Last month, I was invited along to photograph my first Ice Hockey match. Not only was it the first time shooting the sport, but I was a hockey virgin, full stop. As soon as I knew I was attending, I asked myself some crucial questions: What’s the best place to shoot from? Is there a dedicated area for photographers? What’s the lighting like?
A little research and asking my contacts, I discovered that the ice rink was part of a brand new leisure centre and the lighting, although artificial, was decent. I’d also be joining my good friend and fellow sports photographer as well as the team’s official snapper. A good night lay ahead.
The venue: Streatham in South London. The teams: Streatham Redskins versus MK Thunder.
As a keen photographer of football, I looked to apply the same settings and techniques that I’m used to using. However, it was evident that there were challenges in this approach. Firstly, I prefer to shoot sport from as low position as possible. This means sitting on a stool or even the ground, for a better perspective on the action. However, an Ice Hockey rink is protected on all sides by a large wall with thick Perspex. There’s no chance of sitting and shooting here. In fact, the Redskin’s photographer stands on a stool, next to the team bench and shoots from above the glass. For safety reasons (and through experience), he wore a helmet to protect himself from stray pucks. He also advised to use a lens hood, not just to prevent flare, but as a form of protection from flying pucks. Sound advice!
Another challenge was white balance. Depending on the light and the brightness of the ice rink, you may want to test some different white balance settings before the game commences. You want the ice to be a crisp white… not orange… nor blue. It sounds obvious but whites should be white. Don’t be afraid to mess around with this in camera and don’t leave it down to post production.
Shooting such a fast sport (and it is quick) in sunlight would be fantastic… but unfortunately we’re indoors, under artificial lights. A fast lens (a lens with a wide aperture – f/2.8 or wider) is recommended. Keep the shutter speed as high as you can without pushing the ISO too high. You want that good mix of freezing the action (no pun intended) without noisy, grainy images. Again, when the players are warming up, test what works best for your environment and your equipment.
After a while, I wasn’t that satisfied with photographing from a high vantage point. At Streatham, you can walk around the whole circumference of the rink and their Perspex is clear and not tinted (some rinks annoyingly have tinted glass). Shooting through this was not impossible, though could be a little hit and miss. If you do shoot through the glass, find a spot without too many scuffs and scrapes (hockey is a brutal game and you’ll notice the damage caused by the puck and players). Clean that spot with a cloth and get your lens as close to the Perspex as possible. Again, you’ll probably want to experiment here.
Ice Hockey is a wonderful sport and with this match taking place on a Sunday evening, it was a far better way to end the weekend instead of vegging in front of the TV or computer. Don’t forget to take in the atmosphere too – both with the camera and your own senses. Take the time to grab a hot dog, a beer and enjoy the action. I know I will again… very soon!
Author – Stuart Tree