This is the third in a series of posts about things I've learned over the past five years of photographing high school sports. The availability and relatively lower cost of good quality gear has seen the number of sideline photographers increase. I often give people--especially yearbook and school paper photographers--tips to help them get the best results possible, and below are some for basketball.
You can download a shareable album of my favorite basketball photos here.
1. Get there early
There are lots of good reasons to arrive well before a basketball game starts. Photographing during warmups is a sure way to test your settings, and you can catch the cheerleaders getting ready. You can also get shots of players that might not get much playing time.
There are always good images of teams or individual players huddling with their coaches, too. And, of course, some of the best photo opportunities come during the playing of the National Anthem.
2. Know the sport
The more you know about how basketball--or any sport--is played, the better your images will be. Why? Because it's all about being in the right place at the right time, and you need to anticipate what will happen next. The good thing about basketball is that there are timeouts and period breaks to get into a new position. You can usually move while the action is going on, too, but smaller gyms and bigger crowds sometimes make that tricky.
Basketball moves very quickly, and you will be in the right place only about half of the time. To balance things out, rotate ends of the court per quarter. You'll see both teams on offense and both teams on defense for about 25% of the game each. You're still going to be in the wrong place sometimes, but you'll get a lot of good shots, too.
4. Watch the student section
Most high schools today encourage a raucous student section, and when a team that they support is doing well--especially in the playoffs--they get even more rowdy.
Whenever the "hype" section is there, check them out. There are usually a few "crazies" leading the group who can be entertaining and photogenic. They also love to have their pictures taken and will mug for the camera. This is part of the color and jubilation that makes high school sports a great way to learn how to shoot action and tell the story of the game.
5. Look for new perspectives
You can get great stuff just by being under the baskets all of the time, no doubt. But, you can get even better stuff by moving around the court and looking for interesting angles and unusual shots.
From high in the stands, from low on the court, with action coming at you, with action passing in front of you, those are all good angles to take.
6. Know what's happening
Pay attention to the score, to the amount of time left and to the meaning of the game. All together this will help you anticipate what might happen next.
If their is a dominating, dynamic player on the court focus on her and get in the position that brings her to you. If a player can dunk, then got under the basket his team is shooting for and hope for a breakaway coming right at you.
7. Get under the basket
This scan be a tricky position to take. Older high schools have no room for this, and you actually become a danger to yourself and to the players if the back wall is too close to the baseline.
Always confer with the referees and/or the administration to see if it's safe for you to be there, and don't do it just because other photographers are there.
And if you're allowed do it, get there and pull out a 50mm or wider lens and shoot looking up. You'll get great chances for dunks and rebounds and some of the most intense expressions on the court.
8. High school gym lights are challenging
As human beings we are lucky that our eyes adjust to low quality lighting. But our cameras have a harder time with that. Some gym lights cycle power and flicker. We don't see it, but our cameras sure do. In a rapid sequence of images you will sometimes get a wide variation in the color of light in each one.
You're trying to freeze the action--which means a fast shutter speed--but the light is pretty dim, which calls for a slower shutter speed and/or a wide aperture. It's just something that you have to deal with, and you can correct many problems after the fact. And camera sensors are constantly improving so if you're planning to spend a lot of time shooting in gyms, go for higher end equipment with low light capability.
9. Where is the ball?
Most of the time, but not always, a good basketball action shot must include the ball itself. Why? Because the ball acts as a reference point and helps the viewer understand what the players are doing. Think about it for a minute: the location of the ball at any time in a basketball game is actually the single most important aspect of the game. Your images should reflect that.
10. Have fun
If you don't enjoy what you're doing, your shots will say so. Let yourself be absorbed by the game itself. Love the sweat, the excitement, the disappointment, the highs, the lows, and all of the in-betweens. And try to capture them. Be a storyteller, by living the story of the game and then capturing it in frame.