Photographing a Hockey Match

Posted on 22nd March 2017 by Admin under Comment, Equipment, Photograph, Technique
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Usually I do not bother with giving out technical details of my shots.  In most circumstances there is little benefit, other than satisfying curiosity, from knowing the camera used or the exposure settings.  For learning about photography, it is better to understand the approach and motivation for taking a shot rather than the purely mechanical aspects.  This article is different since I shall be discussing the shots I recently took at a local hockey match.  One of the resulting images became my Photo of the Day for 19 March.

Hockey goalmouth action

In Action
A wide scene transformed by creative cropping into a panoramic format.
(Click on the image for a larger version)

 

My main reason for going to the match was straightforward.  I wanted to get some action shots.  In order to do so, I knew equipment and technique would play a significant part.  I could not just turn up and hope for the best.  Not having ever seen a game of hockey previously, I was unsure what to expect.  While I normally shoot with a couple of older Fuji-X cameras, I knew that their AF systems would be unable to cope.  And I certainly was not going to rely on manual focus.  I know sports photographers used to do that all the time, but it requires practice and focussing aids which are not normally present on modern cameras.

Equipment Used

Instead of my Fuji equipment, I took my now little used Canon 7D, standard 17-55 f/2.8 zoom, 85 f/1.8, 70-200 f/4, 300 f/4 and 1.4 extender.  It turns out that the pitch is not that large and all I needed was the 70-200.  On the 7D, with its 1.6 crop sensor, it was the full frame equivalent of a 110 – 320 lens.  With it, I was able to cover most of the playing area, although it was slightly too long when the action got close.  I solved that problem by taking shots of just the players’ legs for creative effect.

Hockey players' legs

Just The Legs
Leaving something to the imagination can achieve a better result than showing the whole scene
(Click on the image for a larger version.)

 

Hockey is a fast moving and physical game, a spectacle which offers a lot of opportunities for dramatic images.  If I am honest, I was not fully sure what was happening much of the time.  Any of the things I thought I did know, such as the ball not being allowed to exceed shoulder height, were relegated by rule changes years ago.  The best strategy was simply to follow the ball as best I could.  That was not always easy as it can travel very quickly and at times I lost sight of it in the viewfinder.

My camera is the original 7D, the launch of which dates back nearly eight years.  How well did such an “old” camera, including its venerable AF system cope?  Very well.  Most shots were sharp.  By the time the 7D was introduced, AF had been around for more than 20 years.  Canon had had plenty of time to perfect the system.  There might be “only” 19 AF points, but they were more than adequate.  In fact, I did not even use all of them.  The AF system is very configurable and I set it up to utilise the nine central points.  There are other settings to adapt the way the AF responds, but I left everything on the manufacturer’s defaults.

Camera Settings and Technique

Initially, I set the shutter speed to 1/500, aperture to f/5.6, continuous focus and the higher continuous frame rate of 8 fps.  Where the 7D does show its age is in the less than sophisticated auto ISO system.  It only allows a maximum ISO to be set, but no minimum shutter speed.  In order to ensure I would get the shutter speed and aperture I wanted, I had to eschew auto exposure and shoot in manual.  It was an overcast day, which provided good even lighting, so I set the ISO at 400.  Later on, I realised that I was getting a bit of subject movement and blown highlights, so I upped the shutter speed to 1/800 and reduced ISO to 320.  Occasionally the sun briefly broke through the clouds, so I set the ISO at 200 when that happened.

Hockey players sometimes fall over.

Ouch
There were a few tumbles during the match. These players obligingly fell over each other just in front of me.
(Click on the image for a larger version)

 

All I then had to do was follow the action in the viewfinder and press the shutter whenever anything interesting occurred.  I resolved from the outset to play the percentages and started off with a fast 16 GB Compact Flash card, but soon filled that up.  Its replacement was a fast 8 GB card which also quickly reached its maximum capacity.  After that I was onto slower 8 GB cards and was on the fourth when the match needed.  All in all, I had taken just over 1,400 shots.  Impressively, the battery meter on the 7D had not dropped from the full position and the camera would probably have gone on for a few hundred more actuations on the same charge.  Admittedly, it helped that taking so many pictures left little time for chimping.

Results

Were all those images successful?  Of course not.  It was a very competitive game on which all the participants were fully focussed.  Photographic opportunities were incidental, but proved plentiful.  Sometimes the scene was just a jumble, players had their backs to me and the ref was forever getting in the way.  Poor referees.  Even photographers have it in for them.  Where I had shot a burst, generally the best image was the first or second in the sequence.  I ended up with around 100 worthwhile pictures, which I consider a good result.  Of those, maybe 15 or so fit the particular aesthetic I was after.

The referee keeps out of the way this time

An occasion when the referee did not get between the camera and subject
(Click on the image for a larger version)

 

Did it matter that the match was “only” an amateur game?  I would say most definitely not.  The players were of a good standard and I had access to the touchline, which I almost certainly would not have had at a professional venue.  Good photographs do not depend on the availability of sporting stars.  Do not eschew the opportunities afforded by photographing a local team or event.

Chasing the opponent

A Tense Moment
Chasing the opponent down
(Click on the image for a larger version)

 

Goal

Goal
The successful team celebrates as the ball goes into the net
(Click on the image for a larger version)

 

Could be a goal here

Pantomime Moment?
The opposition is bearing down, yet the goalie’s attention is elsewhere
(Click on the image for a larger version)

 

Tussle

Getting Physical
A tussle for the ball
(Click on the image for a larger version)

 

Penalty save?

Penalty
The goalkeeper lunges to save a penalty. Will he be successful?
(Click on the image for a larger version)

 

It's a goal

It’s a goal!
Two images later in the sequence, the answer is revealed.
(Click on the image for a larger version)

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