Being asked to photograph a particular action sport can fool you into thinking it's like shooting anything else. Nothing can be more understated. There is so much happening at one time, and the changing conditions make a shoot very challenging to say the least. I had the opportunity to shoot a three game tourney for my niece's team, the Texas Express Jay Hawks out of the Fort Worth area. The venue was Belton High School, Belton, Texas, just north of Austin. In my mental preparation for packing gear, I typically want to take everything! Just in case...but after much deliberation and thought and a little planning, I decided on just two lenses, flash, one pro body with grip, spare battery, and a 16 GB CF card. Turns out, I didn't need the flash at all and stayed mostly with the longer zoom. Here are a few tips I noted that might help you with your next shoot. Whether you are shooting for a paying client, or just for family pics, you always want to honor them with your very best work.
1. Arrive early. For tournaments, get there while a previous game is playing. Scope out the landscape. See if there are fixed places for photographers, or spectators. There was very little seating in the first games, so I ended up at one goal about 6 feet from the hoop and couldn't get to the other side of the court. Second game had sideline seating...note to self; make sure you have enough room to the left and right to not hit adjacent spectators with your large lens...I learned the hard way...whoops, excuse me!
2. Get your camera settings right. Know your camera. Chose your settings for the environment and action. Action shots demand higher shutter speeds. Low light conditions means higher ISO and larger aperatures. Know what your camera delivers at what settings before you get there. When you get there, take some sample shots and vary your settings and really zoom in on that little display (chimping) to see if things are really working. That's where practice, practice, practice comes in. Along with self critique, and the willingness to be challenged and to change.
3. Take a variety of photos. Watch the players through the viewfinder. In basketball, there are those moments on the free-throw line where the players are fixed on the hoop and the tension is building until they explode into action.
There are those moments where everyone is elbows and arms tangled up and you can't make out what's happening or where the ball is. That type of photography is usually caught by fast shutter speeds or multiple frames taken of that moment. I'll talk about fps or Frames Per Second in another post. Then, there are those team moments, during time-outs or huddles or side line talks that show part of the story.
4. Keep your attention on the action. Not the score. Not on your camera. Don't be distracted. By now, your camera should be an extension of your hand and eye. Look for reactions in the players, coaches, refs and spectators. I found that keeping my left eye open while pointing the viewfinder with my right eye, kept my peripheral vision open to other activity across the court.
5. Anticipate the shots. If you know the sport well, you can anticipate certain setups that would make great shots. You can be ready for a player ahead of time to be in a certain position.
I hope some of these tips help you become a better photographer!