When photographers talk about the toughest sport to shoot, one activity in particular gets our Nikons and Canons a-quaking: Volleyball.
Ah, I could wax rhapsodically about volleyball as a sport to play or watch until the Chick-Fil-A cows come home. Believe it or not, I actually played on the volleyball team my freshman year at the venerable University of Illinois (pre-NCAA days) until I realized that I was a much better writer than player. After that, I opted to be the varsity team’s manager, so I could travel with the squad and write about them for the school newspaper (“The Daily Illini” was award-winning back then, but probably not because of my contributions).
And watching volleyball? A good match, like the one pictured here featuring our high school versus a fierce rival this past Tuesday night, is like watching poetry in motion. Looks like its choreographed even though it isn’t.
But shooting volleyball? Ugh times 150! Hmmm . . . where to start with the reasons why volleyball is so tough to photograph well?
First of all, it’s a fast-moving, indoor sport where you often don’t know where the ball is going. PWCs (Parents With Cameras) using a point and shoot? Take a seat on the bench; you’re never going to stop the action. I use my Nikon D300 and the Nikon f/1.4 85mm lens (the f/1.8 model works well, too).
Second, the lighting usually is terrible plus it’s the bulb type that cycles through the color spectrum. It’s hard to get a consistent white balance—some photos look great, others have a little too much magenta, while still others are too yellow. That leads to some frustrating post-processing in Photoshop.
You need to use high ISOs (almost all these photos are at IS0 1600 and cleaned up with, what else?, Noise Ninja) to help stop the action. Flash isn’t allowed.
Of course, I love a photographic challenge, plus I’ve been shooting volleyball for several years now . . . not that that makes it any easier. This particular match was played at a local fieldhouse with high bleachers and a walkway above the court, not in our dimly lit, small gym (thank goodness!). The view from up top and the side made it easier to get compelling photos.
My strategy was to shoot from above in basically the same spot for the first two games. That enabled me to get good photos of both teams. Then I roamed around for the final game.
Normally, I don’t like a lot of shots from behind; I prefer seeing faces. But some of the volleyball action is more interesting from that backside view.
Even though volleyball is a photographic challenge, it’s a great sport to watch with wonderful action to try to capture. It may be high-ISO, wacky-lighting action, but it’s still delightful to see!