Volleyball Is a Difficult Sport to Photograph

The preschools in this part of Kyoto had a Momma Volleyball tournament yesterday, and I went along to try my hand at some sports photography.

It's really really difficult to photograph volleyball well. I knew it would be difficult, but it turned out to be difficult on so many more levels than I had imagined, and I came away with 6 gigabytes of mostly throwaways.

I hope to write about it more in the future, but until I find the time, just a few shots that came out okay.

Doshisha Mommies giving Moegi's “A” team some love -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2007 Jeffrey Eric Francis Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D200 + Nikkor 17-55 f/2.8 @ 30mm — 1/160 sec, f/2.8, ISO 400 — full exif & map
Doshisha Mommies giving Moegi's “A” team some love
Moegi's “A” team giving some back -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2007 Jeffrey Eric Francis Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D200 + Nikkor 17-55 f/2.8 @ 26mm — 1/160 sec, f/4.5, ISO 640 — full exif & mapnearby photos
Moegi's “A” team giving some back

I really love the pose of the spiker in the shot above, but the shot lacks a sense of movement. She's rising up to meet the ball coming down toward her (she doesn't make contact with the ball until a full third of a second after this shot was taken), and she ends up just obliterating the ball into the feet of the Doshisha defender at the far right. She was an excellent spiker on a team full of them.

A post-contact shot like the first one above shows more movement, but then you don't get the great “spike” pose like in the second.

The two shots above are from Doshisha's (Anthony's preschool) first game, against the Moegi preschool's “A” team (of the 10 preschools that participated, eight fielded two teams). Doshisha is so small that we could just barely field one team.

Moegi's “A” team apparently takes a while to warm up, because they allowed us to score 6 points in the first game. (Games are to 15). Many games later, they made it to the finals and were playing on a much higher level such that there's no way we would have scored a single point. Not even close.

Their opponent in the finals, Himawari's “A” team, was equally up there, and points were exciting minute-long affairs of pounding spike followed by amazing defense leading to a return spike, repeated over and over. The final went to an overtime tie-breaking game that Moegi's “A” team eventually won.

A Future in Beach Volleyball? -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2007 Jeffrey Eric Francis Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D200 + Nikkor 17-55 f/2.8 @ 30mm — 1/160 sec, f/4.5, ISO 500 — map & image datanearby photos
A Future in Beach Volleyball?

I experimented with really slow shutter speeds, to get a sense of movement, and with fast ones to try to make things really sharp. Generally, I wasn't able to get either to work well, although I suspect the slow-shutter-speed approach would have been a lot better if I'd had a tripod, a steadier hand, or less a sense of panic about how to get a good shot.

Here's one of the faster shutter speed ones, Doshisha's team captain going up for what would become a game-winning spike.

Game Winner -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2007 Jeffrey Eric Francis Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D200 + Nikkor 17-55 f/2.8 @ 17mm — 1/200 sec, f/2.8, ISO 720 — map & image datanearby photos
Game Winner

All 5 comments so far, oldest first...

Jeff, these are enjoyable to those less critical of photography technique. It would be extra nice of you to make copies of some of them and give them to the teams. It would be an unexpected treat for them, even the opposing teams. I think you did a nice job on them.

— comment by Grandma Friedl on February 28th, 2007 at 3:36am JST (10 years, 10 months ago) comment permalink

Great shots. Sports photography is much harder than it looks!

Even with the fast glass you have, it’s going to be next to impossible with indoor lighting to capture any motion without at least a monopod.

Great first attempt though! Much better than my first try at baseball….

— comment by Anonymous on February 28th, 2007 at 8:19pm JST (10 years, 9 months ago) comment permalink

Sports photography is generally a pain. There’s a reason that folks shooting games have more than one camera (and far more than one roll of fim/memory) on hand. You wind up shooting an insane number of pictures, and even then, only ten or so come out the way you want.)

If I remember a class correctly, one of the tricks you can use to convey movement is to pick a high contrast target and follow it with a slow shutter speed. Of course, the problem with doing that is you’re going to miss the spectacular, hair reflex shot, and of course, to get those, just never take your eye out of the camera. (Thus explaining why there’s usually a few unconscious photographers on the sidelines.)

These are all still great, so don’t beat yourself up about it. You’ll be getting Anthony in Sports Illustrated eventually.

— comment by jr on March 1st, 2007 at 3:10am JST (10 years, 9 months ago) comment permalink

jr is entirely correct. Ideally, you use a slower shutter speed and move the camera to follow the jump / movement of the athlete. This blurs the background while keeping the subject in focus. It’s very difficult to get right though!

— comment by Anonymous on March 2nd, 2007 at 12:31am JST (10 years, 9 months ago) comment permalink

Wow, these are some serious volleyball players! The second shot is great, because you can tell that the player has a huge vertical and is going to crush the ball.

Beach volleyball tournaments are great to photograph, because you don’t need fancy equipment (if it’s outdoors), and in early-round matches you can sit right by the sidelines.

— comment by Andrew S on March 10th, 2007 at 7:09am JST (10 years, 9 months ago) comment permalink
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