Shooting Basketball – Equipments and Techniques Tips

College basketball season has started and I am happy to have chance to practice some shoots. It is one of my favorite sport to take beside soccer.

First, I will discuss about ideal equipments and minimum requirement to take a good basketball pictures.

DSLR camera is a must have because 2 reasons
1. Basketball is held in indoor arena so it is dimmer than daylight
2. Basketball is a fast action sport, require a camera that has high speed auto focus and continuous shooting burst.

In choosing dSLR camera, any camera in the market has a decent performance including budget ones. Any brand will do pretty well but I highly recommend Canon or Nikon and avoid Pentax because the auto focus speed is very slow. Pentax system is great for general photography but not designed for sport just yet.

The entry level dSLRs
Canon 450D/XSi, Nikon D60 and Olympus E-520 will do the job fairly well, they have limitation on continuous shooting burst (usually around 3fps) and the noise handling is usually not as good as higher-end models. The price ranges of these cameras is around $500-$700

If you are serious about sports photography and have some bucks to spare, then I recommend you to look at semi pro model.

Semi pro models
Canon 40D or the new 50D, Nikon D90 or D300, Olympus E-30. They are a solid camera good most kind of photography, usually weather sealed and have average 2x faster continuous shooting burst (5-6.5 fps). The price range of these cameras is around $750-$1500

Pro models
Pro model such as Canon 1d Mark iii, Nikon D3 and D700, Olympus E-3 are the best in 2008. They features a weatherproof body, battery grip built in (except D700 and E3). They have incredible shooting speeds up to 10fps, sophisticated and customizable high speed auto focus system. Other than that, they handle noise very well in high iso setting. These characteristics made them ideal for sport photography either in bright or dim light. The price range of these cameras is around $2500-4500

Lenses
If you are shooting under the basket, I highly recommend 50mm f/1.4. this lens is fast enough and the focal length is perfect in cropped sensor camera (entry level/semi pro cameras). This lens is reasonably priced and great on other photography assignments such as portrait and artistic shots.

Other lenses that I recommend is 70-200mm f/2.8. With this lens, you can work on mid court to the other end of the field. I also recommend 85mm f/1.8 or 135mm f/2

Note: Avoid lens that has big aperture for example 4-5.6, because it require you to boost iso (degrade image quality) to maintain shutter speed to freeze the action.

Special Note: Image stabilization will not work in covering basketball or other sport photography because IS can only battle hand shake on slow shutter speed but can’t freeze the action.

Techniques and setting.
My usual shooting setting is as follows:

  • Manual setting (M)
  • Aperture f/2.8 ISO 1250, shutter speed 1/640
  • AI servo (predictive focus)
  • AWB around 4000-4400 (or white fluorescent setting)
  • RAW mode.
  • High speed continuous shoot

Strategy and What to shoot?
I highly recommend you to take a position close to the field arena or under the basket area. This way you will get more chance to capture close action. Getting a media pass will be great too. I volunteer to shoot for student newspaper so I can get media pass for a season. You could save ticket money by getting a media pass.

Usually I will shoot some close action of two players, a player shooting, or blocking, rebound and any action which is interesting for me. Also sometimes I look for coach, players and audience reactions. However, you will likely to need a long telephoto lens to get the coaches expression. You can also use wide angle lens to cover the entire arena in one frame.

Even your lens permit you to go lower beyond f/2.5, I recommend you to avoid it, because the image could be pretty soft except you have a high quality pro model lens such as Sigma 50mm f/1.4 or Canon 85mm f/1.2.

After shooting for a while, don’t hesitate to move around if you find your position is far from ideal, for example, the referee keep blocking your way or the players are facing other direction most of the time.

So I hope this entry will help you enthusiast basketball shooters.