Basketball is one of my favorite sports for shooting. The raw, unfiltered action taking place a few feet away in a confined, well-lit space is a sports photographer’s dream. To add to this, athletes don’t wear anything to cover their face or body that hides their emotions or body language. Action and emotion are in front of you. Basketball is such a dynamic and emotional sport that lends itself well to photography. But, if you need help getting started, here are my top tips for basketball photography.
Position is key
If you have a choice, try to position yourself about five feet from the center of the hoop. This angle will allow you to have a good view of the action. You will also have the option of shooting both horizontally and vertically, depending on the client’s needs. From here you can shoot both wide and tight. Another option is to position yourself closer to the side baseline and shoot primarily with a 70-200mm lens. This will often give you a cleaner background, depending on what it is.
Choose the right lens
Having the right equipment is crucial for basketball photography. Often the lighting isn’t great in arenas, so having fast glass is crucial if you’re not shooting with strobes. A 70-200mm f/2.8 lens and a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens are essential for the action near you. When the action moves to the other side of the court, I’ll be using a combination of the 70-200mm and a 300mm f/2.8 again. Even with newer cameras’ ability to shoot at high ISO, the aspect of shooting at f/2.8 is still important for a strong image. Plus, having that depth of field will really make your images pop.
Try using remotes
Most of the momentum action is going to happen around the basket key. This gives you the ability to set up remote cameras in different parts of the arena to anticipate this action. One of the most impactful remotes you can set up is a “glass” remote. This is where a wide-angle camera and lens (I use a 14mm) are attached behind the panel and pre-focused where you hope most of the action will take place.
Another nice angle to shoot is directly overhead with a 200mm or 300mm lens pointed directly above the basket. Depending on the color of the pitch, you often get a nice contrast between the pitch and the action. This angle is a good opportunity to offer a different look from what is taken on the ground.
A third angle that I like is directly under the basketball post with a wide angle looking at the basket from below. For this I will usually use a 24mm lens. Everything is then synchronized with the transceivers – one for each camera and one to trigger the remote controls.
I often place the remotes on the opposite side from where I am shooting. Since the action you capture when the ball is not on your side of the pitch isn’t as dynamic, it’s good to have that side of the pitch covered in remotes instead.
If you find yourself in a situation where there are strobes available – or if you can bring your own – you will need a few things to make it happen. Be prepared to run a zip cord or electrical cable anywhere there are ports. I like to place the strobe receiver on the same side as my remotes. From there, wearable cameras generally do a good job of shooting.
Know when to transmit
Sometimes I network all my cameras with Ethernet cables. Either I send everything shot or I select images and leave the field to quickly send images to my computer during the game. For network games in the field, I will run ethernet on each camera which will send each frame (remote cameras) or select frames (portable).
For clients who require edited and captioned footage, it’s important to know when to leave the field. You should spend enough time in the field to have a good variety of images to send, but not spend too much time being late for deadlines. Typically I spend about a quarter filming the game, then try to send 4-6 frames and get back on the field around the middle of the second quarter. I will then send more pictures at halftime and then I will stay for the whole second half.
Enter intermediate moments
Before and after the game, it’s a good opportunity to create pictures and behind the scenes photos. Depending on the arena and your press access, you can often use this time to connect with the athletes. Intros often have dramatic lighting and are a good opportunity to create different images. Teams stretching near their locker room and coming out of the tunnel are often good places to shoot as well.
Know who the star players are and find any stories that may be game-related or relevant to today’s world. Often, unexpected moments happen, so it is essential to prepare for them.
Try different angles to games whenever possible. Placing the camera on the ground from a low angle often produces a spectacular effect. It’s also much easier to do now with the articulating screens on mirrorless cameras. Also try to get high up in the stadium to capture logos and graphics juxtaposed with the action. Slow your shutter speed down to 1/15 of a second and try panning with the action. The percentage of sharp images you get is low, but you only need a good one!
Check out more of my basketball photography work in AdoramaTV’s new docuseries, THE MASTERS.