Photographing Ice Hockey

I got my first chance to shoot ice hockey a few days ago. A friend of mine has a son who plays and I finally pestered him enough that he told me that I could come and shoot at a regional tournament being held at the rink where his son plays. Before going, I knew 3 things:

  1. Rinks are dark. Yes, it’s light enough to see, but our eyes are much better than camera sensors, so relatively speaking rinks are dark.
  2. Hockey moves fast. It’s not Nascar, and I wasn’t shooting pros, but even at this level kids skate faster than they run, and good players will pass the puck quickly, often as soon as it touches their stick. Catching the action would be a challenge.
  3. I would be shooting through dirty glass. For the protection of spectators and to keep the action moving, hockey rinks are surrounded by large sheets of plexiglass.

All of that meant that I would be pushing the limits of both my skill and my equipment. Photographers in the audience will recognize that a fast sport in a dark rink means fast shutter speeds and high ISO to compensate. (Hang on, non-photographers. I’ll be with you in just a minute.) That means noisy pictures. I shoot with a Nikon D7100, which I love, but it has its limitations when it comes to noise in low light. Most of my shots were taken with a Nikon 70-200 f/2.8, so that helped, but the limitations are still a part of the challenge.

Here’s what I learned a few minutes after I arrived. 1, 2, and 3 of the points above were all true, to one degree or another. The rinks were not as dark as I expected them to be, and one was actually brighter than the other. I wound up shooting between ISO 1000-1250, which is not as high as I thought I might be. Higher than I would have preferred, but not that bad, all things considered.

Having played some hockey as a child, and still a fan of the sport, I was able to keep up with the action relatively well. I found that shooting with both eyes open helped. With my right eye to the viewfinder, my left eye helped me follow the flow of the game, allowing me to capture more of the action at and around the puck.

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Don’t get me wrong. There was still plenty that I missed. I have dozens of shots that were taken just a split second after the critical moment. But happily, I have some others that froze the action in time:

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The best shots, in my opinion, are the ones that tell a story. Even though hockey moves fast and a single image rarely is able to capture a particular play, or move, on the ice, a photo can communicate the emotion of the moment. Notice the eyes of the three players below. They tell you everything you need to know.

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As for the third point, the glass was dirtier than I expected. Sometimes the greatest challenge was just finding a spot clean enough to shoot through. In the NHL there are actually small holes cut into the glass in the corners of the rink, just large enough for a photographer to place his lens. Amateur rinks, of course, don’t offer us that kind of luxury, so you make do.

The glass not only creates visibility issues, it actually creates a loss of light of about a half to a full stop. Not enough that anyone in the crowd would notice, but enough to demand an adjustment for photographers. In one of the rinks, I was able to get above the glass and place the front of my lens right on the protective netting. As long the net was literally touching the lens, it created no focus issues and was essentially invisible in the shot. However, I found that being behind the glass offered a better perspective, putting the viewer right on the ice with the players.

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That shot, like most of them, was made with my 70-200. With my cropped-sensor camera, that lens effectively reaches 300mm, allowing me to nearly reach from one end of the rink to the other. Occasionally, I reached for the 24-70, to allow me to catch some of the action around the near goal.

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You can see the effects of the dirty glass here, creating reflections and smudges. Somehow, it adds to the grit of the game, I suppose.

I began the day at ISO 1600, but soon found that I could shoot between 1000 and 1250, which made a significant difference in the quality of the images. Shutter speed was between 1/400 and 1/500 for most shots. I was always at f2.8.

You can see a small gallery of my favorite images of the tournament here, at my site. I hope to have more opportunities soon to begin to develop my hockey portfolio. If you are looking for someone to shoot for your team, or even capture images of your child on the ice, contact me.

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Hemlock Falls – It’s a matter of perspective

When I first began to try to take pictures of landscapes, I would inevitably try to capture an image of wide, sweeping vistas. You know, those epic mountain ranges, or cloudscapes or tree lines.  Somehow, what I saw with my eye never quite appeared on the back of my camera after I took the shot. Since then I have learned a bit more about cameras and specific lenses and how they “see”. In a nutshell, I can tell you that they don’t see like our eyes do.  More importantly, I have learned that I rarely want a picture of that wide scene anyway. I try (and often fail) to ask myself “What, exactly, am I taking a picture of, anyway?”

I mentioned in a previous post that a group of photographers can stand in front of the same scene and come away with completely different images. Each will represent that photographer’s point of view, or tell the story that he wants to communicate. I was reminded of this when I read reports on the photographs that came out the recent G7 meetings in Canada. Same event. Different photographic perspectives.

Last week I had a chance to wander down into Cloudland Canyon in north Georgia.  There are two waterfalls in the canyon, and I was hoping to be able to capture at least one of them. As it turned out, I was able to spend a fair amount of time at Hemlock Falls. The other, Cherokee Falls, was just too popular on the day that I was there. Swimmers, hikers and families enjoying an early summer day made pictures there an impossibility. Hemlock Falls is farther down the canyon – which means a longer climb coming back out – so I had more options down there. Continue reading “Hemlock Falls – It’s a matter of perspective”

Week 5: Landscape – Black and White

After studying German for five years of my youth, you would think that I would remember more than a few odd words and spurious phrases. However, when you consider just how long ago my youth was, and how little I have used my German over the years decades, you probably shouldn’t be that surprised. One of the few things that I remember is particularly relevant this week’s entry for the photo challenge. “Besser spät als nie.

I know this post is late. Week 5 officially ended a couple of days ago. I didn’t get out to take the shot until Monday morning. This Monday morning. Yesterday. So, I’m late. As we say in English, “better late than never.” It loses nothing in the translation from German.

This was landscape week, and the particular assignment was to get a black and white photo. The instructions suggested a “scene with great contrast that will make a great black and white.” Unlike typical landscape photography which is best done around the times that the sun is rising or setting or – at the very least – hiding behind a layer of clouds, black and white shots are best taken when the sun is high in the sky. ( I would tell you to Google Ansel Adams images to get an idea of what I am talking about, but I would prefer that you didn’t look at his work before you see mine.) Continue reading “Week 5: Landscape – Black and White”

Week 4: Headshot

The 52 Week Photography challenge, as composed by Dogwood Photography, rotates between three categories: portraits, landscapes and artistic shots. On the fourth week, then, we are back at our first category: portraits. This week’s challenge was to take a headshot. As they said, “You shot a selfie, now shoot a “selfie” of someone else!”

My week 1 self portrait was done in the traditional style of a headshot: bright, white background. fairly sterile. I wanted this week’s version to be a little more refined and stylized. To be refined, I had to start with a different model! For that matter, in order to complete the assignment I had to find a different model. Fortunately I have a patient wife who was a willing candidate and she happened to need a headshot for work. Two birds, and all that. Continue reading “Week 4: Headshot”

Week 3: Red

It snowed yesterday. I don’t know where you live, so maybe that’s not a big deal to you. After all, snowfall in January in the northern hemisphere isn’t really that unusual. Unless you live where I do, in South Carolina. Every couple of years we get enough snow to notice, and yesterday was that day.

Schools, government offices and most businesses around here shut down at the mention of the possibility of a snowflake sighting, so that leaves time to get outside. For me, it also meant a chance to complete the third week of this year’s photography challenge. Continue reading “Week 3: Red”

Week 2: Traditional Landscape

It was landscape photography that motivated me to pick up a camera again. I enjoy the woods, the mountains, and the serenity of hearing nothing but birds, brooks and my boots on a trail. I wanted to be able to bring back some of the views that I saw along the way to share with others and to spark my own memories. So you would think that the idea of taking a landscape photograph every third week as a part of the 52 Week Photography Challenge would be particularly exciting for me. It is. And it isn’t.

This week’s challenge was a Traditional Landscape. The specific instructions were to “shoot a beautiful landscape and share it with the world. Find a nice foreground and don’t forget the sky.” I don’t live in an area of the country that most people think of when landscapes are mentioned. We have no rocky mountain ridges or colorful deserts or breathtaking seascapes. At this time of year we don’t have winter wonderlands or snow-capped anything. We have a lot of brown. With touches of grey. So I knew that finding a traditional landscape shot this week would present an extra challenge. Continue reading “Week 2: Traditional Landscape”

Week 1: Self Portrait

So the challenge has begun, and so far I am 1 for 1. I’ve gotten the first shot of my 52 week photography challenge under my belt. And I killed a few other bird in the process.

This week’s challenge was “Self Portrait”. Frankly, most photographers pick up a camera so that they can stay behind it, but self portraits are beneficial for a number of reasons. One, they let you shoot people, even when there are no people around. So when you are testing a new setup, or lens, or light or whatever, you can work out some of the kinks before you involve a model or a client. Two, they give you some sense of what your models have to go through. The next time you say “chin down”, or “angle your shoulders”, or “smile with your eyes”, you may have a little more empathy for them, and a little more clarity in your instructions. Three, it provides you with a new profile picture for social media. At least it will for me. Continue reading “Week 1: Self Portrait”