Thursday, January 27, 2011

Photographing basketball (proper camera settings and white balance)

A couple of days ago, when heading off to my daughter's basketball game, I decided to grab my camera and take a couple of shots even though it was a preseason game. A couple of months ago I did a seminar on sports photography at B&H Photo in New York and people asked a lot of questions about shooting indoor basketball games. Why so many questions about this subject? Well...typically these games are played in courts that are not well lit, they color cast of the lights is terrible, the action is fast, and many cameras just can not keep up with all these challenges. So, for this blog entry, I am going to concentrate on the proper camera settings and tricks of the trade to help people shoot better in these tough environments.

One way to get crisp images, without a lot of motion blur, is to shoot images when the players are not moving very fast. Here I took a shot of my daughter and her friends being coached by my neighbor, Dave (ohhh...the patient man that he is!). Some people might say "hey, they are standing in one spot which is not very exciting", but it helps tell the story. You can see from the image that everybody is having a good time. This is not a super competitive league and I think that this helps to convey that message.

I typically will use my 70-200 2.8 IS lens so that I can zoom in and grab some tight shots even if the players are on the other side of the court. Here, the lens allowed me to focus in on my daughter and Dave, without letting them know that I was doing so.

Standing back and shooting from a distance lets you capture the real looks and emotions. Here, Danielle (Dave's daughter), looks up to him for some coaching advice.

Most people who take pictures inside a gym will notice that their images have a dark yellow coloring. This is caused by the fluorescent or incandescent lights that are typical in these buildings. The way to "fix" this problem is to many adjust your white balance settings. You should look in your camera manual to learn how to set your white balance. I usually bring a small accessory, called an ExpoDisc for doing this, but I forgot to bring it last weekend. did I change the white balance on my camera? I had my daughter stand still and I shot an image isolating just the white of her jersey. I then used that image to "tell" my camera that this was white inside this particular building. Was it perfect? Nope. But it was a heck of a lot closer to the correct shade than if I had left the camera in Auto White Balance mode.

Now for some action shots. The key to capturing the players frozen in motion, is to get your shutter speed to at least 1/320 sec (preferably even faster, maybe 1/500). There are two ways to get this shutter speed with your camera. The first is to crank up your ISO. I shot these images at ISO settings of 2000 or 2500, which buys me more shutter speed. Secondly, I was shooting with the 2.8 lens wide open (set to 2.8) to grab as much light as possible. For those people who try to shoot in this type of environment with a point-and-shoot camera, or an SLR with a slower variable aperture lens, will have a very tough time getting good shots. You just have too many variables working against you.

Another common question that I get from people is in regards to the focus of the camera. They want to know how to track the players even when they are running quickly towards the camera. If you try to shoot images with your camera in the standard "one shot" focus mode, you are bound to get out of focus images. Why? Because when you first press the shutter button and focus the camera, and the player is 20 yards from you, everything will be sharp. But, if you shoot in continuous mode (which you absolutely should be doing), with each step closer to you and your camera, they will be more and more out of focus. If you put your camera in "servo focus" (otherwise known as continuous focus), the camera and lens will track your moving subject and continually change the focal distance as you fire away.
Even though you might be tempted to shoot all of your images in landscape mode, try rotating the camera and taking some images in portrait mode. This works especially well with taller players or people taking free throws (where you want to isolate just one person).

One of the biggest challenges when shooting in many school gymnasiums is all the distractions in the background. Your best bet is to find a shooting position with the least amount of distractions (if at all possible). Here, I took a picture of Ali and Danielle (best friends) with the score barely visible in the background.


Ira Block said...

Jeff - sometimes under fluorescent lights or mercury vapor lights in a gym a funny phenomenon happens. Since these lights cycle you occasionally get an underexposed image, especially if you are running your motor drive at high speeds. You basically get a frame that happens to be between the lights 'cycle'. Ira

Anonymous said...

If you are shooting indoor photos and your shutter speed is fast , aperture is 2.8 and the ISO is high, do you need to shoot with flash?

Jeff Cable said...

No - no flash necessary.