Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Guide to Shooting Hockey, Part 1

While the site's focus is the AHL photography that I have taken, I thought that I would share some of my approach to shooting properly exposed images. These principles are nothing earth-shattering if you've mastered the controls of your camera, but is written with a focus on novices.

Shoot Manual

I prefer to shoot in Manual (probably listed as the "M" setting on your camera), as it gives me the most control in the results. This allows me to adjust the shutter speed (1/xxx), aperture (f/x.x) and sensitivity (ISO xxx), while most other modes rely on the camera's computer to determine one or more of these 3 settings.

Why Manual? If you were to shoot with another setting without adjusting exposure compensation (EC), the images would turn out too dark due to the white ice. While you could adjust the EC to correctly expose for the ice, but the results may not be consistent if there is a varying about of ice in the image.

Check the Histogram

Reviewing the histogram on the back display of your camera will help adjust the settings to the correct exposure. This is usually found by cycling through the display formats on the back screen.

A properly exposed image with create a histogram pattern similar to the image below, with a spike almost at the right edge representing the white from the ice.

If the spike is at or exceeds the edge, the photo will be overexposed and too bright, while having the spike towards the middle indicates that it is underexposed.

Overexposed image

Underexposed image

Working on the right settings


Set the aperture as wide as your lens allows, which will let the camera receive as much light as possible offering the highest possible shutter speeds eliminating blur. Also, with larger apertures such as f/2.0 and f/2.8, it helps isolate the target from the background of the image. (Remember: larger apertures are smaller numbers, aka f/2.8 >> f/32)

Shutter Speed and Sensitivity (ISO)

After setting the aperture, the shutter speed and sensitivity will be a bit of compromise depending on your camera and location that you are shooting.

Higher ISO sensitivity: On older cameras, higher ISO results in poorer image quality
High Shutter Speed: Allows the ability to stop action and eliminate motion blur

In the example below, the Rockford Metrocentre's lighting is so poor that I had to push my then seven-year old Canon 1D Mark I to its limits using a sensitivity of ISO 3200. Note the graininess in the jerseys and other dark areas.


Low ISO sensitivity: Increases image quality
Low Shutter Speed: Creates motion blur, which can potentially be distracting or ruin an image if too blurry

Obviously an extreme example, but this shot at 1/50 shutter speed is doing anything but stopping motion.

The best option is to find a medium that lets you to be happy with the results that still maintains a proper exposure of the image. Because I like to print 8x10 and larger images, I tend to try to stay around ISO 800 and adjust the shutter speed accordingly, typically varying between 1/400 and 1/640 depending on arena.


Finally, I want to note that I use the "AI Servo" tracking, which allows me to track the players or objects as they move. Additionally rather than letting the camera decide where to auto-focus, I change the AF to a single point to the center and try to target the player's crest or place it where the player's head is to keep their face in focus.

In the next installment, I will comment on a couple lenses that I have used while shooting hockey.

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