Last Friday I was able to attend a basketball match with a press pass. I’m part of a photography group, and one of the organisers apparently knows the right people, because 37 of us were all able to get press passes and have the freedom of the Copper Box arena in London to shoot a professional British Basketball League game.
We arrived nice and early before the arena doors opened to the public to collect our passes before anything started happening. This meant we were there early enough to see the Lions warming up and practising before any spectators arrived. It gave us a small glimpse into the pre-game rituals of some of the players.
The match had all the usual hallmarks you associate with American basketball, including cheerleaders and national anthems.
Although there were a lot of us, since we were given such free reign of the arena we never felt like we were stepping on each other’s toes.
For the start of the match I decided to set up by the side of the net the London Lions would be shooting at. Since it was the Lions who had let us have access, and would be wanting to see and use our better images after the game (properly credited of course), it made sense to base myself in an area where I’d be seeing their main plays at their best. I settled on my 24-105mm to start with so I could get a decent mix of wide and close shots.
From my spot right on the sideline I could get really close to the action.
At the other end of the focal range, I could get great full-length shots of the players when they were further up the court.
And when the action came to the nearside basket, I could get wide enough to see everything.
The spot I picked was also opposite the Lions’ bench so I could catch the players in the small off moments shortly after they’d been subbed (if that, indeed, is the correct terminology).
Just before the end of the first quarter, I decided to move next the the basket the Lions were shooting at, to get myself a bit more buried in the action.
Me being me (as it turns out I am) I also tried for some more artistic shots when the opportunities arose.
In a similar vein, I switched to my 50mm f/1.4, partly because that seemed like the sort of thing to not do whilst shooting sports. It actually worked pretty well.
The only problem? On occasion the primeness of the lens meant that some action sequences were framed a little tight.
Ultimately, the lens was able to keep up with the action, staying in focus for the most part and giving me some nice sharp shots with a lovely depth of field.
At half time (or should that technically be two quarter time?), I grabbed a shot of the Lions coach as he walked off the court.
After half time, when the teams changed ends, I switched to my 70-300mm and moved up to the other end of the court to continue to catch the Lions running at me. On one occasion this led to a perfectly timed shot.
The downside with my new position was the background. With me standing near the basket, the seats in front of me were all folded away, making some the images look like they were taken at a training session.
Fortunately sometimes things would happen at the right angle for there to be a background.
After a while I grew to dislike the background I was dealing with, and so moved back around to the side in a similar position to the one I was in during the first half, and swapped back to my 24-105.
Towards the end of the fourth quarter I switched back to my 50mm and moved back behind the basket.
In the end, the London Lions ran out winners, never really looking in trouble. And in victory, I had occasion to again grab some artistic shots of the post-game.
With the ending of the game we were allowed onto the court – as were most of the fans – to get photographs of the players.
At the very end, many people were keen to get photographs with the cheerleaders. And who can blame them?
It was good to go back and do some fast sports photography again. I’ve spent much of the last months shooting long-exposed landscapes and more controlled shots of family and cats. When I’m trying to keep up with action I don’t tend to overthink things too much and just grab what I can. I’m hoping there will be some opportunities in the near future to shoot similar things, but for now I’m not certain they’ll materialise. Watch this space!
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