After I had started shooting the Annandale boys varsity basketball games, I considered whether to take shots of the girls games too, both to get more experience shooting basketball, and to give these kids some souvenirs that might encourage them to stay in sports. I didn’t know whether Annandale High School had already arranged for all the professional photo coverage that anyone would want, or if parents or students were covering this need. So, I took a chance. I spoke to the girls varsity basketball coach the first time I showed up, and he was supportive.
One of the benefits of coming out to these games with a camera is that sometimes county-hired photographers are there, and every one of them has been extremely nice and helpful to myself as a novice photographer. At the first girls game that I covered, I met a professional photographer named Celeste, who was there to shoot the home team Centreville Wildcats. She actually reviewed my camera settings for me, and she made some good suggestions. Sometimes it pays to be helpless ;-).
Equipment & Settings
The camera setup that I used for these games consisted of the following listed items. The Spare flash setup would only be used for team or individual photos, and not during games.
- (1) Nikon D850 Full Frame Digital SLR Camera
- (1) NIKKOR AF-S 105 mm f/1.4E ED Prime Lens
- (1) Nikon EN-EL15a 7.0V 1900mAh Battery
- (1) Sony 128 GB XQD G Series Memory Card
- (1) Sony 128 GB SD UHS-II SF-M Series Memory Card
- (1) Nikon SB-5000 AF Speedlight
- (1) MagMod MagGrip Magnetic Speedlight Modifier Mount
- (1) MagMod MagSphere Speedlight Modifier
- (4) Panasonic Eneloop Pro 1.2V AA Batteries
- (1) Nikon EN-EL15a 7.0V 1900mAh Battery
My post processing workflow was the same that I’ve been using for a couple of months now. I would screen photos on-camera (The Nikon D850 touch screen is pretty sweet for this.), then ingest the remaining files from the camera disk to my home computer using CameraBits Photo Mechanic 5 (further screening them as they come in), then use Adobe Lightroom Classic CC for final editing and exporting to JPEG.
Once again, I created a dedicated Lightroom Catalog to handle all of the games in the Annandale girls varsity basketball season, keeping the files for the individual games in the same folder structure. This will make it easy when I want to backup, move, or delete the files.
Links to the galleries of photos that I shot for each game are provided below (These galleries are password protected.):
- January 24, 2018 – Annandale HS vs. Centreville HS (21 photos)
- January 26, 2018 – Annandale HS vs. Hayfield HS (46 photos)
- February 6, 2018 – Annandale HS vs. West Potomac HS (76 photos)
Some of the better photos, with their camera settings, are shown below:
Photos taken at Centreville High School, Centreville, Virginia
Photos taken at Hayfield High School, Alexandria, Virginia
Photos taken at West Potomac High School, Alexandria, Virginia
1. With the D850 DSLR, I might get better image quality if I increase the maximum ISO limit
When I’m taking photos of people, I want to minimize the camera’s depth of field, so that the subjects are in focus, but the background is out of focus to make the subjects stand out. This forces me to open the lens aperture as wide as possible (for my prime lenses, typically f/1.4). Then, for action shots, I have to set the shutter speed to freeze the motion of the subjects (assuming that that is my intent). So this determines two of the three variables that determine image exposure. The only variable left is the ISO setting, which determines how much the signal from the sensor is amplified before it is digitized.
Instead of locking in a fixed ISO, I typically let the camera adjust it automatically, in order to try to achieve proper exposure over the selected metering area. Based mostly on my experience using the Nikon D500 DSLR, and my experience using what appear to have been inferior noise reduction software (Adobe Lightroom Classic CC is clearly better than what I was using.), I’ve been setting the camera to constrain this adjustment, such that some of the resulting images will be slightly underexposed. Underexposure basically limits the amount of detail the image will capture, because an underexposed image doesn’t use the full dynamic range (all of the intensity levels) available from the sensor. If I want to capture all that detail, then I need to make sure that the maximum ISO will allow the camera to achieve proper exposure.
Higher ISO will also increase noise in the image, but it makes sense that good noise reduction algorithms should be able to reduce the noise without significantly impacting the detail in the image.
From reviewing the histograms for some of the images that I did not end up editing, it appears that some of the photos were slightly under exposed when I had the maximum ISO limit set to 1250. For future low light shots, I should probably just increase the ISO sensitivity control to the highest value I would be comfortable with, as follows.
- PHOTO SHOOTING MENU
- ISO sensitivity settings
- Maximum sensitivity to 4000
- ISO sensitivity settings
2. The lighting at the Hayfield High School gym creates hot spots and dead spots
When I arrived at Hayfield, I started inspecting the lighting above the basketball court. The first thing I noticed was that, like other Fairfax County public school gyms, the lighting was uneven, with hot spots directly under the light fixtures, and dead spots between them (inadequate diffusion). In addition, I noticed that all of the light fixtures had diffusion panels, but some were noticeably more yellowed than others. When the Annandale players were warming up at one end of the court, at one point alternating in taking three-point shots from either side of the basket, I noticed that when they took shots from the right side of the basket (from my vantage point beyond the end line), their faces were much better lit than when they took shots from the left (The difference was striking.). Looking above them, I noticed that the diffusion panel in the light fixture directly above on the left side was significantly more yellowed, so it was obviously not putting out as much light (It was probably also creating a yellow color cast on the players’ skin.). So during their warm ups, I focused on taking photos of them on the right side of the basket.
3. Stay away from directly behind the basket
Before I came out to shoot any basketball games this season, I checked out college basketball games, both on TV and online. I wanted to see where the photographers positioned themselves during the games. What I saw was that most all photographers were outside the wide painted border beyond the end line (the majority using 70-200mm zoom lenses). Most of them were on the right side of the basket, when viewed from outside the court (This seems to make sense if you are trying to capture the faces of right handed players.). In some cases there were one or more painted boxes on the floor in that area, which seemed to be intended to give assigned territory to one or more photographers.
When I was shooting these games, I shot everything from several feet beyond the wide painted border beyond the end line. This seemed to keep me out of the way of the referees, who in many cases also positioned themselves beyond the painted boarder. In some of these gyms, that’s about all the room there is, before you hit a wall or a door. But it seemed to work fine, and there was never any danger for the players, the refs, or myself.
Near the end of the second game, I probably strained my welcome a bit, by shooting from directly behind the basket (still far enough away). The shots I got from there really weren’t significantly better, and I think I was a bit of a distraction for players taking free throws. In the future, I’ll limit myself to the area beyond the end line and outside of the key.