The challenge: Lacrosse is a fast sport with lots of action and rapid changes of pace. This makes for a challenging environment. Picking the wrong place to stand, or not using your camera with the most optimum settings will lead to mediocre shots and will quickly lead to frustration and disappointment. In this article, I’ll discuss some points that can help.
I’m going to assume you have a Digital SLR camera, but even if you don’t, read on as I have some tips for the advanced compact shooters too.
Obviously, the reach of your lens will be a huge determining factor in your photography. Too short a lens (wide angle) will give you a nice picture of the field with surrounding areas, but don’t expect to see any exciting actions, frozen in time. Your subjects, the players, will appear too small to really see what is going on.
You will want at least a 200mm lens. Even this, will really only give you a decent coverage of half the field. In itself that is actually OK. Lacrosse has 4 quarters so if you stay in the same spot for the entire match, the rotation of the teams will give you coverage of both teams, twice. However, 300mm or more will prove to be an ideal lens for this sport.
Where to stand
A most important issue is actually where NOT to stand. I found that standing at the middle of the sideline is a bad location (unless you want shots of players coming off). When standing here, you rarely get a shot of a player from the front and you’ll be too far away from the goal and crease to get a good shot of any real interesting action that usually takes place there.
Instead, to get some good action, see if you can stand behind the goal (not all refs will allow that), if you can’t, stand at the sideline as near to the goal as you can. In these locations, you can often get great shots of the attacking team as they run towards you. However, be careful! If you DO stand behind the goal, remember that players shoot at the goal and often miss. The Lacrosse ball is a hard rubber projectile that can do a lot of damage to you and/or you camera equipment.
Shooting for action
There is nothing so rewarding as a great shot of a player frozen in full action with the ball clearly visible in the shot. To get such shots, you will need to shoot with shutterspeeds of 1/350 or faster, 1/500 being better. Anything less is likely to cause blurry feet, arms, ball, etc (which can be creative, not for all shots).
Remember also that if you are shooting at 300mm, a 1/350 sec shutterspeed is about the minimum recommended for a hand-held shot. The length of the telephoto reach will cause slight camera shake to be magnified, resulting in less than sharp pictures. So, in short, a fast shutterspeed is good.
Then, I set the camera in the “AI Servo” mode and select the fastest “frame-per-second” setting I can. On my camera, this is 5fps. Some cameras, like the Canon 400D, Nikon 40D or Nikon 80D are slower at 3fps. The Canon 40D and Nikon D300, have around 6 fps, and then there are the pro cameras such as the Nikon D3 wich offers 9fps and the Canon 1D3 which offers 10fps.
Don’t worry if your camera does not shoot that fast, it does not mean you won’t get good shots, you will, but you may not get all the action, all the time.
The camera settings
Assuming you have a digital SLR, you have some options. The most obvious one is to use shutterspeed priority and set at the aforementioned 1/500 and let the camera pick the aperture. However, on bright days (lots of light) I like to set the camera to aperture priority (Av) and dial in a large aperture such as f4. The large aperture plus the bright day pretty much assures me I will get fast shutterspeeds. What the f4 gives me however, is a nicely blurred background. There is usually a lot going on around sports fields and as you have no control over where the action is taking place, you have no control on what is seen in the background and sometimes a good shot is spoilt because of a distracting background.
Now you are ready to start shooting and the best advice I can give is ANTICIPATE!. Don’t wait for the action, as you’ll be too late when it happens. If you feel like something is going to happen, start shooting, yes you’ll waste a lot of shots, but chances are you’ll get some real good ones too. Here is where one of the main advantages of digital becomes evident. Doing this with film, is downright expensive. With digital, who cares if you shoot 500 shots and only use 15. It is better than shooting 36 shots and using 4, even if that is a better ratio.
Your shooting strategy
Depending on your objective, you can either “follow the action” or “follow the player”.
If you are after exciting action shots, then obviously you will “follow the action”, but realize that you’ll most likely get a lot of shots of the same (key) players. If you are a photographer for the team and want shots of every player, then “follow the player”. This of course implies following players that are not always the center of activity so it may take a while before you have acceptable shots.
However, if it is a school team you are taking photos of, then they will love you for having pictures of everyone.
So you have completed a few matches and have come home with 500 pictures. This can be daunting if you do not have the right tools to parse these pictures, select the good ones and process them to your liking.
I found Lightroom to be wonderful for this kind of work. Furthermore, it actually lets you shoot in Raw, so you retain maximum flexibility in your processing options, even if it does take up more space in your memory card and hard drive. The camera typically will be plenty fast for most scenarios with many cameras allowing bursts of 15 or more Raw images before the buffer fills up.
Coming back to Lightroom, it is exactly this type of work where the application shines. It turns a tedious job into an efficient one, which in turn will remove your reservations when shooting. It liberates you as you know that sifting through and post processing large numbers of images are no longer an issue, leaving you free to shoot without you subconsciously worrying how to process all these shots.
I have regularly come back with over 500 shots, selected over 100, processed them and exported them to 800×600 pixel jpegs for the team website, then exported 20 or 30 as full sized jpegs for printing. Furthermore, I’d do that ALL that in around 30 minutes! Just impossible in a workflow where you need to call each picture up individually.
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