Friday, December 29, 2006

The Sports Series Part 2: Beach Volleyball

The right place at the right time, the right equipment, the right settings and a little bit of luck = formula for a succesful sports shoot.

The recently concluded Asian Games was a dream shoot for me because sports is the main reason why I bought the gears I bought. I favored the EOS 20D over the 350D because of its magnesium alloy body and most importantly, its 5 fps continuous shooting speed. If I could afford a 1DMkII, that's what I would have bought. Although any equipment will do to a certain extent, having the right equipment often times makes a difference. But this discussion is not about photographic gears so I won't go that far.

This is the best of 5 frames of continuous shooting. High shutter speed froze both ladies and the ball in mid-air.

It was the first time I've seen live and photographed all of the competitive sporting events I've been to in the last Asian Games and one of them was beach volleyball which is the subject of this article. I'm not new to the sport and I'm quite familiar with the rules but this is the first time ever I've photographed it.


When I arrived at the venue, there aren't that many people yet so I was able to choose the seat I liked. At first, I thought of sitting right in the middle, perpendicular to the net. I thought that's where most of the action is and I would have a good view of both teams by pointing my camera either to the left or to the right - just like I usually do when shooting tennis. T hen I realized that the referee would be standing on top of one end of the net and he might block my view. Even if he doesn't, I figured that during a spike/block action, I wouldn't have a good view of the players' faces. So I decided to relocate to a seat at one end of the court.

Most of the action in volleyball, beach or otherwise, happen on the net. I therefore selected a seat where I can have views like this.

Before the game started, I took some shots of the volleyball court to test the lighting condition and find out the lowest ISO setting I can use. In the end, I decided to use ISO 1600. I also tried to develop a strategy in my head on how I'm going to shoot this remembering that somebody once told me that volleyball is one of the most difficult sports to photograph well. I thought of following the ball and it seems to be a logical strategy because where the ball is, that's where the action is.


I did exactly just that during the first part of the first game with Japan versus Kazakhstan. It didn't take me long to realize that I was using the wrong strategy. The ball was moving a lot and too fast to follow that action has already happened before the lens could have the chance to focus. So, I switched to manual focus but that did not improve the situation.

If looks could kill . . . . If I had a longer lens I would have zoomed in closer to the girl with the eyes. However, I think this shot is not so bad because the blurred opponent on foreground adds to the picture's story wherein she's being sized up by her opponent.

I was starting to get frustrated so I put down the camera and watched the game for a while. I observed how the players move and actually started to appreciate one of the Kazakhstan player - both her looks and moves. And then, BLING!! - an idea popped in my head. Instead of following the ball, why don't I just focus on one player at a time and wait for her to make the right move? There are only 4 players in the court so I didn't think I had to wait long.

So I tried the new strategy; I did not wait that long and things started to get right.


In general, I was happy with the shots I took. I was able to capture plenty of action at the net plus a few candid shots of the players. I selected the right seat which offered plenty of good views including those of a group of Filipinos waving our flag and cheering our players. The strategy of focusing on one player at a time worked really well - simply waiting for the ball to come to her and let her make her moves.

The seat I chose did not afford me that many opportunities for action shots away from the net. I would consider this a lucky shot.

The seat I chose was not perfect though. I did not have a good view of the player making a serve. The far end of the court was too far and the view was obscured by the net. It also did not offer views as when players receive the ball and goes for those dives and digs. As a spectator, I do not have the luxury of moving around; otherwise I run the risk of disturbing other spectators and catching the security officers' attention.

Who do you think won? Sports photography is not only about action, it's also about human drama.

Oh well, maybe next time around.

Next - Swimming



Edward said...

Your sports pictures wows me =) Thanks for sharing!

Hocchuan said...

Your experiences in sports photography will be stuck in my mind until I get a chance on shooting sports. Thanks for the tips alex.

alexdpx said...

Thank you for reading and appreciating =)

Anonymous said...

Robert said:

I thought of following the ball and it seems to be a logical strategy because where the ball is, that's where the action is.
If I were a player, this will be my motto. But as a photographer, I'll follow your realization--to keep an eye on key players. The ball has no emotion, the player does. The ball has no hands and tensed ligaments, the player does. However, the ball is the trigger for the players movement, so it might pay off also paying attention to the ball while your camera is trained on the player :D

"Who do you think won?"
Well, one side must win, but you as the photographer also wins (without competition) :D

alexdpx said...

". . . . so it might pay off also paying attention to the ball while your camera is trained on the player."

It's not possible with your face glued to the camera's viewfinder while paying attention to the chosen player :D You cannot divide your attention because one will be a distraction to your concntration on the other. So it's either the ball or the player. One at a time. Anyway, when the ball is about to come to your player, you'll know by his (or her) reaction =)