Shooting basketball on a budget
I love basketball! Ever since I was a child and I used to set my alarm clock at two o’clock or 3 o’clock in the night, so I could get up and watch NBA games only to leave at 7 to school, after a long, white night, the game always stood with me.
So you can imagine the joy I had when the first sports event that I photographed was a basketball game. I never took anything but landscape or travel pictures, so what was I going to do?
My gear is kind of old, and many would say limited. How would it fare if I took it out and try to photograph an indoor event with not so great lighting, and to top it off, many athletes moving fast?
First, let me tell you a bit about the setting. I was invited by CSO Voluntari, a Romanian professional basketball team to attend a mini tournament, official games as part of the Romanian National Basketball League. So this was not going to be simple since I was photographing real athletes, real games, teams that want and fight for the championship.
My gear has always been simple. A Fuji X-T1, a Fuji X-T20, an 18-55mm kit lens and a cheap XC50-230mm. So yes, I was kind of screwed. With no money for the powerhouse that is the XF50-140mm F2.8 lens, I had to improvise. And that I did.
I took my old X-T1 and coupled it with the XC50-230 for static pictures. Players during time outs, coaches on the bench, free throws, this kind of thing. But I was still missing a good, fast lens. And the salvation came when I got the idea of browsing a local Fuji group and asked for a 50mm F2.
I was going initially for the XF90mm F2 but, well, that was out of my budget too, so I had to search for the XF50mm F2, and luckily I found a second-hand one, got it shipped overnight and I was ready to take pictures.
First things first, let me start with the camera settings. Indoor sports mean bad lightning. Even professional venues suffer from this, so I had my X-T20 ISO raised to 3200, and I left it there.
Second, I took my “new” XF50 F2 lens and had it locked between f2 and f2.5. I never went to 2.8 since I was afraid. I guess the lack of experience made me do this since it was my first time photographing sport.
I left my shutter to 1/800, but I found some blur in a few of them upon reviewing some images, so I decided to raise it to 1/1000 and leave it there.
Nobody would expect the X-T20 to be a real sports camera, so I needed to try and simulate “professional” settings as much as I could so this is how I set up my camera for the games.
The left dial was set and locked to CH. CL was simply too slow, and I was missing things, so I fired a few rounds during practice and let it on CH. I switched the focus mode to zone and alternated between the first and the second sizes in focus (3 by 3 and 5 by 5, if I remember correctly). I chose option 2 from the AFC (of course I forgot to tell you that I switched the little dial on the front of the camera to C) menu.
I really had no experience here, but I searched on the internet, saw what others were taking pictures of and decided to go with it. Inside photometry, I had changed the mode to centre-weighted, and I truly believe this is how you shoot sports.
I had fiddled around and removed the AF illuminator from the camera. I didn’t want to risk upsetting a player in motion.
My thinking/strategy was simple. I had 2 primes, a 35mm F2 and a 50mm F2, so I wasn’t going to have the same reach as the guys carrying 70-200mm zoom lenses. So I came up early and attended practice.
I let my 50mm on and started tracking players. See how they move, see how they run, see how further away from me I was comfortable taking pictures. I established a zone where I decided that even if I had to crop the pictures after I would still get a decent shot.
I won’t lie to you, owning just a 50mm is tough. I was near the TV camera, the medical staff and a quarter of my shots were of the referees back. All of these problems would have disappeared by using a zoom, but I had none. So what I did was constantly moving behind the referees back trying to get a better angle.
Also, since I was limited in reach, there was no need for me to go in the stands and take pictures from above. I was stuck on the backline, and my only option was to chose which side of the board to sit on according to the available light in the gym.
Nonetheless, I had an amazing time and considering that this was my first time shooting sports, I was satisfied with the results I got. As a matter of fact, I am currently saving to buy a used XF90mm F2 to help me. Get a bit more reach in the gym, and maybe get better pictures in the future.
Before shooting these games, I read on the internet that the X-T2 is kind of washed up, that, well, you couldn’t really use it for professional sports photography because its autofocus is slow. You can imagine how my hopes were if all I had was the X-T20, not even the X-T2. But, as you can see from the pictures attached, the results are really not that bad.
I noticed that it is imperative for the camera to catch perfect focus on the first picture. Otherwise, you will be left with a blurry mess for 8,10, 14 pics, which is a big no no. Being a rookie at this, I managed to screw a few beautiful phases by missing focus, and I am kind of upset because I missed a couple of slam dunks. However, upon reaching my PC, I noticed that I have enough keepers so, overall, I am really satisfied with how things went.
From my previous articles, you might know that I am not a huge fan of editing and most of the times I use jpegs on my Instagram account or on the pictures I attached to my articles here. However, for this special event, I had all my jpegs edited from the RAF files. I was surprised to see how little editing I would have to do and bellow you can find my process.
For all the pictures in this article, I used Irident Explorer and LR. Yes, I know Capture One is better (or this is what people say), but my license expired in December, and after two full years I wasn’t that keen on renewing it.
I first selected the files I wanted to edit and then I ran them through Irident, obtaining some huge DNG files which I imported into LR. I did 2 basic things on every picture I took: Level the picture and crop it until I was happy with the result.
For 90% of the pictures, I went with a Provia simulation and chose my WB over the auto setting. I found that this way, the final result looked closest to what my eyes saw in the sports arena.
Next came exposure. From all the pictures I have attached today, I think +0.45 was the biggest value I have added, most of the files being between +0.20 and +0.40. I messed a bit with the blacks and the whites and used values between – 10 for the whites to +10 for the blacks.
My next step was sharpening, and I tried not to overdo it by selecting very small values for sharpening and for masking.
Finally was noise removal, which was like a huge worry for me but in the end, proved to be pretty simple. I noticed that for 3200 ISO I needed about 35 to 40 as values and the pictures look really well after it.
All in all, I think that I spent about three minutes per each photo (maybe a bit more when my PC was moving too slow due to its age).
Now that I have taken this step, would I change anything? Well, to be honest, I would love trying the X-T3 and the XF90mm F2, but unfortunately, they are out of my price range for the moment.
I am more than happy with how my little camera held up, and considering the fact that this was my first shoot, I have reason to believe I can get better and grab more shots before updating the body to a newer, faster one. One thing that I would love is the XF90mm F2. I think it would really help me get closer to the action and offer me a chance to track action more, covering a bigger size of the arena. However, until I can afford such moves, I will keep using my little toy camera with its little XF50mm F2 lens glued to it.
“My name is Stefan Panaitescu, I am 38 years old and I am from Bucharest, Romania.
I work in sustainability and corporate social responsibility and I love my job.
I am an avid traveler and in my spare time I run a travel blog and I try to get out as much as I can and shoot with my Fuji cameras.”