10 Tips For Photographing Volleyball

Ten Tips For Making Better Volleyball Photos

Volleyball is a tough sport to photograph. It is fast, and for the most part you are closer to the action than other sports which makes it appear even faster. Five years ago I made a post with ten tips for making better volleyball photos. I have learned a bit in the last five years so I thought that I would update that post with a few new ideas. Here are ten tips for making better volleyball photos.

1. Arrive Early – This seems to crop up in most of my posts about making better photos. When you get to the venue early you have time to set up your gear. That is a big thing. You can also get to know the team a little better. If a player is showing some emotion in warm ups you can be sure that they will be a great player to key on during the game. It is also a great time to make some of the photos of the coaches that you will want to make. You can also make some photos that tell the story of the event, and can be used for social.

2. Tell The Story – I see a lot of galleries from games that don’t tell the story. They are just tight action shots of the players. Sometimes pulling back a little lets the fans looking at your photos feel more a part of the action. Here during the NCAA Tournament I was able to bring the venue into my gallery. Part of telling the story is finding little details during the game. The setter giving her signals to the rest of the team before the serve is a good example. Finding the moments of the match help round out your gallery.

3. Make Some Guesses – Volleyball is a sport that moves very fast. With the technology of today’s cameras you may be able to follow the ball around with great success. For most though you can guess on where the ball is going to be so that you are already there and focused when it gets there. The shot above for example is one where after a couple of serves to this player already I decided to key on her for the third serve. The ball thankfully went to her on the serve, and I was able to make a nice photo of a back row player.

4. Jube! – This is probably the best sport that I photograph for good jubilation. There are a couple of reasons for this. The first is that if your team wins the match then you have seen at least 75 moments where some emotion is involved. After every point there is at least some sort of emotion. Of course as the set and or match moves along the emotion can build. After a tough volley the winning point emotion can be great. The other reason that I love volleyball emotion so much is that you are so close to the action, and you have nothing to block the players faces. In football you have masks to get in the way. In baseball you have helmets, hats that shade the face. In volleyball you are usually up close to the action with a clear face. The fun of photographing a match is constantly making a better jube shot than you already have.

5. Vary Your Shooting Location – In some venues this can be tough. In nearly every other sport I would say to get low and stay low. In volleyball though it is an interesting sport. Getting low still works. The lower you can get helps make the players look like they are jumping that much higher. They are doing amazing things. Getting low allows you to show those things off. Finding a high perch though really can make for interesting photos as well. If you can get high across from your team you can make some great photos that make them look like they are much higher above the net. If you cannot get high enough straight across from your players then try and do so off to the side. Photographing players above the net is a great way to show off their athleticism.

6. Focus! – This has a couple of meanings here. The first thing that I would suggest is to use back button focus on your camera. This will allow you to focus on the person setting, and then quickly recompose. For sports in general I think that back button focus is a great thing to change your camera to and use all of the time. Another way to talk about focus is your focusing point. When shooting above the net I often change my point to the upper section of my grid. I want to focus on the player and not the net. If you are going for a specific shot you can also change it right or left as well to avoid always having the player in the center of the photo.

7. Key On The Middle For Blocks – One thing that makes getting the block images a little easier is to key on the middle. Most of the time they will be involved with the block so by watching them you can move with them to make the photo. This does not always work, but most of the time watching their eyes will lead you to the ball.

8. Fast Glass Is Key – In a lot of photography circles you will hear that the gear doesn’t matter. The one exception to that might be sports photography. You need fast glass to make the images in sports photography. When you head to an indoor venue that is even more true. Even a venue lit for television can get pretty dark when you try and go above 1/1000th of a second. Having glass at f/2.8 or higher will help you obtain a high enough shutter speed to stop action.

9. Get To Know The Team/Sport – When I first really started photographing volleyball a few years ago I didn’t really understand it so well. To some extent I still don’t know it like I know other sports. I feel that I know it well enough now to be able to understand where I need to be and when. The same goes for knowing the team that you are photographing. Having an idea of who the key players are and how they play helps you make better photos.

10. Use Your Surroundings – The photograph above was made during a Purdue away match at rival Indiana. During the match I tried to get my normal action shots, but I also tried to show that the action was being played in the lion’s den so to speak. Using elements of the arena can help make a good gallery.

Bonus Tip: Have Fun! – Photographing sports is a fun thing to do. Most of us started doing this not for money, but for the fun of it. The more that you stress what you are doing the less fun that you are having. Worrying about your settings or your next shots will just take your mind off what you really need to be doing. Enjoy your day and make some good images!

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