I love photographing athletic events. Any sport is fine … faster the better. It’s the challenge of catching the perfect moment from the perfect angle with the perfect expression. Oh! and don’t forget, the ball has to be in the picture too.
You can imagine how excited I was when UOP hired me to be one of their photographers. My first assignment was a women’s basketball game … UOP vs Gonzaga. I’ve seen a few tall women in my time, but these Gonzaga ladies were extraordinary examples of genetic engineering.
That said, unless you have a floor pass for NCAA games, photographing high school basketball is more realistic. But the challenges are the same: follow-through and poor lighting.
It never fails … after the first tip-off of the first game of every basketball season I am convinced that my camera is broken. The darn thing won’t focus. I soon realize it’s me. I’m not following the action and I’m not following through. It doesn’t matter if you’re taking single shots or 14 frames a second, you need to get your timing calibrated and follow the action past the point of shutter release. Kinda like shooting clay pigeons with a shotgun.
Your options to overcome poor lighting in a school gymnasium are to use a really fast lens and run up the ISO setting. In simple terms, ISO relates to your camera’s sensitivity to light. Your camera will have an ISO range. Typically you’ll need to use an ISO value between 2500 and 8000.
Another variable is how much light your lens is able to collect and put on your camera’s sensor. A large aperture = a fast lens = a small “f/” stop number. That’s what you want. An f/1.8, 85mm is perfect under these circumstances. It will give you enough reach to shoot from the bleachers and you can adjust the aperture setting on your camera to between 1.8 and 2.8. Remember, f/1.8 will give you a very shallow depth of field. f/2.0 and 2.8 are more forgiving, but we’re talking inches, not feet. The third camera setting is shutter speed. Your ISO and aperture settings will determine the shutter speed which will likely be somewhere between 1/125 and 1/800 of a second (depending on conditions). From experience, a shutter speed of 1/500 is a good compromise for indoor and nighttime sports, if you can get it.
I find it best to use the “M” setting on your camera (manual exposure mode). The lighting doesn’t change much in a gymnasium (unless some of the bulbs are burned out). Also, you may find that when you take control of the exposure settings, your camera may grab a good focus a little bit faster because you’re not asking it to continuously re-evaluate the exposure.