Photography in General

First time photographing a Hockey game

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A few days ago I had the opportunity of shooting my first ice hockey game (Newcastle Coyotes vs Whitley Bay Islanders) , thanks to a friend shooting for one of the teams (I shamelessly asked if I could join).

Not only was this my first time shooting hockey, it was also my first time at a hockey game. Unsurprisingly, most of the time I was very much clueless as to what was happening on the ice.

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Let me set the scene for you. Imagine a big NHL game, crowds cheering, brighter than daylight to suit TV coverage, a spotless glass, everything perfect for a great sports evening. Now, forget all that.

This was a recreational hockey game in a country that sees hockey probably below chess in a list of interesting sports. The light was absolutely miserable (due to costs, these small rinks light just enough to meet requirements), there were probably more people on the ice than in the stands, and the glass was opaque with condensation even before face-off.

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The actual shooting

After some test shots I realized I would have to stay at ISO 6400 if I wanted any hope of freezing motion – a speeding puck will be blurred at anything longer than 1/1000th of a second. This was definitely not idea. I know the Canon 5D Mark III handles noise well but I wasn’t too comfortable staying at 6400 all the time.

Also, because it was impossible to shoot through the glass and the rink is not set up with lens holes, we had to shoot down from the stands. The two main disadvantages are the angle of shooting and the distance to the players. On the positive side, rink-side the action is much more fast to photograph than from the stands – this is a very very fast game and the action can move from one side of the rink to the other in a couple of seconds.

Due to the distance, the 70-200 f/2.8 lived on the camera. I did not use any other lens. I had considered using a 1.4x converter to get some closer shots but the lack of light prevented that – all the images were made at either f/2.8 or f/3.2 and I just couldn’t afford to “waste” a full stop of light with the converter.

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In terms of focusing, I don’t think I ever had the need to test the AF system like this – did I mention how fast this game feels when you see it though a 70-200? Not only that but players change direction all the time and you always get some “obstacles” in front of the player you’re tracking. The 5D3 behaved beautifully. The Servo worked as it is supposed to and I had very few images rejected due to poor focus (I rejected many more due to motion blur). The thing just works.

In the end, I brought home over 1000 images. Yes, the burst mode is addictive. Probably I was too apprehensive of missing “the moment” and fired a lot more than I needed, something that can be corrected with experience. How photographers used to cover these games shooting film, I have no clue.

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In conclusion

After all my complaining about the low light and the shooting conditions, how did I find the experience? I loved it. It’s fast paced (hardly any time to even look at any image on the back of the camera), filled with action, and because I was shooting for myself there was really no pressure to get the shot – it was fun.

Am I happy with the results? Not entirely, although I’m also not too disappointed. The ratio of bad to good images was extremely high and even the acceptable ones weren’t that great, mostly due to noise. The conditions were poor but I’m sure I could have done some things differently. That said, I’m looking forward to the next opportunity to shoot some hockey and get home with better images.

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Do you have any tips for better results when shooting ice hockey? Drop them in the comments below.

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