Shooting Volleyball

Lady Cougars Volleyball 60mm, f/4, 1/350s, ISO 4000

Over the past month or so I’ve gotten the opportunity to take pictures of my daughters’ volleyball team in action.  My daughters are both setters and while they’ve been learning the skills associated with the position, I’ve been learning more things about photography (as I always do when I take any pictures).  I have many factors to consider — low light in the gym (no strobes allowed), the red/blue floor which throws all color off, and fast action.  Long story made short, I’ve settled on shooting my 5D Mk ii at ~4000 ISO, manual mode, shutter speed 1/250-1/500, and aperture f/3.5 – f/5.6.  Within that range of settings (and with some software noise reduction) I’ve been getting decent results.  I’d prefer the higher frames per second of my 50D for the fast action but the ISO performance is nowhere near as good.

I’ve been fortunate to have free range on the floor and to be able to shoot from many angles. It’s been a lot of fun and I’m glad to be able to help out with the pictures.

Lady Cougars Volleyball 45mm, f/4, 1/350s, ISO 4000

Lady Cougars Volleyball 50mm, f/4, 1/350s, ISO 4000

Our family recently went to a week-long family camp in northeast Texas where three of my children competed in a sand volleyball tournament.  They hooked up with a few others to form a team and took second place in the competitive division.  I didn’t spend a lot of time photographing (I’d rather not watch the whole match from behind a camera).  The court was in mottled shade…horrible light.  In hindsight I’d bump the ISO way up to get a faster shutter speed even though there was a lot of light.  I used apertures of f/8 – f/11 because I wanted to keep the crowd a bit more in focus.  Since I didn’t spend a ton of time shooting I never really settled into settings that I was happy with but I generally allowed some blown-out highlights to properly expose the overall scene.  One issue with that is that the ball itself would blow out when it was in the sun — I really didn’t want the ball blown out.  I made do and here’s part of a sequence where my daughter sets my son up for a kill.



Kill 24mm, f/11, 1/250s, ISO 400

6 responses

  1. I really like these, especially the last three. Gotta love a good kill!

    October 19, 2011 at 3:10 pm

  2. Mathew

    Your positioning is very poor. Every shot is of the players backs.

    October 19, 2011 at 4:15 pm

    • Hmm, in most shots *someone’s* back will be toward the camera given that two teams are facing each other. I’ll assume you mean that you’d prefer to see all balls played by players facing the cameras (as in the second photo). I can understand that and I have many more shots from many angles (ie all sorts of positions). I happened to pick particular shots based on action that I liked without respect to positioning.

      In the outdoor shots I prefer the kill action from the back (without shooting through the net, in particular when showing most of the court like this).

      All that said, I can understand your opinion and would love it if you’d add your positioning tips to your comment. I’m glad to learn.

      Thanks in advance!

      October 19, 2011 at 4:34 pm

  3. Mathew

    If you position yourself correctly the subject of the shot should never have his back to the camera. The proper position for this shot of the man hitting would be the complete opposite side of the net than where you are, through the net. This way, you get his face. For the one of #34 hitting, you should be on the right side of the court, not the left side. Hitters on the left side always have their body facing towards the setter. The only good shots you get from this side of the court are of the setter and the right side hitter. This is why volleyball is difficult to shoot, where ever you position yourself, you are setting yourself up for good shots of some players but other players are now impossible to capture. Here is a good primer:

    October 19, 2011 at 9:25 pm

    • I’ve only had time to skim the info in the link but it looks like a lot of great stuff — thanks!

      Given how #34 *is* the shot, I totally agree with your assessment. If the shot is about #34…her face should be in it.

      I completely (but respectfully of course) disagree regarding the outdoor shots. The hitter is only the “action part” of an overall scene and I don’t see any need for the face in the shot as I intended it (this shot isn’t “about” just the hitter). I purposely shot this sequence at the wide end of my lens (24mm) to capture the action within the whole environment. Shooting from the other side and prominently featuring the hitter (necessarily via a longer focal length) might be a great shot in its own right, but it’s an entirely different shot than I intended. Shooting at 24mm from the other side (keeping the same rough framing) relegates the hitter almost to the background noise of the shot — also not what I intended. My position here is the only possible way to maximize the hitter in the foreground while framing the whole scene that I wanted. While reflecting yesterday (after your comment) on how different positions would change this shot, I thought of the classic shot of Michael Jordan shooting a game winner over Craig Ehlo in the NBA playoffs (late 80’s, early 90’s?). I’m sure 50 pro photogs shot that from all different angles but the one imprinted on my mind was taken from the far end of the court — MJ’s back squarely facing the camera. It shows the shot, the basket, and the extremely anxious fans in the background. It’s more compressed (by necessity) due to having been shot from the far end but has the same aspects that I like in my outdoor shots. If it been taken wide from the near end (showing his face), MJ is just a background element. If taken zoomed in from the near end, it’s probably just another MJ jump shot. Finally, from an anecdotal viewpoint, everyone who has looked through the pictures points out the sequence as a favorite (worth something to me personally of course).

      From a purely technical standpoint I wish I had gone ahead and jacked up the ISO and/or sacrificed some DOF with a larger aperture and used a faster shutter speed. I simply guessed at aperture to get some DOF in the environment and I wasn’t really doing on-the-spot evaluation and adjustment. Mainly just watched the match.

      Thanks again for the great information — I really appreciate it. I’m going to at least pick 2-3 things out of it to work on immediately in the next game I shoot. If I try too much at once I’m sure I’ll do them all poorly.


      October 20, 2011 at 8:42 am

    • Oops — I meant also to ask if you had any publicly viewable volleyball shots that I could study and learn from — thanks in advance if you do. If not, no problem of course.

      October 20, 2011 at 8:44 am

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