How to Shoot Better Basketball Sports Photography
Basketball is uniquely ambivalent among sports photographers. It’s both extremely straightforward and terribly tedious to shoot. On the one hand, the comparatively small court and comparatively large ball are easy to follow with a lens. On the other, the lighting is awful. Or rather, the light on a court is great for television, and not so great for sports photography.
However, March Madness is upon us, and it’s time to put on your sports photographer hat— or helmet, depending on the intensity of the game. Scroll down for some easy tips for first timers.
Pick Your Perfect Prime Lens
Yes, you will need a prime lens. However, the type of prime depends on how close you are to the action. If you’re sitting pretty court side, then a 50mm will serve nicely. Unlike football, you won’t need to invest in a high quality, super-fast telephoto. However, if you’re sitting in the stands, then the classic 70-200mm is a better fit.
When a Good Flash is Hard to Find
Television lighting and sports photography lighting share a Venn diagram, but that does not make them equals. Courts are often lit for television because broadcasters pay for their rights. Normally, we would recommend investing in a hot-shoe flash to counter any lack luster lighting. (Plus, stop action shots requires a fast shutter speed – think 1/300 sec – and fast shutter speeds take in less light.) However, most professional or college basketball events discourage or outright forbid flash because it distracts players. So, jack up your ISO! Luckily, most contemporary digital cameras are powerful enough that you can use high ISO without the grainy side effects.
Continuous Focus and Manual Aren’t Cheats
With players running to and fro, continuous focus is a life saver. You should also use manual or sports mode to avoid adjusting at every interval. Plus, the consistent exposure will make it easier in post-production. Take note however, that sports mode (as opposed to manual) prioritizes higher shutter speeds, which will slow the camera as it makes decisions about exposure. Speed needs manual.
High Speed Burst Mode is the Name of the Game
Again, this sounds like a cheat. It isn’t! Basketball players are athletes, and they move fast. Using burst mode is the surest way to get the shot you want, especially if you’re a hobbyist. It shoots multiple frames per second, so you know that the perfect shot will be in there – er, somewhere. (And as an aside, shoot in JPEG instead of RAW to accommodate the abundance of photos.)
Do Your Research
This part is trickier if you aren’t a basketball fanatic, but learn the players’ tendencies. Learn the teams’ tendencies. Maybe one guy plays with a poker face, while another wears his emotions on his sleeves (hint: follow that guy). If you can guess where the ball is going, or which players tend to make the dream moves, then you’re pictures will show it.
If it seems like basketball sports photography is a lot about ‘spray and pray,’ then you’re right. Like the sport itself, taking amazing action shots requires practice and training with the right gear. However, there is a factor of luck involved, especially in the beginning. But keep at it! All you need is one good shot.