THE LADIES COURTROOM DRAMA | Darrin Henry
In this post I’m sharing a few tips for action sports photography; specifically, how I capture great women’s indoor volleyball pictures. Everything from capturing players’ emotions, shooting angles at courtside and camera settings to photograph on the net action when there’s a spike.
We have a small, Sunday afternoon volleyball league on St Helena in which Sharon plays, making it an ideal sports photography topic for me to cover.
Other Photography Help Guides
Across photography there are many different specialist areas; sport being one of the biggies. Just like anything really. We’ve already blogged Street Photography tips, how to Improve Photography without spending a penny and how to make better use of colour in photography.
This article assumes you’re already using a Digital SLR camera with control over manual settings.
Camera Setup to Photograph Indoor Volleyball
Speed is the key to capturing pictures of volleyball games – and by that I mean shutter speed. Generally faster shutter speeds mean sharper focus, simply because most sports action involves quick movements.
Imagine the fast spiking and blocking motions as both teams leap to attack the ball, which is why a high shutter speed is necessary to freeze that photograph on the net action. Slower shutter speeds mean action is more likely to blur. These rules apply if you hope to capture good volleyball pictures with your camera.
Complicating matters is the low, artificial light conditions affecting indoor sports images – a faster shutter speed means less light enters the camera to expose the shot. We’re assuming flash is not being used. Consider the volleyball court size is 18 m x 9 m (59′ x 29’6″), then clearly flash would be ineffective over this distance.
Shutter Speed For Volleyball Photography Is Key
There are three key camera settings used to manage light and picture quality. Shutter speed, ISO and aperture. Adjusting one automatically has an effect on the other two, so you need to find the balance of settings that work for the job in hand. There are no, one-size-fits-all settings.
As shutter speed is key, I tend to set this first. I’ve found 1/400 sec to be an acceptable setting for local volleyball games. Ideally another step faster (1/500 sec) would be better but with the available light the 1/400 sec shutter speed for a decent action photo is a good compromise.
Aperture is the size of the hole in the lens allowing light through. Different lenses have different capabilities, but as you might expect, better light capability costs more money.
Making A Lot Of Noise With Sport Photography
I’m using a Canon 70-200mm/f4 zoom lens, so I set this at its maximum f4 aperture setting. Ideally I would prefer if the f2.8L model was my Canon sports lens but I’ll need to save a few more pennies first!
Finally, ISO completes the trinity of light settings.
ISO is a measure of how sensitive the image capturing process is to light. A high ISO setting means the camera is more sensitive; a low ISO means less sensitive. In a low light environment (indoor) we switch to higher ISO settings. Of course, there’s a trade-off; a compromise, which is noise. Very simply noise is the degree of fuzziness in the photo. (In the old days of film photography it was often called, ‘grain’)
Higher ISO = more noise = more fuzzy pictures.
Lower ISO = less noise = cleaner pictures.
These then are my Canon camera settings for indoor sports:
Camera: Canon 5D-MKIII
Lens: Canon 70-200mm/f4 telephoto
Settings: 1/400 sec shutter, f4 aperture, ISO 2500
Focus mode: AI Servo
Drive mode: High-speed rapid burst
A final word about ISO. Different cameras will vary in how well they tolerate higher ISO. The Canon 5D-MKIII is a high spec camera body and therefore produces decent results at 2500 ISO.
Now to the fun stuff. Courtside sports action photography at a volleyball match.
Simple Tips That Work For Volleyball Photography
Now the volleyball rules for photographers.
Rule number one, try not to get hit with the ball! As sports photography tips go, this applies to all pretty much, don’t get hit by the ball, or rather, don’t let the ball hit your camera. That said, volleyball is little more forgiving than trying to capture soccer photos say, or tennis images.
(I photographed a mud volleyball tournament once, in that case the no.1 rule was don’t get too close!)
The most important skill of the sports photographer is knowing the game. With little time to react, you need to anticipate the action. The relatively smaller confines of the volleyball court layout makes the play quite zippy, as opposed to the wider anticipation time across a more spacious football pitch.
It’s a good idea to watch a few games first, without the camera. Learn the rhythm of the game, the ebb and flow, the pace of play. By watching you soon learn which players are likely to spike at the net and which teams are the most energetic in their approach. Sometimes there’s tension between teams; clash of the top two or drama if the underdog is on a winning surge. Some players are their team’s cheerleaders which can make great photos. Reactions and celebrations can tell a story as much as moment of play.
Assuming you’ve done your homework, you’re now ready to begin shooting some great sports photos.
Finger On The Trigger, Ready To Shoot
My own preference is shooting from two or three courtside positions. Low angles work great with most sport, so courtside I will sit on the floor.
I’ve found a vertical, or portrait orientation works well for volleyball images. Trying to capture close-ups in landscape mode I was often losing the ball from the top of the frame.
Knowing where to point and when to click becomes easier when you understand the game a little better, as mentioned earlier. Pick a player or area of the court where you anticipate the action will unfold, pre-focus, pre-frame and wait, finger on the trigger. Volleyball court dimensions are small enough to allow great shots from all sides.
Off The Ball Incidents
By watching players reactions through the lens I get a good idea where the ball is and when it’s about to enter into my frame. A split second before the ‘contact’ moment I will squeeze the button and the rapid burst captures a series of 4-6 images. Hopefully one of these is the action picture ‘money shot.’
Keep an ear on the score as the match progresses. When the games are close the excitement level goes up, players become more animated and committed which can add a powerful, emotional dimension to your sports photography.
Keep an eye on the ‘story’ in each game, these present different photographic opportunities. If decisions are being hotly contested, you might want to focus on the umpires or the players being most vocal. Has someone hurt themselves but is still competing? It’s an opportunity for dramatic sports images of someone playing through the pain perhaps!
Volleyball games can be quite short, so pay attention and shoot quickly. Review your shots after the game.
Remember, sports photography, like any other discipline, takes lots of practice to get right. The more matches you attend the more attuned your ‘camera eye’ becomes. Your ‘frame/click’ to ‘game action’ coordination will become smoother, more instinctive with each outing. Knowing who the better volleyball players are gives you an edge in automatically procuring the better shots.
Take Our 7-Day Photography Challenge
Hope you’ve enjoyed this post about volleyball photography and you’ve picked up a few useful ideas.
If so, you may also enjoy having a go at our 7-Day Challenge, a no-pressure set of 7 exercises to do at home to improve your own photography. We designed this series after completing three Project 365 Challenges and realised how setting a daily target can really improve a photographer’s skills.
Our 7-Day Challenge is a Free Download which you can then save to your laptop or phone for later reference. Good luck, let us know how you get on.
I have a Nikon D70, do you have any suggestions for taking good quick bursts? Settings suggestions?
I have zero experience with Nikon, but I believe your D70 would have a ‘rapid burst’ or ‘Continuous’ setting like the Canon. Once you find that the principles in the article of shutter, ISO and aperture apply in the same way.
Thanks for the comment, Josh.
Thanks Eddie 🙂
How fun, it looks to be a very competitive league. Great primer on sports Photography.
Thanks guys, appreciate the feedback. The league is only 5 teams, could do with a few more really but those who do play are quite dedicated and give it their best each week. Cheers.
Great read Darrin!
Thanks Vinash 🙂