Tips for Indoor Sports Photography - Part 2

Tips for Indoor Sports Photography – Part 2

As the title of the article says, this is Part 2. I strongly encourage you to read Part 1 first, where I covered some of the indoor sports photography basics like gear, auto focus, camera settings, and looking for creative angles. While Part 1 centered primarily on basketball, here in Part 2 we’ll take a quick look at some of the other indoor sports you might find yourself shooting.

Fencing

Whereas flash might be allowed for basketball, it will NEVER be okay for fencing. You’ve got two combatants trying to stab each other with swords. Anything you do that can possibly affect the vision of either fencer–even if just for a moment–can also affect the outcome of the match, and possibly result in injury. Open up your aperture, dial down your shutter speed a bit, crank up your ISO. Rapid-fire mode may not be such a bad idea here, because a certain number of blurry photos are to be expected.

Fencing and volleyball-- two very fast, unpredictable sports.

Fencing and volleyball– two very fast, unpredictable sports. FENCING: 100mm, 1/160, f/2.8, ISO 1600.  VOLLEYBALL: 80mm, 1/200, f/4, ISO 1250, TTL Flash.

Volleyball

I love the game of volleyball, but I absolutely hate shooting it. The unpredictability of bump, set, and spike can be maddening. Anticipating where the ball is going is perhaps more difficult in volleyball than any other sport. Again, flash may or may not be your friend when photographing this sport. Make sure to talk with the referee before the match begins. In volleyball, there is one referee at the net. Most will allow you to use flash, as long as you are not shooting towards them. That means shooting from the same side as the ref. You’ll most likely have spectators behind you, so try to stay low and be respectful.

Gymnastics & Competitive Cheerleading

Just like fencing, flash will never be allowed when photographing gymnastics or competitive cheerleading. Both are a photographic challenge, requiring you to capture very fast action in very low light. Most professionals like to shoot these events at 1/1000 with very high ISO. Being able to anticipate the action is possibly more important in gymnastics than almost any other sport.  Gymnastics moves so fast that if you see it in the viewfinder, chances are you’ve already missed the shot. Watch them warm up. Getting familiar with a routine during practice will help you know what to look for when it’s real.

No flash allowed when balance is the difference between winning and losing.

No flash allowed when safety and balance can be the difference between winning and losing, or injury.
1/250, f/4, 80mm, ISO 3200.

Swimming

For swimming, flash is generally allowed, but never on the start. When officials need to signal a false start, swimmers see a flashing light at the end of the pool. Hitting them with flash before they even hit the water can confuse them into thinking a false start has been signaled when it hasn’t. There is no do-over if they mistakenly think it’s a false-start and stop swimming. They are out of the race and it’s your fault.  Also, get there early. At least one hour. This is absolutely crucial for swimming events. Your camera is going to have to adapt to the humid conditions. Getting there in enough time for your gear to acclimate will keep your lenses from fogging up.

Other than no flash until they're in the water, swimming doesn't place too many restrictions on photography.

Other than no flash until they’re in the water, swimming doesn’t place too many restrictions on photography.  1/180, f/3.2, 200mm, ISO 800.

Wrestling

I love shooting wrestling. Love it. For starters, I’m off my feet, getting my best shots either sitting or lying down on the mat. Many wrestling meets involve a dozen or more teams, with several matches going on simultaneously. If you’re lucky, you can find a spot on the mats with four matches going on around you at the same time. When one bout slows down or ends, simply rotate around to another. The key here is speed and efficiency. Bouts can go for several minutes, or they can be over in the blink of an eye. Flash is generally allowed at the high school level, but a newer model camera with high ISO, combined with some fast lenses, can mean great captures without the use of flash. Experiment and see what works best for you.

Don't blink. You might miss it.

Don’t blink. You might miss it.  1/250, f/3.2, 85mm, ISO 640.

Boxing

Similar concerns to fencing, but this time it’s much more up close and personal. Flash is definitely not allowed, but the good news is that the lighting at these events is usually really good. Pay attention to where the light falls on the ring and play to those angles for dramatic results. You are going to be fairly restricted in terms of where you can stand, because fighters take up two corners and judges are situated on all four sides of the ring. You’re shooting up, between ropes, at in-your-face action. Stick to a standard zoom like the 24-70mm or a wide-angle 16-35mm.  This is one of those rare sporting events where the 70-200mm is not your friend.

Ring-side. 1/500, f/4.5, ISO 6400, 48mm. Leave the 70-200mm at home, but bring a towel.

Ring-side. 1/500, f/4.5, ISO 6400, 48mm. Leave the 70-200mm at home, but bring a towel.

Shooting indoor sports is tough. If it was up to me, all sports would be played outside under optimal, natural lighting conditions. Hey, a guy can dream, right? Don’t let the challenges or stumbling blocks get you down. With practice, preparation, and the right gear, you’ll see the quality of of your images improve dramatically.

Do you have a good tip for shooting indoor sports? Share it with us in the comments.

For additional reading, one of the best books ever written on the subject of sports photography is “Peter Read Miller On Sports Photography.”  Miller has been photographing the NFL, the Olympics, and portraits for “Sports Illustrated” for almost 40 years. He has over 100 S.I. covers to his credit, as well as 35 Super Bowls, 9 Olympic Games, and countless other sporting events around the world. You can check out my review of the book, as well as my conversation with Peter, by clicking here. The book is available on Amazon.com.

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Jeff Guyer is a commercial/portrait photographer based in Atlanta, GA. Still an avid street photographer and film shooter, Jeff also launched a kids photography class called: Digital Photo Challenges.