For today I want to talk about sport photography, more specifically hockey photography. Why you ask? Well, I think taking decent photos at a live hockey game, by decent I mean photos that your kid will be proud to look at, share and keep as a memento forever, poses special challenges to amateur photographer; challenges which might not be obvious until you get to an arena and start taking your first shots.
For one thing, the vast majority of inside arena are pretty dark. Yeah, I know they don’t look that dark to your eyes, but that’s because most of the lighting is concentrated on the ice rink, while the stands are mostly in the shade. But trust me, to the exposure meter in your camera, it is a dark place.
Then, what you will most likely be shooting at is fast action. Even at Pee Wee level hockey players move at a fast pace, fast enough to leave you with a mere fraction of a second to get the settings in your camera right, focus, frame and shoot.
You are limited to stand in an area outside of the playing field, such field which is quite big.
Lastly, and I can’t stress this enough, you can’t use a flash. Hockey is a fast contact sport that is played standing on razor sharp blades, the last thing a player wants is to be blinded by a flash gun. It’s dangerous for the players, at any level, don’t do it, do not use a flash.
So let’s jump right in.
You need fast and relatively long optics. Long enough to reach straight across the width of the rink, so that would mean preferably a 200mm on DX format and 300mm on FX format, and fast enough to keep your ISO settings low enough to get decent quality, so that mean F 2.8 minimum aperture.
A DSLR body to accommodate the optic, one which can reach high ISO settings without adding too much noise.
A decent strap.
You do not need a flash gun. Correction, you are forbidden to bring a flash gun.
Wait, this stuff is expensive, can’t I just use a point and shoot? Some tremendously good photography can be achieved with an inexpensive point and shoot camera today, in all areas and genre of photography. All except for hockey. The combination of small, noisy CCD and small, slow lenses is, in my experience, just not appropriate for getting decent shots at a hockey game. Of course I’m not aware of every model on the market today, so if you can contradict this, please feel free to post the model, technique and result.
So you just got to the arena
Where do you go? Well, not in the stands. I suggest the best position to get started is right by the players’ bench because there is no glass in front of you, glass which can reduce available light by a stop or two, and secondly because you can shoot eye level to the players.
That comes with a few requirements though.
First, politely present yourself to the coach and inform him of your intention. It has yet to happen to me, but if he says he doesn’t want you there, do not argue, just find another spot. What is most likely to happen is that he’ll ask to get a copy of some the photos.
Get out of the way. The bench is an area of high traffic, if you get in the way of the players trying to get on/off the ice, expect to be rightfully expelled.
Be constantly aware. There is no glass in front of you, a hockey puck flying at you could land you in a hospital and/or properly destroy your expensive equipment. If you have to mess about with your equipment, or take a phone call, just walk behind the glass.