I was invited by a friend to watch the Washington Capital practice at the Kettler Iceplex in Arlington, VA. I took my camera figuring this would be a good opportunity to get some shots of the players up close. I quickly realized that shooting a hockey practice was going to be a challenge. Getting a good shot of a hockey player in action is not very likely in Auto Mode. Here are some tips that I found worked for me.
A couple of notes before we get to settings. The challenges of shooting ice hockey are not limited to the speed of play (which is extremely fast). Arenas can be dark, but the ice is shimmering white so be prepared to adjust your white balance. The "glass" around the rick is scarred and scuffed, which will effect your ability to focus. Every few feet the "glass" there is a thick reinforcement post, which will inevitably get in your frame at the wrong time. Above the "glass" is netting (in this case the netting went to the ceiling - see photo above), so again focusing is problematic. The pace of play brought players in and out of focus rapidly, a servo focus is definitely needed. Lastly, just when you think you have a good shot lined up, someone will skate through your foreground and you've missed the shot. Bottom-line, if you are shooting hockey from the stands, prepare to take a lot of pictures and don’t get frustrated too easily.
I recommend manual shooting mode for this challenging environment, shutter/speed priority mode if you are not comfortable in full manual. Adjust the speed to 1/500 or more – anything less will result in blurring. Even at 1/500 there is some blur on the puck, but that gives it the appearance of motion so I kept it. I kept the F stop as wide open as I could. With the lens I was using it was F4. I was limiting my zoom to 70mm – any closer and I was not going to get action in the frame – don’t bother with a longer zoom. Lastly, I set the ISO to >1000 and in some cases 1600.
The photos came out well in terms of exposure, sharpness, contrast, noise, white balance, … when there was not a scratch in the glass, a post in the way, a skater cruising into my foreground, or netting ruining my shot. I was able to take them through post production with minimal enhancement.
Overall, I was not happy with my results. It wasn’t the camera settings, it was the composition that disappointed me. Next time, I’ll find a better angle and a clearer section of glass away from the netting. Chalk this one up to experience.
Mode: Manual or Shutter Priority
Focus: Servo mode if possible
Of course - you can improve your odds by waiting for play to stop and still get some good images.