If you want a challenge I suggest you have a go at basketball photography. The sheer speed of basketball, the unpredictability of basketball and the lighting in basketball courts all provide issues you have to overcome if you want to capture different and unique basketball photos.
Basketball photography is a challenge but it is possible to capture great basketball photos providing you go about it in the right way of course. Basketball photography has been a passion of mine for a number of years now, and I can tell you it has been challenging. Over the years I have had failures, I have had successes and I have found a list of tips and tricks that have helped me bag basketball photos I am proud of, and actually managed to sell and make a bit of money with, and I thought it was about time I shared them to help out budding basketball photographers. So here we are, a few basketball photography tips I hope are of some use……..
Cameras for basketball photography
Arguably you can use any camera for basketball photography, but in my experience anything other than a slr camera results in very few keepers. Sure, you may strike it lucky with your point and shoot camera or CSC camera and get some decent basketball shots but it will be more luck tan technique or photography skill.
When buying a slr camera for basketball photography I suggest one with APSC sized sensor, i.e. not a full frame, since this gives every lens you use a longer effective focal length so you can get in nice and close to the action.
As well as using a non-full frame dslr camera I suggest a camera that has fast auto focus, to lock on to the subject quickly and efficiently, and a high burst rate, so you can fire off several shots in quick succession which obviously increases the chances of capturing awesome basketball photos.
Canon dslr cameras that fit the bill for basketball photography includes the mighty Canon EOS 1DX and the Canon 7D. The Canon 1DX is a full frame camera and whilst it loses out on the crop factor effect the autofocus feature and burst rate is exceptionally fast. The Canon 1DX is the flagship sports camera, and quite rightly so but it is very expensive and if you want one of these cameras you are going to have to dig deep.
The Canon 7D is a prosumer level camera and whilst it is not as quick as the 1DX, doesn’t have the same high burst rate as the 1DX, or built to the same high specification as the 1DX it is a very capable camera for not only basketball photography but all sports photography. The Canon 7D is a fraction of the cost of the 1DX and a very popular choice. Okay, the Canon 7d may not be as higher spec as the 1DX but it is still an exceptional camera. The 7d has a fast auto focus system, a high burst rate and having an APSC sized sensor benefits from the effective increase in focal length.
My dream camera is the Canon 1DX however it is way out of my price range, so I bought the 7d instead. The Canon 7d is a great camera and I have to say I am very impressed with it, and would hesitate to recommend it to anyone wanting to shoot basketball photography.
For those photographers not fond of Canon cameras there are other alternative dslr cameras popular with sports photographers, and these include the Nikon D5 (the expensive flagship model), the Nikon D800 (the prosumer model) and the Sony a68 to name just three. Whilst I don’t shoot any of these cameras I will put my neck on the line here and say that you will get awesome basketball shots with any of these cameras.
Lenses for basketball photography
The best lenses for basketball photography are fast tele lenses with image stabilisation (for Canon users) or vibration reduction (for Nikon users) technology.
Most basketball photography is shot indoors with less than ideal light. Okay, the basketball courts are artificially lit but the light levels are far from ideal. Because of the lower light levels fast lenses, i.e. those with a wide maximum aperture are essential to capture sharp shots without having to push the ISO too high. Ideally you need the fastest lens you can afford for basketball photography.
Whenever I shoot basketball photography I take two lenses and these are the Canon 70mm – 200mm f2.8L IS (Canon’s flagship 70mm – 200mm lens) and the Canon 16mm – 35mm F4L IS lens.
I find the 70mm – 200mm (effective 112mm – 320mm on my Canon 7d) the ideal focal length to get nice and close to the action. The f2.8 aperture is perfect for gathering the amount of light to correctly expose in the low lighting conditions, and the image stabilisation makes sure I can get tack sharp shots without being affected by camera shake. The image quality of the Canon 70mm-200mm F2.8L IS is second to none, and it is a lens capable of capturing awesome photos worthy of sale. If I were to recommend a tele lens for basketball photography it would be the Canon 70mm-200mm F2.8L IS.
The F2.8L IS is the flagship lens, and it is expensive. Fortunately, there are cheaper alternatives such as the F2.8L, the F4L IS and the F4L. All of these lenses are capable of capturing awesome basketball photos so if you don’t have the budget for the F2.8L IS lens these alternatives are definitely worth considering.
The Canon 16mm – 35mm (effective 26mm – 56mm on my 7d) is a wider lens I use to pull back a bit and capture images with a bit more in the frame. Used on a crop sensor (like my 7d) the 16mm – 35mm is wide enough for group shots but not so wide distortion raises its ugly head. I use the 16mm – 35mm F4L because it is small, light and manageable. The image stabilisation allows me to capture tack sharp shots, even at slower shutter speeds so it is perfect for the lighting conditions in basketball courts. The 16mm – 35mm lens is available with a F2.8 aperture without image stabilisation. Whilst the 2.8 aperture gathers more light than a 4.0 aperture the F2.8 version is a beast of a lens and is not as sharp as the F4 version. The F4 version is cheaper than the F2.8, so it is the perfect choice.
Once again, I use the above lenses because I shoot Canon however whatever brand of camera you use I highly recommend a 70mm – 200mm F2.8 tele lens and a 16mm – 35mm zoom lens with an aperture of F4 (or wider if available). Lenses of these focal lengths are mainstream and common and all the large Camera manufacturers have their own version so it doesn’t matter if you shoot Nikon, Pentax or whatever else, you will find a suitable basketball photography lens in these focal lengths.
Other equipment for basketball photography
Other than a camera and lens the only other piece of equipment I use for basketball photography is a monopod, and I only use that to take some weight off having to hold the camera and lens. I know some basketball photographers like to use flash guns and speed lights however I don’t think it right to use speed lights during a basketball match since it is likely to affect the players and put them off their game.
Whilst I don’t take any big bits of photography equipment other than the camera, lenses and monopod I do make sure I have plenty of memory cards (it is easy to take hundreds of photos using the camera in burst mode), spare batteries (using the camera in burst mode eats the batteries very quickly) and lens cleaning cloths (there are no excuses for a dirty lens).
Camera settings for basketball photography
Basketball courts are lit with artificial lighting and I use a custom white balance based on the temperature of the specific lights used to illuminate the court. I know some photographers use auto white balance and then tweak it in the digital darkroom using photo editing software, however I prefer to get the white balance as close as possible in camera so I don’t have to spend ages sorting out the white balance of hundreds of photos after the event.
Setting a custom white balance is easy, it takes about two minutes and it saves me loads of time in the digital darkroom. I use a white balance filter to set a custom white balance and it works brilliantly every time. A white balance filter is inexpensive and it is an essential bit of kit for basketball photography.
When I shoot basketball photography I set the camera in shutter priority mode. In any sports/action photography making sure the shutter speed is fast enough to freeze the action is crucial since using a shutter speed that is too slow ends up in blurry photos as a result of subject movement. Before I start taking photos for real I take test shots and review the LCD, zooming in to 100%, to make sure the shutter speed is fast enough to freeze the action, and result in sharp shots. Once I am satisfied with the shutter speed I start taking photos for real.
Basketball is a fast sport and trying to manually focus is going to result in few, if any, basketball pictures in focus. Whenever I shoot basketball photography I use autofocus and al servo or continuous autofocus too. Using continuous autofocus means the camera will find focus and then track the subject (i.e. the player I am focusing on) keeping it in focus until I press the shutter button. I always use continuous autofocus for basketball photography and wouldn’t use anything else.
When shooting basketball photography I always set the camera in burst mode or continuous shooting mode, so I can fire off several frames in quick succession. It is amazing how the slightest change in body position or facial movement can turn a good photo in to a great photo, and shooting in burst mode maximises the chances of capturing those great photos.
Basketball photography composition
When shooting basketball you have no control over the composition and it is in the lap of the gods. Okay, the winning team will pose for the cameras at the end of the game, and you may get individuals posing for photos en-route to the locker room after the game, but you won’t get any players posing for photos during match play.
Composing an image is impossible and the only thing you can do is to keep shooting throughout the basketball game (resisting the urge to review the photos on the camera’s LCD screen and delete any images) and review the results on screen back home to see what shots have a good composition.
It is possible to change the composition of basketball photos by cropping and enlarging them using photo editing software, therefore I would always recommend shooting wider than is ideal to get the most options to change the composition during the photo editing stage.
Using photo editing software for basketball photography
There is a school of thought that editing software is “cheating” however I do not share this opinion. I shoot in RAW and all RAW files need some processing with photo editing software before use, and this is true regardless of whether the photo is to be printed or used electronically.
Jpeg files are edited and adjusted “in-camera” however this does not happen with RAW files, and these remain totally untouched by the camera. At the very least RAW files need tweaks to the saturation, contrast, clarity, and sharpness therefore a decent photo editing software package is essential for basketball photography. I personally use Photoshop Elements, which is a cut down version of Photoshop and I have to say it is great for editing basketball pictures.
Photoshop Elements has a user friendly interface, it is simple to use and it is also affordable. There is also a large online Elements forum so if you do get stuck with anything a quick search will help you find a solution very quickly.
Keen photographer addicted to cameras, lenses and everything photography related. Feel free to follow me in my photography ramblings, and if you have any thoughts, comments, queries or anything else to add I would love to hear from you.