Shooting in Arena Lighting: Getting the Shot: Sports Photography Tip

In this post, I’m going to take you through how I’ve taken one of my favourite images of my career. I want to show you how I shot this special images, the thinking behind it and the gear I used to create it so you can break down what I’ve done and try it for yourself. My hope is to show you that you too can get these kind of images with a little bit of thinking and some time.

I’m well aware that shooting indoor sports is a tough ask for any photographer but I’m a big believer in using what light you have in an arena as you can create amazing images with it. All too often as photographers we shy away from shooting indoor sports if we don’t have top of the range kit when there’s actually no need.

Back in early 2020, I worked at the Netball Nations Cup for 10 days with England Netball. I was given the chance to photograph 4 of the best netball teams in the world over 4 different days in venues across the UK and it was something that definitely had its challenges. Even though we were working in some of the best arenas in the UK with lighting set up for TV which means it’s usually pretty good, it was still not the same as shooting outside in blazing sunlight.

One of the first thing’s I noticed on day one was that the arena floor was illuminated by huge spot lights and that I could incorporate these into my images with a little bit of thought and planning. I quickly found that by shooting on a wide angle lens on my full frame camera I was able to bring in these spotlights into the background of the action unfolding in front of me.

My go to wide lens when shooting sports is the Canon 24-70 f2.8. This super fast lens lets me getting great indoor action while also allowing me to shoot wide and take in the whole scene. Coupled with my Canon 5Dmkiii with its full frame sensor, when shooting indoors like this I’m able to get the full look of my wide angle images without unnecessary cropping. The dynamic range on the 5dmkiii is also excellent and makes for a great wide angle option in my kit bag.

By the time we headed to the Birmingham Arena on Day two of the competition, I’d started to get comfortable with these wider shots and using the spot lights to my advantage. I knew if I could wait for the right piece of action it would set up a potentially great image. I would spend a time when the play was close to me working on my longer lens capturing close up action and then when the play went to the other end of court, break out my 24-70 and 5dmkiii and wait for this big action moments.

To create the starburst effect with the spotlights, I simply adjusted my aperture to around f11. By closing down your aperture with lighting like this (even with the sun) you can create a burst effect to the light simply because the light hitting your sensor is split up by the aperture blades in your lens in such a way that it creates this star look. Its not always f11, it varies from lens to lens so its worth practicing this with the lenses you have to get a feel for it.

The stand out image came during England vs South Africa Match as a long pass was played into the center for shooter George Fisher. I’d be watching this happen a lot in the game so knew once the play was away from me I could just wait to capture the moment I wanted as the ball was looping over and as George lept in the air.

Indoor sports photography doesn’t always have to be close in tight images under poor lighting. Sometimes you can take what you’re given and make something really special with it.

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