View Full Version : Getting ready for fall volleyball shooting - Tips

08-25-2006, 11:23 AM
I did a post yesterday for soccer shooting and thought I'd follow it up with a post on volleyball today. Volleyball is tough. It is probably the toughest sport I've ever attempted to shoot. The action is very random, and unlike most other team sports... the players never actually have the ball with them. In fact, if they do hold the ball then that is a penalty. In most other team sports the players have the ball with them at some point... holding, dribbling, carrying, etc. In addition to the ball problem, volleyball is mostly played in poorly lit gyms. If that wasn't enough to contend with, the only place you can really stand and see the players coming at you, is on the far end of the court where there is a huge net in your way... making focussing a nightmare. Finally, the movement of the ball is almost impossible to predict unless you are well versed in the sport.

Given that setting, how do you go about shooting volleyball? First off... like other indoor sports you will need fast lenses and fast bodies. If you are fortunate enough to be shooting in college venues, you may be able to get by with f/2.8 and they 70-200 f/2.8 lens works well. It covers the whole range you'd need for the sport. If you are not able to get by with f/2.8 (which is my case), then you will be using primes. Shooting with a 1.3 crop body, I mostly use an 85mm f/1.8, 135mm f/2, and 200mm f/1.8. With a 1.6 crop body, you can add the 50mm f/1.4, but I think its a little wide for 1.3 crop bodies unless you are standing right on courtside, and its hard to get good shots there.

There are several good places to shoot from with volleyball. Probably my favorite place is up in the stands, almost directly aligned with the net, but on the opposite side from the team I'm shooting. I try to get up high enough that I'm a little over the net, but not up in nose bleed territory. This gives me a good angle down on the spikes coming over the net, both service areas, and I can get a good line on the players returning volleys when they are digging. The action in volleyball occurs when the serve (not that exciting, but lets you get action of every player easily), at the net (this is the best action, but hard to get good focus on), and in mid-court when the players dive into the floor to "dig" the ball. I will generally shoot from this position in the stands most of the game and use the appopriate length lens to cover the ground I need.

Another good spot so shoot from, but much more limiting, is from behind the far end of the court. From this position, you can shoot head on shots of players coming up and spiking or blocking the ball. That is about all you can shoot from here though. All the opposing players (nearest to you) have their backs to you, and all the players on the other team are behind a net. So unless they are up in the air, no shots.

Focussing on net action is the hardest of all. You don't really know where they are going exactly, and you generally can't focus lock and track them since the net is going to be in the way as they are going up for the kill. What you end up doing is turning focus on and off as they go up to avoid hunting. It is much easier to do this if you move focus from "half push" of the shutter release, to a button on the back of the camera (the * on Canon). I shoot this way all the time, but for volleyball it is almost required. Shooting this way, I often prefocus oon the net, where I think the player will pop up at. Then I stay there until their head pops over the net. Once that happens, I hit the focus button and wait a split second before firing. This usually lets you get peak action as they whack or block the ball. But, you could be wrong in where you aim... other players could get in the way, etc.

For midcourt, you need to just try and predict which player will be digging or setting, and then just prefocus and track them. Its a roll of the dice whether you get them or not. As the game progresses, you'll start to notice patterns that help you make better predictions.

If you want to stop action, you need shutter speeds in the 1/1000 sec territory... which is nearly impossible in a poorly lit gym, even with ISO1600 and f/2. Forget anything slower than 1/250. If you are forced down in shutter speeds, then concentrate on the peaks where action momentarily stops. On a serve, this happens when the ball is tossed, just before it is hit (the top of the toss). On the net, it happens as the player reaches their peak just before they hit the ball. Look for points where the motion slows a bit. When volleyball players actually hit the ball, their arm and the ball are moving very fast and its very tough to stop that action.

If you have any volleyball tips, please post them.