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How to Aim for Better Basketball Photography: 10 Hot Tips

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Basketball photography is an exciting and dynamic sport to shoot. But it can also be challenging due to the need to freeze motion.

If you’ve been wanting to take razor-sharp action photos like those that you see in the sports section of the newspaper, read on.

Here are ten tips to help you focus your camera and get sharp basketball photos.

A basketball being thrown into a net - sports photography tips

10. Set Your Camera to Shutter Priority

To freeze action, your minimum shutter speed should be 1/500th of a second. Go even higher if the lighting situation and particular combination of your camera and lens allow for it.

Manual Mode is usually the best mode for professional-looking and properly exposed shots. But it’s not always the best choice for every situation.

When it comes to shooting sports, try setting your camera to Shutter Priority Mode instead of Manual Mode. This will ensure that your camera stays at the minimum shutter speed while it calculates the right F-stop and ISO required to properly expose your photos.

It will also prevent you from having to worry about your settings.

Take a few shots and check them for any unwanted blurring. If they are not sharp enough, go higher with your shutter speed, say to 1/1000th of a second.

Cool basketball photography close up of two players mid match

9. Increase Your ISO

The way to get more light into your camera when shooting a basketball game is to increase your ISO.

Ordinarily, playing with the shutter speed is the best way to increase the amount of light hitting your sensor. Increasing ISO can introduce grain, or “noise” into the image.

In sports photography, this is not the best option. The shutter speed must be high to get sharp images.

If you don’t have enough light coming into your camera, you have no choice but to increase your ISO.

You can fix noise in post-production. Lightroom has a good option for repairing noise.

You can also use a dedicated noise repair plug-in with either Lightroom or Photoshop, such as DFine from the Nik Collection.

This selectively repairs the noise in an image and is tailored to whichever camera you’re using.

Cool composition of a basketball resting on a court - basketball photography tips

8. Shoot at a Wide Aperture

To shoot at a high shutter speed, you’ll need to use a wide aperture, ideally from F/2.8 to F/4,

This will allow more light into your camera.

The lens you’re using will determine how wide you set your aperture. A good quality lens with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 or f/4 will give you the best results.

In all likelihood, you’ll also be using a zoom lens. If you crop in as close as possible, your lens will not let as much light in. This is where the aperture is the narrowest. In this case, shoot wider and crop in post.

One bonus of shooting at a wide aperture is that it can give you blurred out background. This can look great in basketball photography. It can give the image a sense of urgency and speed.

It can also help isolate the player acting as the main subject in the composition. It will draw the viewer’s eye to the most important part of the image.

A candid shot of basketball players on an outdoor court

7. Shoot In JPEG

It may surprise you to hear me say that you should consider shooting your sports photography in JPEG format. After all, you are repeatedly told that for professional-looking photos, you should always shoot in Raw.

This may be true for several genres in photography. When photographing sports, capturing the action of the game is more important than having really high-quality photos that can withstand a lot of post-processing.

Shooting in JPEG will allow you to shoot more images in burst mode. You’ll also be able to fit more images on your memory card.

You can miss a crucial part in the game in the few minutes it can take you to swap out memory cards. The less often you need to change them out, the better.

6. Use Autofocus

When photographing a basketball game or any other sport, it makes sense to choose autofocus over manual focus. You just don’t have the time to be fiddling with your lens that way.

Not to mention that you need to have excellent eyesight. Being just a millimeter off can mean that you miss focus and lose those killer shots.

For your camera’s autofocus system to function properly, there needs to be contrast in the area where you want to focus.

This can be a problem in the low light situations that are common indoors.

When there is not much contrast, the camera doesn’t know where to focus. If there is not enough light hitting the sensor, the lens motor will keep moving. It’ll hunt for focus without locking onto the subject.

This can cause you to lose precious seconds when you need to be getting crucial shots. Be sure to focus on an area of contrast within your subject.

Cool basketball photography close up of two players mid match

5. Use Multiple AF Points

The accuracy of the autofocus system is in part influenced by the number of autofocus points your camera has.

It can be hard to nail focus if you have only nine AF point on your camera. One of the biggest differences between cameras and their price points is the number of points the AF system offers.

The costly, more professional systems always have a lot of AF points. Some of the new mirrorless cameras even have focus points in every part of the screen.

Use multiple AF points to take control of your camera’s autofocus system and take sharper images.

An outdoor basketball game in low light - cool basketball pictures

4. Set Your Camera to Continuous AF

Continuous Autofocus is when the AF system focuses continuously on the area covered by selected autofocus points.

Most cameras have four focusing modes: manual, auto, single, or continuous.

On a Canon, continuous focus in called AF or Al Servo. On Nikon or Sony, it’s AF-C.

In this mode, as soon as the autofocus system detects a moving subject it activates predictive tracking. It continuously monitors the focus distance. And it adjusts the focus when the distance from the camera to subject changes.

The autofocus system will adjust the point of focus. If you want to focus on a subject that is not covered by any of the AF points, you’ll need to lock the focus distance by pressing the AF lock button.

a portrait of a female basketball player jumping with the ball - basketball photoshoot

3. Use Burst Mode

Set your camera to Burst Mode. This will allow you to shoot several frames with one press of the shutter. This will increase your chances of getting a perfectly composed action shot. Note that it will also fill up your memory card more quickly.

Be sure to bring extra memory cards with a high storage capacity. This means that you won’t have to lose precious minutes in the game by having to repeatedly swap them out.

Your best bet is to use Burst Mode for crucial parts of the game. Revert to single shooting most of the time.

2. Switch to Back Button Focus

Back Button Focus is a boon to every type of photographer, even the portrait shooter.

Back Button Focus is the transfer of the focusing function from the shutter button to one of the buttons on the back of your camera.

When used in basketball and other types of sports photography, back button focus will increase your shooting efficiency. You’ll be able to shoot faster.

Instead of pressing the shutter button halfway down to focus, you press a button on the back of your camera with your thumb and use a finger to press the shutter.

This makes focusing and shooting a lot quicker. You don’t have to constantly refocus. And you can keep adjusting your composition without worrying about focusing every time. Your focus will hold, even if you release the shutter button.

Together with continuous focusing, it will increase the likelihood of achieving perfect focus even with difficult shots.

Check your camera manual to figure out how to set Back Button Focus for your particular camera brand and model.

It may feel a bit awkward at first. But you will quickly get used to it. You might even end up keeping your camera on Back Button Focus all of the time.

Cool basketball photography close up of two players mid match

1. How to Find the Best Vantage Points

Last but not least, think about your vantage point throughout the basketball game. Situating yourself for the biggest impact may mean moving around a lot if there is room for you to do so.

Sports photography also means getting down to the ground or contorting yourself into awkward positions to get dynamic shots.

Don’t be afraid to move with the action. Have a plan beforehand of how you’re going to move around the court for the most advantageous point of view.

One tip for shooting a basketball game outside on a sunny day, make sure that the sun is behind you. This will help get more light into the lens and assist in getting up to those fast shutter speeds with less noise.

When you’re shooting basketball photography, be sure to fill the frame with the players. Capture their facial expressions. Documenting the emotions in a game is a crucial aspect of sports photography.

Conclusion

Be sure to take a few test shots before the game starts. You can check how sharp your images are beforehand and make any necessary adjustments to your camera settings.

Basketball photography is one of the most exciting games to shoot in the realm of sports photography.

With these ten tips, you’ll be sure to get dynamic and sharp action photos the next time you shoot a basketball game.

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