Basketball Photography Notes

Basketball photography is difficult: fast action with gloomy courts lit with different colour floodlights, with intermittent shafts of sunlight! It's a challenge that's great fun.
Landscapes - pah - too easy!

This page lists the issues and random thoughts that go though my head as I click away.

Basketball
Men's Bosworth Blazers v. Kettering Suns

Permissions

Ask the coaches, especially if children under 16 are playing. If one says "No" - then leave the cameras in the bag and just enjoy the game. I have been refused once and that was very apologetically "It's the parents!". If it's adults or an under-18 game I tend not to bother asking. Most are pleased and delighted to be asked and say "Yes". Sometimes they are surprised to be asked.

Preparation

Do you know when where the game is and how you're getting there? Lenses clean? Battery charged? Cards formatted?

Where to stand?

I'm neutral - sort of - but I stand near the "other" team's basket to get more shots of "our" team's offense action. I'll stand with the parents - so they're out of the shot. Photos of team players sitting on benches are better than mums and dads.

And stand at least a couple of feet outside of the court!

Taking the photos

How may photos to take? Typically for a friendly game - 800 images will be taken; an exciting game 1600 taken.

Always look for action. During a game I'm watching the ball as much as the players and referees.

Shoot wide. These are not staged shots, nor landscapes. The action is fast - so forget about careful framing - that's out of the window. Pun intended.

Always take the tip-off and handshakes after the end.

Don't waste time gloating / reviewing / deleting images during the game - you will miss the action!

My aim is to get as many shots as possible. (Alternatively I could stalk under a basket and wait; get three good shots and leave - much like a time starved press photographer would do.)

Usually a picture has the ball, and players. Anticipate where the ball is going. Intercepted? Score? Drop? Pass? Can you frame 2 players on opposing teams? And its position to the basket and court markings if relevant. Avoid those practice nets along the side of the gym I'd love to remove before each game. Then the teams, coaches, managers, refs, scorers, parents and hangers-on, the food - it all captures the mood. Some players by themselves - radiate complete dejection / excitement / anger.

Camera

I usually have a Canon 5D MK3 with a 24-105mm lens.

Tripods and Monopods

No! Tripods are clumsy and dangerous. If a player hurtles into me I am reasonably squishy; tripods are not. I wouldn't consider a monopod either.

Flash

No. Too distracting for the players. You'd need something fairly pokey. And how would you colour match with the floodlights and sunlight?

Camera Settings

I use manual or, if there is risk of intermittent sunshine, shutter priority.

Shoot in RAW. Highest resolution, not that I'm going to print out A3 posters. I crop heavily. I get by with 1 * 64GB card, but have a 3 16GB cards if needed. Use "800x" rated cards as sometime there will be a rapid burst of activity. Check the space on the card at the end of each quarter before diving off to find the sausage rolls.

Delete all photos on the camera cards before a game. Set the colour balance. Shoot in RAW to give you more exposure stops to play with when post processing so you can recover bad exposures!

White balance

Lighting - usually fixed white balance florescent. (Some lighting is amazing bad! Warm white with cold blue, a sodium lamp and a shaft of sunlight!) Get this right - adjusting in Photoshop is possible but takes time. Sometimes you have no choice as lighting is so different around the court.

Set to Auto White Balance - and hope.

Basketball
Daylight and artificial light at Northampton Academy

One modern court, Northampton Academy, has florescent lights and windows open to the sky. With an overcast sky setting the white balance to 3800K is good. Experiment with this! If there are shafts of sunlight - arrrgh - it's very difficult!

Shutter

I use 1/160 second shutter speed most of the time. Sometimes I'll go down to 1/125 or even 1/80. It's not hand-holding the camera that's the issue - it's the speed of the players. I want some motion blur to show action. I will pan with the movement. Avoid accidentally knocking the shutter setting! 1/160 becomes 1/10 or worse! That really does not work well!

ISO and Exposure

I usually choose 1600, sometimes 4000, sometimes I set this to auto. EV usually +2/3 .

Aperture

This is hard! As wide as possible? 1/f4? No, it's a team game, I like all players in the action to be in focus - sometimes if it's bright enough 1/f6.3. Normally 1/f5.6. This is a team sport. A solo player looks good with a narrow depth of field if you can get the eyes in focus. But basketball is a team game...

Sometimes I use 2 cameras. One with a long lens[100-300mm], one wide[24-105mm]. Remove those dangling straps!

Basketball is a vertical game so I shoot with the camera in portrait orientation, and end up making landscape crops. Totally illogical! No. Always aim the lens at 6ft on the opposing wall, or a players eyes - this avoids trapezoidal distortion. This means I take the shot with the camera aimed horizontally. (Think of Victorians taking pictures of buildings.) All the verticals and horizontals will be straight. The excessive dead space of empty court in the lower half of the frame can then be cropped out.

Post Production and picking the 100 best photographs

Choose the photos you want first. Make the selection before editing. Don't waste time editing photos that will be discarded.

When picking photos - try not to be fastidiously impartial. I am not the BBC. Yes I have a bias towards my team - but good shots of the opposing teams' players will often make it. Selecting is the hardest bit. There is usually 5% that can be immediately rejected and deleted. Limiting it to 100 - means: I don't bore the parents with too many pictures; I can get a "release" done in 4 hours.

Keep the photographs time ordered, all in sequence. There may be a several runs of images - a sequence showing a ball getting into the net..

Reject the technically bad - unless there is something powerful. A foul between 2 players. Yes the brickwork is clearly focussed, the mortar pointing is the finest in Northamptonshire - look closely you can make out some fuzzy players! Don't be a purist! Keep it! Show it! Go through the images from start to end. Do this diligently. Be religious about this. Beginning to End. Alpha to Omega. Don't be random or haphazard, or you may miss some - rejects may get through and good ones discarded. Once you have the 100 best - now you can edit them! How long to manipulate? Plan for a minute per photo. (Have iPlayer running - this can get tedious - but pleasant enough in automatic mode.) Action in shadow at the edge of the court will need some help - oh, then the colour casts for the strong hues of the team strip... it's hard! Adjust the flesh tones - no - that takes too much time - then the team colours would be all over the place when viewing more than one image side by side.

Set the peak whites - I'm using a TV engineer expression here - I use the white of a shirt - and Photoshop's clipping alert on the preview. No time for gray cards! We're looking for punchy action pictures - use the full range - gamut / contrast.

The Scoresheet

Take a photo of the completed scoresheet.

Having the score-sheet to hand when selecting images in post production / Photoshop is very useful. Yes, it helps identify the "free throws". (I need a second cameraman with player and basket in shot and a wide lens; after a videographer...) I want the action shots - not necessarily the shooting shots. Take pictures of the score board, but don't include in the final set, scores at the end of each quarter. Use a slow shutter when photographing the LED scoreboard with multiplexed electronics!

My Appearance

I'm there to take pictures. I'm also there supporting the nephew playing in his team, but I want to appear neutral. So I wear neutral clothing - not the teams colours. That means I can sit in the opposition's seating, a bit like a Trojan Horse - they don't know who I am. And neutral colours avoid colour casts I also have an alternate motive.

game
Titans v. Duston Hawks

Image Manipulation Sequence

for each image do the following...

Brightness Levels

Get as much punch as possible from the gloomy lighting. Adjusting for a consistent white clipping seems to work well. Colour adjustment for white on a player's shirt works well.

Adjust for blacks

"Adjust for blacks" has a lower case 'B'. Dark skinned players need adjusting. (Not in the sense of eugenics, No!) We want to see them. Use the "Adjust for blacks" and "fill light" tools in Photoshop. OK, this does make the picture flatter...(Phew! That was a difficult paragraph to write! No, I'm not racist - racially aware yes.)

Rotate

The midpoint should have verticals that are vertical! Brickwork, doors and power conduits must be right! Don't attempt to correct horizontals - they won't be straight unless you're square to the wall. Don't waste time with trapezoid correction!

Manipulate

I will clone part of a wall if an image rotate has exposed a void. Maybe I will black out the numbers on the score board if the shutter LED multiplex is confusing. I never tweak a player. I never change the floor markings.

Crop

I don't like slicing players. But an opposition player will suffer if need be. (Neutrality me? I'm Judas! I'm untrustworthy!) Discard the player standing like a lemon - doesn't help your photo or them. Avoid dysfunctional (unaware / sleeping) players on the bench. (Or anywhere for that matter.)

Avoid the confusing practice baskets along the side of the court - they are not part of the game - they're clutter.

Keep: all players in the action; the ball; the basket. I also like to keep the shadows under the players' feet. This make jumps more obvious - where is the ground? Include shadows of the ball and players. Yes, sounds a bit cartoon like - but gives a visual clue as to how high things are off of the ground.

Rule of Thirds

I am normally a follower of the Rule Of Thirds - but with basketball I relax this rule. The photo is taken using the "eye height plane rule", then cropped to fill the screen.

Image Resolution

I post to Flickr in the pixel resolution as captured after cropping - I don't reduce the number of pixels. Export as JPG highest quality.

Burst Mode

No, bad idea. Burst Mode may sell cameras but it's lazy and useless and not very good. You end up with too many photos - besides timing a ball so it's a few inches below the hoop is easily possible, even for me! (This turns into a pastime. A boring shot is a foul shot. I like to take the shot on the second throw with the ball 3 inches below the hoop in the basket... exercise in timing - but the shots rarely make to the final 100 as they're just so boring!

game
Titans v. Scorpions

Have all the players been photographed?

Have I got a picture of each player? This is important for a children's game. (I don't want to upset a parent by ignoring their dearly beloved progeny.) I don't consciously ensure that all players are captured - maybe I would feel this pressure if I was "official". Looking through the photos I've taken all players seem to get captured. (And, anyway, the not so good players don't deserve to be captured.)

I'm mindful that there is no excessive bias: it's never "My nephew and his mates".

"Have you got any pictures off Little Jimmy?" If a parent asks I will look later, at home, in the comfort of my 10 TB store. They may already be deleted. I will have deleted all photos on all camera cards before any game. Tough.

Some games are just mates playing - a bit too casual - not many photos taken.

The camera does not lie - sometime I take 1500 photos in a match. 60% from the best team dominate - 40% from the weaker... shame I'm supporting the weaker team!

Silly expressions - young players - yes. Silly adults - no - but maybe the odd water bottles used in lobbing incidents.

Why use a separate focus button?

No more framing the image on the centre point / half pressing.

No more pictures of walls and bricks and mortar. Shutter immediately takes the picture - no auto focus delay - or miss-focus as it sees a nice wall. Shoot near the opposing team's basket.

Shoot towards the team benches - the players tend to be more photogenic than waifs and strays of the Northamptonshire proletariat.

A ball suspended in a basket appears to be magically levitating. It may show my skill at timing - but the photos soon tend to be very boring! Not too many picture of player number 19. Also boring. Hero worship? No. Tedious!

Aim for a final wide landscape crop that matches monitor aspect ratio. This is the fashion in 2016.

Yes I would remove all practice baskets, balls, luggage, spectators...

Injuries

I regularly turn up for a game. Should I get first-aid training? (May be a timekeeper / scorer... no, not a ref!)

Selection - who picks the photos?

I do. I choose. I photograph. I delete. No interference! (The pictures are too small on the camera screen so players can't review during intervals!)

So how bright is the court?

todo: might get heavy with some maths... when the shutter opens during the electricity mains supply frequency - the colour from the bulbs change during the 20ms period (50Hz = 50 times a second is a time period of 20ms.) 1/160 = 6.25ms.
And the bulbs are different! They may have been all the same when the gym was built, but not now. Broken bulbs inexpertly replaced with ones with different colour temperatures. "Oh does it matter?" Numpty.

Conclusion

Framing and taking over a thousand images in really bad lighting with fast action means my "day to day" photography is vastly improved.
Don't get too worried about the technology. The players and parents are delighted to have a record of the game.

Flickr

All my photos end up on Flickr

Page last edited 27th July 2016. nick@anotherurl.com



Basketball is a sport played by two teams of five players on a rectangular court. The objective is to shoot a ball through a hoop 18 inches (46 cm) in diameter and 10 feet (3.048 m) high mounted to a backboard at each end.

Wikipedia

N.E.B.C Titans is a Northamptonshire club which is run by volunteers for young people who want to play basketball, with the opportunity to play local or national league games.

N.E.B.C. Titans

The EOS 5D Mark III is a full-frame 22.3 MP DSLR with 61-point autofocus and 6fps continuous shooting. Capture high-quality Full HD movies, with manual control over everything from frame rate to audio.

Canon