Problems Of And Solutions For
Photographing Sports In High School Gyms
-Fast moving action.
-Poor uneven yellow/blue/orange light.
-Limited space around the court.
-Crowds of people in that limited space.
-Faster shutter speeds. In an ideal world you'd photograph fast moving action with shutter speeds of 1/500 to 1/1000 of a second to stop that motion. However your average poorly lit high school gymnasium probably won't provide enough light for you to get your shutter speed that fast. In our local high school gym the best I can usually hope for is somewhere around 200 to 300 and that's with a higher ISO setting! Nope; that's not nearly fast enough but sometimes you have to play the hand you're dealt. In this case that hand is one of slight motion blur in several images. Perhaps sometimes that's not the worst thing that could happen.
-Higher ISO. With my Canon 7D I can usually deal with the noise that the higher ISOs cause; up to a point. In order to reach shutter speeds of up to 300, and still have enough light to see the players, I'm usually pushing my ISO to 1600 in our gym. Yes I have pushed it to 3200 on occasion but I usually don't like the resulting noise. I think I need to work on that.
-A nice speedlite attached to your camera will help to stop motion and add light to your image and it is allowed. According to the Kansas State High School Activities Association flash photography is allowed at high school games. I don't use my flash at games because I feel like it is just too distracting to the kids while they are playing. Think about it; if you were running down the court for a lay-up and a bright light flashed in your face leaving you seeing spots do you think you'd still be able to make the shot? Maybe so but wouldn't that irritate you? I know I wouldn't like it at all! Oh; that's not to say that at some point I won't attach my 430EX II for a better image but for now I'll avoid it. Besides you never know; there could be a college scout in the stands and your flash momentarily blinding a player, causing her to miss a block, might have an impact on whether that scout offers that scholarship or if the player is even recruited at all!
-A wider aperture will also let in more light and help your gym images. Of course if you go too wide you will have to be spot on with your focus so be careful about that. I try to stick with f/4 to f/5.6 when using my 55-250mm; but when I do use my 50mm I can go a bit wider. There is something to be said about the image quality from a nice little nifty-fifty. I do have a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens on my wish list; now that's a lens for high school sports!
-Auto white balance and a your image editing software. Again, in an ideal world, you would have time to set a custom white balance to deal with odd colored lighting; and I have done so in the gym. It's just not always the best solution since the lighting is so uneven and does change from one spot on the court to another. My solution to this is to use the camera's auto white balance, which on my 7D usually does a great job, resulting in more natural looking colors. However if it is off just a little your image editing software can help you adjust that.
-Find a nice spot in the bleachers or stand at the end of the court. According to the KSHSAA it is permitted to stand at the end of the court; but standing along the sides of the court is prohibited. I usually stick to the bleachers and occasionally change locations throughout the game if there is another empty spot available. A seat closer to the court gives you a good view of the action while a seat up a little higher can provide a nice perspective on the game. Using a longer lens will get you closer to the action even when you are in the bleachers.
-Be respectful of the other fans. Don't fill up extra seats with your camera bag, don't set up a tripod with wide spread legs, don't swing the monopod around, don't stand in the same spot in front of the crowd blocking their view the entire game, and don't push your way past others who are also trying to capture an image.
-In most gyms you will have crowds of spectators in the background of your image and that's ok; it just tells more of the story. By using those wider apertures you will achieve a shallower depth of field and gain the ability to blur those crowds just a little making the athletes stand out even more.
-Be respectful of the coaches and players too. If the coach says "get out of my way!"; then move and move quickly. Odds are that you shouldn't have been in that spot in the first place. If the game stops because of an injury put your camera down; it's possible that the kids dreams of playing in the big leagues just came to an end so let's show some respect. They may seem like big tough athletes but remember they are still just kids playing a game.
-One last tip for photographing pretty much anything... shoot in RAW. With a RAW file you will have more control over your editing so when those dim orange/blue lights turn your team's maroon uniforms to black and their blond hair to green you can quickly change it back again.