My daughters and I can’t wait for NCAA volleyball to start…
At most sporting events I’m in attendance because I want to *watch* the event. I’m always tempted to carry my camera with me but I generally leave it at home so I’m not distracted. When I attended the semi-finals of the NCAA volleyball championship this past December I left my camera behind. However, when I saw that fans were allowed to carry in any camera/lens combo they wanted, I decided to take my camera and 70-200mm f/2.8L IS to the championship match and at least take a few pictures.
While warm ups were going on I experimented a bit with settings. When shooting any fast-action sport one is generally trying to freeze the action (there are exceptions to this of course). If you don’t use a relatively fast shutter speed you have no chance of getting a decent photo of a hard kill for instance — unless your goal is to turn the ball into a blur that you can hardly see in the frame. Manual mode is pretty much a given in a venue like the Alamodome as the light never changes and being very well-lit a fast shutter speed is possible (the gym where my daughters play is not so well-lit and a really fast shutter speed isn’t possible) . For shots of the action on the court I settled on using manual mode with 1/750s to 1/1000s shutter, f/2.8 aperture, and ISO 2000. Generally the only time you vary your exposure is if you are taking shots of the crowd as opposed to the court (the crowd near the court was lit a stop or so less than the court).
I was able to convince the elevator operator to allow me and my son upstairs to the skybox area so we could take some pictures from a different perspective. While there, a pro photog plopped down two seats away from us and we got to chatting a bit. I asked him what settings he typically used in the stadium and they were 1/1250s, f/2.8, ISO 2500 — not far off what I was shooting. He said my settings were fine for the lens I was using (70-200mm) but he wanted that slightly faster shutter because he was using a 400mm lens and needed some help compensating for lens movement. We talked about depth of field (DOF) a bit too. Up in the balcony we were maybe 200 feet from the net which gave him a DOF of approximately 10-12 feet (depends on the camera body…he had one of the Canon 1D bodies I’m sure). That really required accurate focus — if he accidentally focused on a back row the action *at* the net would be out of focus. When I shot at 200mm, I had a great DOF of about 52 feet to work with.
My 5D mkii has great high ISO performance which is nice for these sporting events but one huge deficiency is its (relatively) low frame rate — not so great for sports. I was kind of jealous of the pro as he machine-gunned frames when a kill was imminent. Of course, the slow frame rate cuts down on the number of images I need to go through in post 🙂
As I progress in the development of my photography skills I’ve found myself becoming more of a perfectionist. Now, that doesn’t mean that I never keep or show something that I is imperfect — I’d have no images left if I were so picky. What it does mean is that I take more care when framing and setting up a shot, more care with the light, and more care in post-processing. I also find myself asking people, “Don’t tell anyone I took that picture” because I know I could’ve done better on many shots.
My children are painfully aware of this because I’m never happy with the family shots we take and often want to spend a bunch of time getting things “right”. For example, even when the light is reasonable, I want to get the strobe out just in case I need to tweak the shot and add some fill…and so it goes.
So, this past Sunday my girls wanted some pictures taken with a friend who was visiting for the week. They were in their Sunday best and thought it would be a good opportunity to get some pictures before they changed clothes. They were very clear that they didn’t want a “photoshoot” and frankly would have been content to use the point-and-shoot to snap some quickies.
In the end we compromised. I didn’t get the strobe and umbrella out but I did get them to allow some test shots and tweaks before taking the final shots. I wanted to explore backgrounds around the yard but I let them pick the spot as long as they weren’t in the sun. They got to pose themselves and I just tweaked them here and there.
Above is one of the resulting images. If I were constrained to that background but had my way otherwise, I would have stopped down a hair to darken the background in-camera. Then I would have added just enough strobe and/or reflectors to bring the exposure of the faces back to normal and provide some fill/catchlights in the eyes. In reality though, this image already exceeded the expectations of the girls and that’s what really counts. I don’t even mind telling people that I took these pictures.