Photographing Basketball

In theory, basketball should be one of the easier sports to photograph right? All of the action happens in a 4,500 square feet rectangle as opposed to let’s say, a football field which is 57,600 sq ft. The players are also driving at a hoop that is only 18 inches wide. How hard can it be? You would be surprised.  But, with some practice, you can be shooting for the NBA in no time.

I love shooting basketball. There is a quickness and intensity that is exciting and challenging as a photographer. Let me warn you of a few obstacles you may encounter and then I will give you some tips on how to snag great looking action photos.

The number one challenge you will encounter doesn’t even begin on the court. It starts up in the rafters. Blurry, grainy and strange color shifts are the complaints I hear most from first time basketball photographers due to the lack of light. Chances are you are photographing your son or daughter at the local Rec. Center, Middle School or High School Gymnasium where the light is dim to say the least. Although the gym looks bright enough to our eye, your camera will immediately start screaming for more light. Grabbing for your flash? It’s not that easy. You want to go with available light. A flash will light up only what is right in front and everything else will go black. Also, the players and refs don’t like those flashes popping in their eyes during play especially coming from the floor. Do you want to learn how to use the existing light? Head over to the Advanced Photo Tips category. There you will find a whole article about overcoming lighting and color shift problems when photographing indoor sports.

Speed of play
The next thing that will become apparent is how fast the action happens. I remember when I photographed my first college game. I was having a hard time balancing how to look through my camera and look over my camera to find out where the ball went. The main thing is to get quick at looking up, finding the ball and then back through the lens to snap the photo. You will need to learn to be fast on the trigger and do more editing later. Don’t over think it. With basketball, you need to shoot on instinct and be bold.

The angle you choose to photograph the game will dictate the types of shots you can get. The baseline (the out of bounds line beyond the backboard) on either side of the net is a great place to be. The players are coming straight at you and you don’t need a long lens. You can get by with a 50mm, 85mm or 105mm. You can’t say that for many sports that require longer glass. If you are allowed to sit on the baseline, move back 3-4 feet so the refs can do their thing. Oh, speaking about refs, you will most likely get more than you fair shots of referee behinds. Be patient. It is a reality of this sport at any level. If you are in, near, or underneath the net, you can get some nice lay up photos. However, keep in mind they are right on top of you so beware of flying bodies. I also like getting out to the far corner. This allows you to get a great angle of the lay up as well as the passing and defense before the shot. Another great angle is from the stands on either side of the hoop. Depending on the length of your lens, you can get some amazing shots at the net and remember, the higher you go up in the stands, the cleaner your background gets without so much background clutter.

So what are you prime shooting opportunities in basketball? You always have a chance to get some dribbling shots as the team brings the ball down court. There are chances to photograph the strategic positioning around the net both offense and defense. You have a chance to get a shooting shot should the offense shoot from outside and then of course you have the play at the net with dunks and lay-ups. Also watch for scrums on the floor. This is when there is a loose ball and there is a mad scramble. The bench is always full of drama both from the coach and the players as well. Finally, don’t miss the celebration during close games. Is that enough to get you started? Basketball can be an exciting sport to shoot once you learn how to overcome the lighting obstacle and know where to look for the peak action. Have a blast!

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