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JohnG Jan 18, 2007 1:56 PM

Required Equipment:

Camera capable of ISO 1600,

if HS level or below, probably f2.0 lens or external Flash (if allowed) at college level, 2.8 lens will probably work

EQUIVELENT Focal length – 35mm-135mm is the most useful range (so 50mm 1.8 prime and 85mm 1.8 prime for high school; 24-70 2.8 and 70-200 2.8 for college)

Desired Equipment:

Vertical Grip

ISO 3200 ability – there are some DARK gyms out ther.

Strobe setup if allowed and you have one

External flash if too dark or you don't have lens with wide enough aperture – preferably with battery pack for faster recycle times

If lighting allows, longer lens for down-court action

Compensation for less than desirable equipment:

Well, this sport doesn't require very long or very wide focal lengths, so that usually isn't an issue – more often than not, the issue is not having the high ISO ability or a lens with a wide enough aperture. If you don't have a fast enough lens or high enough ISO, your best bet is to take shots of natural pauses in the action. When a player jumps up for a jump-shot or lay-up there is a pause – you really don't need 1/500 shutter speeds. You can get the shot with slower shutter speeds as long as you time it. So, look for the natural pauses in the motion and take those shots.

Desired Camera Settings:
  • Use SERVO focusing
  • Put camera in burst mode if you have it.
  • If your camera has multiple focus points, select just one – because of the shallow DOF involved you might not be able to get the entire player in focus – you want the face in focus so use a single focus point and keep it on the face.
  • Most gyms have fairly constant light. So, if your camera has the ability to set a custom White Balance, do so. Make sure you get down on the court to do that though – the court lighting may be different than lighting elsewhere so don't take the WB test shot in the stands. But take a burst afterwards. Some older gyms have lights that cycle in an odd way and the color temperature changes too much – you'll notice it immediately in your test shots as several will have very visible color casts. If they don't then leave the camera in custom WB.
  • If you don't have custom WB try different WB settings on your camera until you find one that does the best. You'll have to fix the color cast in posts processing.

  • Shooting RAW – this is one possible solution to white balance problems if your camera has a RAW capability. With RAW you can set the WB in post processing for each shot individually. But it is usually a slower method of shooting – i.e. your buffer may fill up faster and your burst rate may be slower. And of course RAW takes up quite a bit more memory on your card. For what it's worth I try to avoid shooting RAW with sports – it's a last resort for me.

Also because lighting is fairly constant, shooting manual mode is very desirable. The reason being that other modes where the camera adjusts exposure can yield some very underexposed shots – think about it: one team has white jerseys and one has dark – your camera may meter a stop or more different between the two players. But the skin tones are the same. So, here's my suggestion for settings:
  1. Set ISO to 1600.
  2. Set camera to manual mode
  3. Set aperture to widest value lens has (1.8, 2.0, 2.8, whatever)
  4. Set shutter speed to 1/400 (to me, 1/400 stops most action – you have slight hand blur and ball blur but not bad at all – below 1/400 the blur becomes problematic).
  5. Take some test shots of the players warming up. Look at your histogram – is it balanced or shifted left? Or are you blowing highlights? And zoom in on a face in the photo – is it well exposed? This is the key – it's the faces you want exposed not the uniforms.
  6. If you're still underexposed, crank up the ISO if you still can. If you're already maxed out, drop the shutter speed down until you can get a decent exposure.
  7. If you're overexposed, you can either stop the aperture down or drop the ISO down. Which you do depends on your camera and how much overexposed you are. If you only have full stop ISO increments and you're only 1/3 stop overexposed you really can't drop the ISO. But assuming you CAN choose between the two, choose to drop the ISO if your camera has poor high ISO ability. If it has good high ISO ability, choose to stop down the aperture – the greater DOF will yield more keepers.[/*]
Note: as you move your shooting position – check your photos and histograms again. You may find that center court is 1/3 or 2/3 stops brighter than around the basket. You may find one end of the court has weaker lights..

Special Techniques:

None really, unless you are advanced and are mounting strobes or mounting your camera above the rim – in which case I'm not advanced enough to help you J

If you need to use flash – make sure it's allowed. Check with the officials before the game or call the organizer / director ahead of time and ask what the rules are

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Shooting positions:

The standard position is along the baseline. If you have enough room and a equivalent focal length of <80mm then you can shoot from under the basket and get some interesting shots. But in HS level gyms or below there may not be much room there and your continued presence there might annoy officials so move there and back out sporadically

A more common position is the corners of the baseline: around the three point arc or out. This way you aren't as trapped as you are under the basket and if you've got a longer lens you can get shots around the basket without just having head shots.

In general shots of people look more interesting when you're shooting at their eye level or below. So, shooting from a sitting or kneeling position will yield a more interesting angle.

Shoot from the side to get shots of defenders.

Shoot from side around mid-court to get transition action. Note that once people pass the mid court line – if they're not the ball carrier they tend to start looking back. So if you want shots of specific players you won't get as many good running shots of them if you're shooting from the baseline

From the first couple rows of the stands – hey as long as you have 70mm equivalent focal length, you can get some shots from the stands as the action goes by your position. The more focal length you have, the more action you can get.

Final note on position – realize that lenses have certain distances where they were designed to focus at. When you exceed those distances, and you're in a low light situation like this the results can be pretty soft. I know with my 50mm and 85mm lenses for my canon they are good for about 15-20 feet and 20-25 feet respectively. Beyond that range and focus accuracy goes in the toilet. So, if using my 85mm lens I really don't get great shots from one corner of the baseline to the other. So if I want shots of 3 point shooters I have to slide along the baseline about halfway to the basket before my focus gets more accurate.


Try different positions – if covering one team, spend at least 1 quarter at the defensive end of the court getting shots of defensive play. Spend at least 1 quarter shooting from the side – even if that's in the seats.

Also, 90% of the action is vertical – so take most of your shots in portrait orientation not landscape. Landscape can work for some shots depending on what you're trying for but for 90% you'll get better results with less dead space in-camera.

Get the exposure right IN CAMERA. Regardless of your camera, you'll have less noise in the picture if your exposure is correct. This is why manual mode is so important – set the exposure so your faces are well exposed.

Get to the game at least ½ hour early – you want to be there during warm-ups to get some test shots and set your WB and get set up.

Post processing – you'll need noise reduction software to get the most out of your images: Noiseware, Neat Image and Noise Ninja are all popular (I use noiseware pro and am very happy with it).

The good news is: the next time you shoot in that same gym, the lighting should be the same so based on your experiences from the first shoot, after you process the images you'll know if your settings were right on or over or under exposed. Next time you go to that gym you'll know what settings you need.

Please feel free to add on tips and techniques from your own experience.

Pictures to follow:

JohnG Jan 18, 2007 2:15 PM

Some shots:

Taken from the baseline by 3-point arc - this shooter was only a few feet away so it was a very tight frame but because he was so close, I was really able to get a sharp shot:

Shooting from the side or in stands at the top of the arc lets you get some shots of the guards charging the lane:

Personally, I like facial expressions. In basketball you tend to get them when there's contact around the hoop:

Or when players are shooting

As mentioned, sometimes landscape mode is a good idea:

Try to get shots of the contact. Like many field sports (baseball, soccer, football) - some of the best shots have opposing players 'interacting' :G

Mark1616 Jan 18, 2007 3:53 PM

Nicely done and very detailed..... when shall we put a book together?

JohnG Jan 18, 2007 6:30 PM

Well I don't think anyone would buy a book. But about 3 people asked me in the last month how to shoot basketball or gymnastics so I thought this might be a good idea. I

Mark1616 Jan 18, 2007 6:31 PM

LOL.... well one day!! I get it when shooting hockey but not too often anywhere else yet.

soliz39 Jan 18, 2007 9:06 PM

Great post John! Very helpful!

lomitamike Jan 18, 2007 11:51 PM

I really like this topic. There are so many variables for shooting at indoor gyms. The most frequent and important variable is the lighting. Most public and high school gyms are not very well lit. Most gyms are using metal halogen lighting which looses about 50% of thier output over time. A lot ofgyms are retrofitting withenegry saving lighting consisting of T5 flouresent lightingwithdaylight (5300 K) bulbs.

So RAW if available is the best choicewhile usingcustom white balance.

While trying to keep moving subjects in focus you may be tempted to open your aperture all the way to get the desired shutter speed but don't. your depth of field will be too narrow andmost lens's "sweet spot" is usually a stop or two from wide open. Increasing ISO is a better way toincrease shutter speed. I find that noiseware is a very good software program to get rid of unwanted noise due to increased ISO.

There's so much more to discuss on this subject. Last year I started a post on this subject and a lot of information was shared.;forum_id=84

JohnG Jan 19, 2007 7:53 AM

lomitamike wrote:

While trying to keep moving subjects in focus you may be tempted to open your aperture all the way to get the desired shutter speed but don't. your depth of field will be too narrow andmost lens's "sweet spot" is usually a stop or two from wide open. Increasing ISO is a better way toincrease shutter speed. I find that noiseware is a very good software program to get rid of unwanted noise due to increased ISO.

Thanks for the info lomitamike! While I agree in principle with the above, in practice - every non-college gym I've shot at (probably about 10 HS & middle school gyms), ISO 1600 is a requirement and usuaully with aperture of 1.8-2.5 if you want a proper exposure (i.e. faces aren't dark). So most gyms don't allow the luxury of shooting a stop or 2 closed down. But you are right - the DOF is a pain to deal with. But you have to decide - do you want say 50 keepers that are well exposed or 80 keepers that are poorly exposed - and if corrected in PP have increased noise - the result being the shots when viewed at larger sizes or printed are of poorer quality?

So, I agree - if you can stop the aperture down AND STILL GET PROPER EXPOSURE it's great advice. But you usually can't do that by a full stop or two.

lomitamike Jan 19, 2007 4:00 PM

By the way JohnG I'd have to say that you know what your talking about, those are someexcellent shots. Just wish the EXIF was available.

Thanks for sharing your knowledge.


futbol mom Jan 19, 2007 4:14 PM

I don't know about the rest of you, but I already have my own "JohnG" book started. I copy everything and put it in a file catagorized by sport. I'm no dummy, because when he does put out a book, I'll already have it.:G

FB Mom

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