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Remote Camera Action – For Basketball, it’s a Slam Dunk!

Mike Tedesco is a freelance sports and performance photographer based in Sammamish, WA. One of his favorite assignments is to photograph local High School sports – the action, the emotion, and the spirit of the crowd all make for memorable images.

Basketball Remote Camera Set Up

For basketball images, Mike likes to set up a remote camera behind the backboard to capture the exciting action as the players drive for the basket. We asked Mike to share how he uses a remote camera to kick it up a notch and capture images that go beyond your typical high school sports shots.

Setting up the Remote Camera – Safety First

When setting up a remote camera, Mike is always thinking safety first – he makes sure the equipment is secure and that his security has back up security! He always choses a spot where he can add a second magic arm/clamp and safety cables. In the words of Mike, “Never sacrifice safety for a different angle/shot.” For this game, he used (2) Manfrotto Variable Friction Magic Arms (one with camera bracket), (3) Manfrotto Super Clamps, (2) Impact Safety Cables, gaffers tape, and zip ties. In addition, since the camera was angled slightly downward, Mike used electrical tape to secure Cinefoil, an anti-reflective paper, underneath the lens to help guard against unwanted reflected light from the highly polished gym floor.

Pro-tip:  to minimize distraction to the players, electrical tape was chosen to secure the Cinefoil because it is black on both sides. Gaffers tape has a gray sticky side which when adhered to the backboard, could be distracting to the players.

Setting up the Remote Camera – Anticipate the Action

Pro sports photographers know that to capture the best images, you must anticipate the action – so it’s important to know the level of athletes that you are shooting.

Remote Camera Placement

For this high school game, Mike knew that the players were not dunkers. To best capture their action, he placed the camera higher up on the backboard and angled it down. If you are shooting a college or NBA level game, it would be good practice to bring the camera down and shoot more at rim level. In addition, the remote camera must be discreet, not distracting to the players, and far enough away from the backboard rectangle that identifies the sweet spot.

Remote Camera Focus

Mike anticipated that he would be grabbing most of the action a bit below the rim. He put his remote camera, a Sony a9, in full manual focus with focus assist turned on and asked a colleague to stand on a 6 foot ladder that was placed in the lane a couple of feet away from the rim – to mimic a player driving the lane. He manually focused on his colleague and to ensure it wouldn’t move – he taped the focus and zoom rings down.

When to Set up the Remote Camera

Since Mike was dealing with a school and a busy gym, he had to do the bulk of the setup at 7 AM before school started at 8. After school, they had three games before the main event, the Varsity game, which started at 7 PM – 12 hours later! Mike did all the mounting, taping, and pre-focusing work before school, then went back to the camera during a short window before the games started to do a final safety, focus, and remote check. After the final check, he turned it all off and then turned it all back on just prior to the Varsity game.

Setting up the Remote Camera – Details, Details, Details

Remote Camera Settings:

Mike used a Sony a9 with a Sony FE 16-35 f/2.8 lens set at 20mm and f2.8. His shutter speed was 1/1000 which he recommends as a minimum shutter speed for the action. He would have preferred to shoot at f/4 to give him a little more depth of field flexibility, but as is the case with many high school gyms, the lighting was not great, so he opened it to f2.8 to keep his ISO at 6400.

PocketWizard Set Up

Mike placed a PocketWizard Plus III that was in Rx Mode on his remote camera and connected it with a PocketWizard remote camera cable (13369-S) to the camera’s remote camera terminal. He placed a second Plus III in Tx Mode in the hot shoe of his main camera – a Sony a9 II. Both radios were set to the same Channel/Zones.

Making sure the Camera Doesn’t Sleep

Mike set his Sony a9 sleep setting to the maximum setting of 30 minutes. Once he turned it on, he had to make sure that he triggered it at least every 30 minutes. which obviously isn’t a problem during the game. However, it can be a problem when you turn everything on and have a break between games or possibly an extended halftime.

Pro Tip: Using the MultiMAX II instead of the Plus III would give Mike the ability to wake the camera from sleep mode remotely and using the PTMM adapter would keep the camera awake constantly.

Battery Considerations

Mike has been very happy with his FZ100 battery on his camera by Sony. But he always shoots with the battery grip on all his cameras so that he can always have 2 fully charged batteries at the beginning of every event. But since his set up began 12 hours before game time, he turned the camera off after it was set up in the morning and then turned it back on just prior to the Varsity game for final testing.

Pro Tip: PocketWizard’s 13369-S remote camera cable for Sony’s camera has twin heads – one to plug into the camera and one USB head that can be plugged into a portable battery for even more battery life!

Getting the Shot – It’s all in the Preparation

These two images are an example of a shot taken with his handheld camera which then also triggered the remote at the same time. As you can see in the handheld photo, there was a ref in the way and the shooter’s left arm blocking his face. The image from the remote camera got a clean view of the actual action.

The Best You Can Do is to Be Ready

Mike was disappointed in the lack of real action in front of his remote camera all game long. Despite his pre-game research, he felt the best drives happened on the left side of the hoop! Good example of Murphy’s Law in action! However, he still felt the time spent was incredibly valuable. Mike feels strongly that any time you can gain experience setting up for safety, framing, focus, and exposure is a win regardless of the images. Once the game starts, the action is out of your control so the best you can do is be ready.

Practice Practice Practice

One way to practice your remote camera skills is with a workshop. Summit Workshops and Sports Shooter Academy are examples of educational workshops that offer great hands-on experience in setting up remote cameras for sports. Have you attended a workshop that helped you with remotes?  Let us know in the comments! 

To check out more of Mike’s work, check out his website at www.reactionphotography.com and follow him on Twitter and Instagram.