Ten Tips That Will Help Make Your Ice Hockey Photos Better
I am not an expert hockey photographer. I will say that right off the bat. Guys like David Klutho make it seem like it is easy to photograph hockey which it is not. I have drastically improved my hockey images in just a short amount of time though be learning a few key elements to making hockey pictures better. The ten tips below for making better hockey pictures are some of the things that I have learned that have really helped me improve my game. They are things that take a decent photo, and make it one that you are proud to share.
10. Find a good clean location to shoot. This sounds easy right? All you have to do is find a spot where you can shoot the action that is not blocked by anything. The first thing that I do when I walk into a rink is check out the glass. At the arena that I shoot at most often the glass is a terrible mix of puck scars and sweat smears. Hockey glass is not ideal to shoot through when clean. When it is dirty you are really in trouble. You have to find a location that gives you the best view of the ice that you can. I shoot over the top of the glass with the help of a platform. Some leagues will let you shoot from the penalty box as well. When you shoot from a location not protected always wear a helmet. The puck is small and travels quickly. Not an ideal situation for your head.
9. Shoot in RAW mode. It is hard for me to believe that in this day and age people still do not shoot in RAW mode. Most lower level hockey rinks still have the old style fluorescent lights that cycle at a speed that you can’t get down to. Ideally you could shoot at 1/50th of a second to get the entire light cycle captured. In a fast sport like hockey 1/50th will give you a great blur. You may get some great panning shots that way. The light is always changing, and you can’t properly set a white balance. When you shoot in RAW though you can tweak that white balance later in Lightroom or whatever program you edit your images in. You can also correct the small changes in light that a fluorescent bulb will give you. Shooting through the glass can also add a greenish tint to your photos. The ability to change the white balance later is very important. I shoot everything in RAW because it gives me the most data to work with later.
8. Shoot in manual mode. When you are shooting something on a big sheet of white ice your camera will not be able to make a proper exposure for you. It will try to darken a bright scene, and your player will be the darkest part of the photo. When you get to the rink early to check for shooting locations you can also set up your camera. The most important part of the photo is the players face. You want that exposed properly. If you can get an exposure of 1/1000th or above with the players face exposed for properly you are in good shape.
7. Bring your best and fastest equipment. To get that 1/1000th of a second you will most likely have to have the best gear that you have at the arena. I will only shoot my gear that creates a good clean file at a high ISO, and my fastest lenses. I want to shoot wide open to allow the most light in my camera. The arena may look bright, but when you increase your shutter speed it gets dark in a hurry. My go to lens for hockey is my Canon 70-200mm lens. When shooting through the glass you have to be careful as you move up in focal length. The glass will start to distort your images. The 70-200mm lens seems to be the perfect lens for me to use.
6. Bring a wide angle or fisheye lens. One shot that you would love to have is that fisheye photo of the players right up against the glass in front of you. I always have a fisheye lens around my neck while shooting hockey. As the play comes close I pull it up to make the photo. You can get a great dynamic shot this way.
5. Don’t forget the jube. When you first start shooting sports your first instinct after a big play is to chimp and see if you captured the moment. Some of my favorite photos were made in the moment just after the big moment as the players react to the big play. Stay on the players as they celebrate. You never know what will happen. You will have time to chimp later. I tag my keepers in camera to make the editing process move a little faster. That means a lot of chimping. Don’t chimp at the cost of capturing a good moment.
4. Anticipate the action. What made Wayne Gretzky great was the fact that he skated to where the puck was going to be, not to where it was. You have to do the same with your camera. Hockey is a fast sport, and you have to be ahead of the action in your mind, or you will capture the moment just after the peak moment occurred. This is not an easy thing to do, and part of what makes hockey hard to photograph. Using both of your eyes can really help here. A natural tendency when photographing anything is to close your off eye. Using both of your eyes can help you track two players at once.
3. Know your players. This will make step #4 much easier to do. If you know the tendencies of players it makes it much easier to know what they will do. You will not always be right, but it will increase the rate at which you are right. Knowing the twitches of the goalie helps you get that shot just before the puck gets to him. Knowing that a player is a pass first player on a break lets you look off of him to the other player. Little things that can help you get ahead of the play are always go to have.
2. Use back button focus. One of the best things that I ever did was to switch my camera over to back button focus. When your camera is shipped to you the exposure metering and focus is set to the shutter button. A half press of the button will do both of those functions, and the full press makes the image. Switching the focus off of the shutter button to a back button allows you to have a little more control of your focus. When using continuous focus it also allows you to track a player as he moves around the ice. Back button focus will help you make a lot more keepers in a sport like hockey where the action is moving very fast.
1. Find the moments between the moments. With everything else going on during a hockey game you need some time to rest right? Maybe not. Sometimes when the action is stopped you can make a good image. The image above is of my nephew just as the puck is being dropped. His stare is so intense as he waits to see who will win the face off. Sometimes I like these moments as much as the peak action moments.
So there you have it. Ten things that I found that helped my hockey photography. I think that I get better with every hockey game that I photograph. As with all sports you have things that you constantly need to work on, and things that can help you get better. The most important thing is that you have fun. I don’t know many people that picked up a camera with the idea that it would be work. You initially picked up the camera because it was fun. You can have a lot of fun making hockey pictures. The more you are enjoying it, the more it shows up in your work. Have fun and go out and shoot some hockey!