball (or any sport) photography and you will be sure to see some improvements!