What I learned at a High School Hockey Game

This year was my cousins first year in High School and he was a part of the championship run for his school’s Hockey team. Having never taken photos of a sporting event, and loving the sport of Hockey. I took the opportunity and started working on researching what extra equipment I might need, how to set up my camera, and most importantly where I should position myself to get the best angle that I was allowed to get.

What to bring with you

The first game I went to I brought a long list of equipment that I thought I was going to need.

  1. 2 camera bodies (one film and one digital) In case I wanted something that looked more classic.
  2. 2 lenses for each. 18–55mm and 55–200mm
  3. A tripod
  4. 1 memory card

within 10 minutes of being at the ice rink I realized all of my mistakes. First off I only needed to have one camera this is a mistake I make frequently because I have a film camera and just want to use it as often as humanly possible. However because of what I was doing the film camera just wasn’t going to work for me. I needed to see what I had just done and how I should adjust what I was shooting, and a my film was not going to give me that kind of rapid feedback. so bring your one camera, I use a Nikon D3300 for all of my DSLR shooting.

This immediately gets rid of the two extra pieces of glass that I didn’t need, and a third was gotten rid of because I never used, nor would I ever use the 18–55mm lens. The 55–200mm gave me plenty of range and it allowed me to do everything from wide angled shots. To hyper focused close-ups, even though I was far away from the action for most games that I attended.

The tripod was a waste of space and weight, the action of the game doesn’t lend itself to the kind of stay in place action that a tripod facilitates. And when you think about it no sporting event does unless you are trying to do something like a cinema graph. Instead if you need something to help you be stable check out this article by Alex Schult that talks all about reducing camera shake in what I have been telling people is “photography yoga”.

Lastly there are things that you should bring with you that are not on the list. For those that are not aware batteries do not like the cold. And at this time of year. Particularly when you live in the North East U.S. you need to find a way to keep your batteries warm, while also being prepared with an extra battery or two that are ready to go when the one in your camera dies.

For this I recommend keeping the batteries in a jacket pocket so that they stay warm and dry regardless of the external conditions.

As far as memory storage goes just be smart. The average game this year was around 800 pictures strong. With one game going into a second card because of the size of the files.

The best thing to do when you are going to any shoot especially a sports one is just be prepared for any kind of situation. Bring that extra battery, have an extra card. If you find that the stabilization poses don’t really help you then bring a mono pod so that your pictures have a reduced shake rate.

Above all just stay on your toes and semper gumpy (Always flexible)

Camera Set up

When I started trying to understand what it would take to get my photos to pro-quality in sports I did a lot of research, Tried to learn more about how to set focus. And even went to the extent of teaching myself about white balances.

Then I had a realization, there were settings on the camera itself which were designed for this kind of thing. There is a sports mode on the Nikon D3300 and I shot most of the photos shown in this article in that setting. There are better ways to do it I am positive, but for the pace that the game was moving, and the place that I was sitting it worked out for me.

If you want something that is a little more controllable than a pre-set mode I found that putting the camera in manual you could still get a lot of the benefits of the sports mode with the control that some people prefer.

If you go the route of using manual mode I would follow these guidelines:

  1. Keep the focus set to automatic with the 3D dynamic AF feature selected.
  2. Set your white balance to ‘Fluorescent’ or whatever WB works best for the arena/area that you are in. Check your test shots so that you be sure your choice was the right one.
  3. If you don’t like the look of the photos. I found that playing with the ISO setting was more detrimental in post than if I had just adjusted my exposure settings so try this before adding more noise to your images.

Other than that everything is-as with most things in photography- trial and error. Attempt something and see how it works out then if it doesn’t just try something else.

Getting the Right Angle

As we all know getting the right angle for any shot or photo is the most important thing that you could possibly do.

The angle that most pictures were taken from

Everyone tends to be in the same angle so the trick is to look at your surroundings and pick that one spot that you think is going to give you a different view of something. I wanted nothing more than to pull out a drone and take some over head shots of the boys on the ice as the first puck was dropped. But due to some rules and laws that was impossible. So instead I looked at where the action was going to be.

Most parents and school photographers stayed center ice up in the bleachers. So knowing that those angles would exist I took a few to get an idea of what was going to happen and moved on to another location along the side of the rink.

Always look for the better angle

When you go to a professional hockey game the photographers sit on little stools and point their cameras through tiny holes toward the action. They can’t see the other end of the ice. But that’s why there are multiple photographers at games. When its just you I recommend doing what I did and picking one side and staying there. With any sport getting this angle covered as much as possible during that game means that if you switch spots every game you will have great pictures for everyone at the end of the season.

Alternatively you will have a seasons worth of great pictures for your child or cousin or friend as long as you stick to that spot.

Again as always if you think that something isn’t working for the images just move or change it. Photography is all through trial and error and you should do what makes you feel that you are getting the best quality picture.

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