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Shooting Basketball Custom White Balance

Remember that the purpose of white balance is to ensure the colors in your photos accurately represent the colors as you see them with your eye.  If you are not achieving the colors you want in that old dingy basketball gym another option to use the custom or manual white balance setting.  Don’t let those words scare you away it’s not that difficult.  In some basketball gyms you might find custom or manual the best way to find and then save a color setting that works.

What is custom white balance
In simplest terms you are giving the camera a reference “white” photo from which it can create proper color for your photos.  You put the camera in a mode telling it you are going to take a reference white photo, take it and then the camera will do it’s magic.  By doing this in the same lighting you will be shooting your basketball photos the camera will help you achieve proper color.  Then once you achieve the best white balance you can for that location, if it’s one you come to often, you can save it as one of the presets and you’ll be ready to go each time you come back to that gym.  I took the following three shots using various white balance, the first florescent, the second incandescent, and the third a manual white balance using the white wall on the side of the gym.

Florescent WB



Incandescent WB Fluorescent

Custom WB (shot the white wall) Custom

What to use
A number of items can work for your reference shot, from purchasing a white or grey card to using many free items found around your home.

  • white or grey card (purchased)
  • 3×5 card
  • coffee filter
  • pringles lid (at least they are good for something)
  • Inside of your camera bag (often the proper grey)
  • White paper or items in the gym

How to do it
Essentially you will tell the camera you are going to do a custom setting, then take a picture of something that is ALL white and then save the setting.  Those are the steps.  Below are the steps for a Nikon D200,  other cameras will be similar only the buttons you press may be different

Step  1 – Place your card or item in the lighting

Step  2 – Change or rotate your WB setting to “PRE”

Step  3 – Fill the viewfinder with white (all white, focus doesn’t matter)

Step  4 – Press the WB button until the PRE begins to flash

Step  5 – Release the WB button; then press the shutter button (taking a photo)

Step  6 – You will now see “Good” or “NoGd” on your display (- Good means you have now set a preset, otherwise do it again)

Saving the results
Your custom white balance is now set and saved.  On the D200 you can save up to 5 presets.  This can be helpful when you are returning to the same gym to shoot basketball.  Once you have the color the way you want it, just remember that location on your presets and don’t overwrite it.

Go try it, it’s not that hard and you might just achieve that beautiful color you’ve been looking for.


Shooting Basketball (Fluorescent Lighting)

We’ve talked about the challenges of shooting basketball in old gyms.  Let’s get a bit more specific and talk particular types of lighting, starting with Fluorescent lighting.  You will find many basketball gyms using fluorescent lights because of the cost savings.  Fluorescent lights though cause real challenges in achieving good basketball photos.  We are all familiar with those long fluorescent light tubes we see in offices and commercial buildings.  This same design continues today, but it has also changed with looped tubes and other tube designs that can often make it difficult to tell by just looking at the light fixture if you are shooting in a fluorescent gym.

A little history and background
Fluorescent lights began being used commercially back in the 1930s.  They became popular because fluorescent lights are more efficient than incandescent light.  Fluorescent lights are a gas discharge light which means that electricity is used to excite an ionized gas such as mercury vapor.  The resulting ultra-violet radiation is converted to visible light with a fluorescent coating on the inside of the lamp.  Standard heat temperature ratings (kelvins) do not apply to fluorescent lights, in addition fluorescent lights change over time through usage, making basketball photography under fluorescent light most difficult.

Okay…………..that was probably more than any of us wanted to know and what does that have to do with how you get a good basketball photo…………………  

Bottom line
We are real fans of automatic white balance, but basketball gyms and fluorescent lights are one place it usually doesn’t work well.  Fluorescent lights typically produce a more warm color in the orange and red range.  When that combines with yellow/orange hardwood floors and wood bleachers you can get some very orange photos.  
There are primarily three things you can do to improve the color in your basketball photos::

  1. Try the “fluorescent” white balance setting on your camera.   That setting will often compensate quite well for the lights.   
  2. You can manually set the white balance by shooting something white in the gym and then manually adjusting the white balance.  We will cover this in a future blog, it’s not as hard as it sounds.
  3. Shoot in RAW mode and adjust the white balance afterwards.  We also plan to cover this in a blog.

So, if your basketball photos are looking real orange, or reddish try that fluorescent setting and see what you get!


Sharpen Your Photos

Sharpening your photos can make a huge difference and in many cases it can be done very quickly and easily. While there are dedicated plugins and programs to do the job, most of the time you probably will not need something as advanced.

Depending on the application you use to edit your photos you may have a number of options available to you when sharpening your photos. If you are using a basic program you may have just one slider that determines the amount of sharpening.

Below is an example of a photo before any sharpening has been applied after the photo was taken. Note that cameras will actually apply a bit of sharpening to your photos when shooting JPEG files.


Now we have a screenshot of the Photoshop sharpening options.

Sharpen Settings

And finally the photo after the sharpening has been applied.

After Sharpening

There are a few things to remember when applying your sharpening to your photos. You will want to crop your photo to the final size you will output for. If you are going to print a 5×7 print, crop your photo to a 5×7 before applying any sharpening to it. Another thing you want to avoid is over sharpening. This can give your photo artifacts you may not want. Try to give it just enough to make it pop but not so much that it’s obvious you have applied sharpening. These rules aren’t set in stone and you may want to over sharpen in some situations for an artistic purpose.

Three Keys to shooting basketball

It’s basketball season and time to capture some amazing photos at the gym.  Of course the challenge is shooting indoor basketball with lousy lighting at old basketball gyms, not to mention the yellow wood floors and bleachers that can reek havoc with your white balance.

Key #1 Equipment
This is a case where you are going to need a nice lens.  No way around it, you really need a lens with an aperture of 2.8 or you will really struggle getting enough light in poorly lit gyms.  You can use a smaller lens but I find the 80-200mm ideal allowing me to catch action most anywhere on the court.  You might get away with a smaller lens if you can get close to the court and if you are willing to wait for the action to come to you.

Key #2 Where to Position Yourself
My preference is in the bleachers at the end of the court and a bit off to one side so the backboard doesnt’ get in the way.  If there are no bleachers on the end then standing at the end can work as well, just be careful of the refs blocking your shots.  If you shoot from the middle of the court you can find some unique angles but you will seldom get the face of your player while they are shooting.

Key #3 Frame a Great Photo
The nice thing about basketball is there is a lot of action.  If you miss one shot it will certainly come around again and you will have another opportunity.  My favorite shots are when my player has the ball and there is contact and action with the defenders.  If I can catch that including my players face and the ball then I have a GREAT shot.  Remember your photos are always better with those two things, the ball and the face.  The player without the ball just isn’t that interesting and if you can see the ball and not the player’s face not so cool either.


See you on the court!

Three Keys to Shooting Soccer

Are you enjoying the World Cup?  It’s a frenzy at our house, trying to watch 3-4 games a day, rooting for our favorite players, teams and countries.  It’s hard to fit in everything else in life while all this great soccer is going on.  It seems appropriate to share some keys to shooting great soccer action while we’re in the middle of World Cup.
Shooting soccer on a full sized field isn’t easy, but very possible.  If you’re trying to get action shots of a single player then it’s much easier than trying to get the entire team.  We’ll focus this blog post on how to shoot an individual player and I will try to follow up in the coming weeks on shooting the entire team, the goalie and posed photos.

Key #1 Equipment
Soccer fields are large as you know so this is a case where the bigger the lens the better.  A large lens can be very expensive, but on a sunny day even a f4.5 lens can get you great action shots.  I’ve had great luck with a sigma 50-500mm lens on sunny days and it’s even affordable.  If you position yourself properly and are willing to move more frequently even an 80-200mm can work.

Key #2 Where to Position Yourself
Let’s assume it’s a nice sunny day for soccer (not that my children had any sunny days this Spring) and you’re in place for the entire game.  The sun is your friend as well as your challenge.  You want your players face to be toward the sun so that it’s lit up and bright.  So, when only needing photos of one player I would probably shoot photos for just half the game.  The half when your player is primarily facing the sun which means the opposing goalie’s back is toward the sun, and your back as well will be toward the sun.

Key #3 Frame a Great Photo
The “beautiful game” certainly has lots of action both on and off the ball.  How do you catch the right action to ensure a great photo.  Be sure to capture the face and the ball in the frame.  Yes, that’s not easy, but your photos are always better with those two things.  The player without the ball just isn’t that interesting and if you can see the ball and not the player’s face your photo won’t be as interesting either.  Of the thousands of soccer photos we’ve sold 99%+ of them have included the players face and the ball.

See you on the pitch!


How to recover your lost photos

At one point or another many photographers will inadvertently loose some photos either by a hardware/software failure or user error. Either way it can be a horrible experience. Hopefully you are backing up on a regular basis so to not loose your entire photo collection. The one problem with photo backup is that you have to get the photos to your computer to back them up. What happens if you are out in the field and accidentally delete one of your memory cards? Depending on the size of the card you may have lost hundreds of photos. Luckily, more than likely you can still recover all of the lost photos.

There are many photo recovery tools out there today, many cost money and a few are free. I always prefer free even if the software is a little hard to understand at first glance. I’ve spent time and time again looking for a good and free solution for photo recovery and I finally found something. PhotoRec is a free open source project that is designed to recover your lost files from a hard drive or memory card. It is also available for many operating systems including Windows, Linux and Mac.

To test the software out I took a 512MB memory card and formatted it in the camera, deleting all of the photos. Also note that previous to formatting, the camera reported the card as being about half way full. Now that we have a freshly formatted card, lets see how PhotoRec does as far as recovering those photos.

Drive Select 

As you can see from the screenshot above this is not your typical looking Windows application. If you remember the days of DOS it will look much more like a DOS application than your traditional Windows program. You must use the keyboard to navigate around the application but luckily for us it is fairly straight forward.

The first window that comes up will ask you what drive you have your memory card in. You should be able to recognize the drive by the size PhotoRec reports back. You may also find the label of the drive helpful as well. In my situation I needed to select the third option which was reported as a 512 MB drive with the label of Generic Flash HS-CF.

Partition Select 

The next window asks for the partition table type. If you are using a Windows PC like I am, you should select the Intel option.

Partition Type

Next up is the partition you want it to search in. If you are using a memory card you most likely will only have two options here. The entire disk and the partition your camera makes. My camera is a Canon 10d and you can see in the screenshot that the camera has labeled the partition as EOS_DIGITAL. This is usually the name of the drive that shows up in Windows when you first put your memory card in the computer.

File System Select

Now you need to tell PhotoRec what type of filesystem it is. Again if you are using Windows it will be the “Other” option.

Search Options

Now it will ask if you want to search the entire card or just the free space of the card. If you still have photos that you can see on the card you can choose to only look in the free space. If you want to be sure it finds everything possible, you may want to tell it to search everything.

Recovery Location

The next thing you need to do is tell PhotoRec where you want to put the files it finds. Once you are in the directory you would like the files to be copied to you can press the “Y” button to indicate Yes this is where I want my recovered files to go.

Recovery Status

Now you can sit back and wait for the files to be copied. Once the program is finished copying the files over you can go to the folder you specified to take a look at them.

Recovered Files

Here you can see the deleted files it was able to retrieve. It was not only able to recover the files I had just deleted but also files that had been deleted many months ago. As long as you have not used up the space that that your old photos had used the program should be able to recover them. This is an important point to realize. If you accidentally format your memory card, do not shoot any new photos to it. The old files are still there but once you start taking new photos it will start using up the space the old photos reside on removing the capability of recovering them.

Meta Data part 3

Continuing a discussion of meta data and the additional information that a camera attaches to each photo you take and how that can assist you in becoming a better sports photographer.


CCD width = 28.12mm

This is a calculated value that is of no use at this time.

Exposure Time = .003 (1/320)

This is the shutter speed, how fast your shutter opened and closed. Exposure time is controlled by the shutter speed. Along with aperture this determines the amount of light that reaches the sensor. Shorter shutter speeds are used to freeze fast-moving subjects.

Aperture = f/4.5

The aperture or size of the opening of the hole that allows light onto the sensor. Remember the smaller the number the larger the opening so I could have made the opening larger by going to 2.8.

ISO = 3200

The ISO for this shot was set very fast at 3200. Remember this is essentially the “speed of the film” and although there is trade-offs you typically want faster to freeze action and motion.

Exposure bias = 0.00

This is typically modified with a small dial or button with the + or – sign. In this shot it was not adjusted, but this meta-data shows you if you used this feature to underexpose or overexpose the photo. Useful in high contrast situations and an easy change to make.

Metering Mode = Matrix

This represents the mode your camera is set in to “meter” or “calculate” the exposure from the current light conditions. Matrix mode in the Cannon camera evaluates the light in all zones of the frame for its calculation. Other common settings are “spot” which calculates from one very small area and center weighted which concentrates on the middle of the frame.

Exposure = Normal Program

Exposure refers to the lightness or darkness of the photo. I shot this with the exposure mode set to normal. Most cameras will have auto, shutter priority, aperture priority and manual.

Thumbnail = 160 x 120 pixels

This is the size of the preview thumbnail that is included in jpeg files. So within the header of this photo is a thumbnail that is 160×120 pixels in size.

JPEG Quality = 98 (422)

JPEG Quality represents how much compression has been performed. The higher this number the less compression that was performed. The maximum number on this camera is 100 so 98 is quite high indicating less compression and higher quality. Although 100 is the maximum number it does not mean no compression was performed.

Unique ID

I’m not aware of the ID being used by many cameras or software programs at this time

Sports Photography Preparation is the Key


It doesn’t matter if you are going to shoot your child’s baseball game or the High School state championship football game,  you will most likely get better sports photos if you are prepared. There are a couple of things that you should take into account when getting ready for a sports photo shoot.

Get your gear ready

This might be the most important. You don’t want to get to your destination, have everything setup to find that your battery is nearly dead. This and many other mishaps can be avoided by simply getting all the equipment together the night before the big event. This includes blank memory cards, charged batteries, lenses and camera. Depending on whether you will be indoors or outdoors and the weather you may have additional accessories that are required.

Whatever the equipment requirements are it is always a good idea to get them all ready and packed so when you are ready to go and can just grab your gear and be on your way, confident that you have what you need. You may even want to make a list of what you need for different sporting events so it’s easy to bring out that specific list when you are planning on a shoot.

Scout out the location

Obviously you aren’t going to be able to check out a location before hand if it’s out of state or country, but when possible it’s a great idea to check out the location you plan on photographing at beforehand. A great time for this may be something as simple taking a family member practicing at the facility or location.  You should definitely check out the location, walk around and find great spots that will make a great photo.

You don’t necessarily have to check out the location a day or two early. If it’s a sporting event like volleyball, you can get there a half hour early so you get the perfect spot in the stands. If it’s something like a soccer game, it may not be too important as you may be moving to different positions on the side lines as the game progresses, but you may actually miss some shots of the kids practicing (that’s right, you can get some great shots before the game actually starts).

Remember these tips and you won’t have to worry if you forgot your flash card at home, or worrying about getting a great spot to shoot from.

Put your photos in motion

Just because you shoot still photos doesn’t mean they have to stay that way. In recent years it has become easier to take your photos and turn them into a video slideshow. This can be a fun way to show off your photos in a different and fun way. There are a number of programs out there you can use to create a fantastic slideshow and many are free. If you are a regular visitor to this blog, you know I’m a big fan of the Windows Live family of applications. It just so happens that this suite of applications comes with a video editing solution in the form of Windows Live Movie Maker.

Windows Live Movie Maker

The process of creating a slideshow of your favorite sports photos couldn’t be easier. Once you have opened up Movie Maker, drag your photos to the right hand portion of the window, save the video and your done. That’s right if you just want a basic slideshow that’s all there is to it.

Many times you will want to add transitions, titles and music to your video. Let’s take a look at how to accomplish this.

If you want a track of music on your computer that you want to play during your slideshow click the Add Music button and select the music track you have saved on your hard drive.

add music

Now to add a title and transitions you can do it manually or use the AutoMovie button to have the program do all the hard stuff in less than a second! After clicking the AutoMovie button it will do a number of things for you. It creates a title, credits, transitions and pan and zoom effects for each photo you have in your slideshow. It will also time the photos duration so that the video ends when the music track you have selected ends. You can now double click on the title and credit sequences to edit the text that displays at the beginning and end of the video.

Once you are ready to save your video you can either publish it directly to YouTube, create a DVD or even save it out as a 1080P HD video.

Meta Data for Sports Photography (Exif) – Part 1


One of the beautiful things about digital photography is that with each photo you take the camera records all kinds of information about your camera settings. Information that if you know how to view and understand can help you take better photos the next time. This information or data is often referred to as EXIF data or Meta data. Simply put it’s additional data or information that is included in the file with your photo. My next few posts will explain this meta data, how to view it, use it, change it and improve your photography with it.

This information can’t be seen as you look at the photo, but most photo viewers are able to display this data. A couple of pieces of meta data we are all familiar with is the file name and date. Those pieces of information are attached to your photo and is information you see and use regularly. You can of course change the file name, and it’s also possible to change and add other meta data with the right photo viewer or editor.

Did you know though that beyond just the simple file name and date you can also see information about the settings of your camera at the time you took the photo. This includes aperture setting, the shutter speed, focal length, quality, resolution and much more. Imagine how useful this information is once your get home and want to see which photos turned out best and why! Looking at this additional data is a great way to improve your photography.

Pretty much any photo viewing and editing software will provide you a view of this information. Programs from Adobe including Photoshop, Photoshop Elements provide this data as well as free products such as Picasa will also provide you with this information. In addition to photo editing programs your operating system, such as Windows 7 will also provide you with a quick view of some of the basic meta data such as ISO and aperture settings. Below you will see three examples of metadata displayed, the first is a screen shot from Picasa the second from Exif Pilot and the third is Windows default information.



meta data