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Help an amature with hockey photo settings


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hockeymomphoto Registered since 23rd Dec 2012
Sun 23-Dec-12 02:47 PM

I'm an amature with expensive taste. I have a D800 with a 70-200 F2.8 lens. I have been shooting my son's hockey team and on average can get 5 pictures out of 150 that I like. Need advice on which autofocus setting to use. Currently am using AF-C & have tried AF-S with no better results. Have uploaded a few pics that I consider to be OK.


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#1. "RE: Help an amature with hockey photo settings" | In response to Reply # 0

Gray_star Registered since 17th Dec 2012
Sun 23-Dec-12 02:58 PM

You need to tell us what it is about your images that you don't like. Is there unacceptable blur (focus or motion?) or is it composition? Exposure? White balance?

I have a D90 but from discussions with other, the D800 exposure is the same.

For white balance, you can use the ice. Just initiate the custom white balance process and frame the ice. That will give you correct color. The ice also makes it very easy to correct WB in post processing, but when reviewing your images it's nice to have correct color, and Nikon's custom WB process is soooo easy that...why not?

For exposure, you can use the ice as well, spot meter the ice and set exposure to +2. If you're really in tune with your exposure, you can set it +2.3 (You should actually be able to go to +2.7 without clipping highlights.) The method of locking in this exposure is another matter. Many will say to use manual mode and set your aperture, shutter, and ISO. I personally prefer auto modes and AE Lock. Just depends on how you like to control your camera.

With sports shooting, there are a lot of opinions out there on what works...and for good reason. The best settings depend on the sport and on what the photographer is trying to accomplish, as well as the photographer's style and equipment. You'll get a lot of opinions, sometimes contradictory. Try them all. The recommendations worked for someone...it might work for you too. Here are mine.

Set shutter to 1/500s to start. If you're shooting in manual then set widest aperture and ISO for proper exposure based on the above. As I said, I like AE Lock, as that allows me to change aperture without changing exposure. Either way...

If you tend to focus and track a subject, then set your Area AF to Dynamic and AF mode to AF-C. The Dynamic area AF will use the selected focus point for focus...but once focus is established, the focus points around the selected point will assist in maintaining focus, should your subject move away from the selected focus point. AF-C will continually update the focus position of the lens, keeping the subject sharp as the distance between you and subject changes.

If you're framing an area and just capturing the action in it (such as the goal,) then Dynamic isn't much help...but it doesn't hinder either. When capturing a scene, I actually like Auto area AF. But it only works well when the subjects are the areas of greatest contrast in the scene. For example, white uniforms against white ice...maybe not. But red/blue/black uniforms...that would work great.

For me, I find that the trick to getting sharp shots is to fire the shutter right after focusing. I keep focus on the shutter, and I'll "drum" the shutter to pre-focus, and then for the shot I give a full press...no stopping at the half-press. The camera will try to focus, and continue to do so until it gets a focus lock. The shutter will immediately fire, given me the shortest time between focus lock and shutter.

On my camera AF-S is Focus Priority only, which I prefer over the Release Priority of AF-C. The D800 can go either way via custom settings. Basically, if the subjects of the image have focus blur, then I don't want the image. Some may counter, saying that if you don't use AF-C with continuous drive that you may miss the critical moment. I say that if it's blurred...I DID miss the moment! The only comments you get from blurred shots is "awww that would have been a great shot!" So I use AF-S, Single Frame, focus on shutter, "drum" the shutter while tracking, then full press. That works for me...may or may not work for you.

How you hold the camera is important as well. I use my right eye to look through the viewfinder. I used to use my left eye, but forced myself to use the right and it's made a big difference in camera stability. When viewing, I'll turn my head slightly to the left and press the camera into my cheek. That adds a lot of stability. Press the shutter smoothly...don't hammer it down while trying to catch the exact moment. Press your elbows into your body, and you should never have any camera motion blur.


Seattle, WA, US
7108 posts

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#2. "RE: Help an amature with hockey photo settings" | In response to Reply # 0

JosephK Silver Member Fellow Ribbon awarded for his excellent and frequent contributions and sharing his in-depth knowledge and experience with the community in the Nikonians spirit. Nikonian since 17th Apr 2006
Sun 23-Dec-12 05:36 PM

The sports forum will have lots of good advice and examples.

On the 70-200mm, turn off the VR. The shutter speeds you need don't need VR, and VR introduces a lag in the system since you need to wait for it to settle before releasing the shutter.

AF-C since your subjects are moving.
9-points would be my first choice, then 21 if you need it.
Try setting the focus tracking (a3) to short or off if much of your shots have the players moving toward you.

Remember that continuous focus works in two phases: lock-on and tracking. First you need to give the camera time to get the lock-on so the camera and you agree on the subject. Once the lock-on is established, the tracking will do its job while you keep the button pressed as long as you do your job of keeping the focus point on the subject. Lots of folks prefer the af-on button (a4) for this purpose.

Joseph K
Seattle, WA, USA

D700, D200, D70S, 24-70mm f/2.8, VR 70-200mm f/2.8 II,
50mm f/1.4 D, 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR, 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5 DX


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#3. "RE: Help an amature with hockey photo settings" | In response to Reply # 2

hockeymomphoto Registered since 23rd Dec 2012
Sun 23-Dec-12 05:58 PM

Thanks for the replies Gray Star & Joseph K

Here's a link of the pictures I took on Friday. I will have to bring my camera at the next practice & test the new settings suggested.



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#4. "RE: Help an amature with hockey photo settings" | In response to Reply # 3

Gray_star Registered since 17th Dec 2012
Sun 23-Dec-12 07:16 PM

Well, all that white is definitely causing some underexposure. If you were in M mode and using Matrix Metering, then set your meter to +1. If you were using auto modes then press the EC button (+/- button) and apply +1 of EC. In constant-light conditions it's better to set exposure once and forget it. That's why I recommended spot metering and +2 on the meter (or +2 EC, if using auto modes and AE Lock.)

The focus is hard to evaluate, as there's usually something in sharp focus in the image. When there's nothing in the center of the image, it seems to have been focusing on the back walls. Otherwise, there's usually some kid who's sharp...whether that's the one you wanted to be sharp...I don't know.

Like I said, you'll get many opinions and some will be contradictory. And here's the first bit of it. I don't agree with Joseph K on the VR. I recommend leaving the VR on. Again, different equipment may give different experiences. I don't have the 70-200. I have a D90 with the 70-300G VR. The VR is VRII.

I have tried to experience lag due to the VR, and I could not produce it. Both in a controlled experiment and just out shooting around, when I pressed the shutter the camera always fired instantly and I've been able to catch the target moment. This makes sense to me, as Nikon's VR does not have any sort of "settling" period like other brands. This is because the moment you press the shutter, the VR system resets itself and positions the VR element in the lens to the center position. This is accomplished during the time that the mirror is flipping up. So by the time the shutter starts opening, the VR system is operating.

VR is helpful for stabilizing your view as you frame, which also help the AF system acquire and track more effectively. Try it both ways and see if you feel like your timing is being affected by the VR.


Cape Coral, US
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#5. "RE: Help an amature with hockey photo settings" | In response to Reply # 0

Ferguson Silver Member Fellow Ribbon awarded for the generous sharing of his high level expertise in the spirit of Nikonians Nikonian since 19th Aug 2004
Sun 23-Dec-12 08:20 PM | edited Sun 23-Dec-12 08:25 PM by Ferguson

I'll go contrary to some of this, I suggest if the arena is reasonably evenly lit, that you opt for completely manual. Shooting raw of course, you have +/- a stop or so you can get in post with no downside. In a lot of arenas backlights, ice, glare, lighted signs, etc. can wildly vary how your camera will meter. What you want -- really ALL you want -- is good exposure on the faces. If there's white glare behind, it still looks good. If the white is nicely muted and the face is a blank shadow it looks awful, and the meter will do that a lot as you pan and have different backgrounds some up.

Get there a bit early, and shoot several shots with each lens, different distances, of people out on the ice. Adjust until you see good detail in their faces, balancing a bit between when they are in shadow and in brighter light.

Now just shoot like that. If you decide on crowd shots or similar, shift to "A" (or your favorite mode) and then shift back, but if you stick to that for the action shots, I think you will find more consistency than if you let the meter do its thing.

Obviously this varies a lot by venue -- if you have areas very unevenly lit you may need to change, but I've had far too many shots ruined by having some bright light or reflection behind the action and having the meter average it in.

Here's an example from last night. Notice the desks in the background, the sign in the front is brightly lit. In CW and certainly matrix, the players face would have been in deep shadow due to that, and in spot just depends on precisely where the focus point hit. And if you notice there's glare on the floor, and another lighted sign on the top right. Almost like shooting into a sunset. Absent a fill flash, it's much easier to just lock this in and keep shooting. You'll be off a bit as angles changed, but post processing is great for that.


Comments welcomed on pictures: Http://captivephotons.com


New York, US
6408 posts

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#6. "RE: Help an amature with hockey photo settings" | In response to Reply # 0

JonK Moderator Awarded for his high level skills and in-depth knowledge in various areas, such as Wildlife, Landscape and Stage Photography Donor Ribbon awarded for his very generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Nikonian since 03rd Jul 2004
Sun 23-Dec-12 09:40 PM

Following up on Linwood's post, here is one of your images tweaked a bit. I bumped up the exposure about a stop. The lightened image looks cleaner, has more contrast, and looks sharper. Perhaps this is all you need to do. That said…

I cannot judge focus, the posted images are too low res. Bur for starters, I'd keep it simple: single, center point AF-C. Once you get results with which you are happy, you can switch to more complex settings such as nine-point.

Overall, it seems that the arena light is your biggest problem — it's not very bright. You are already at ISO 6400 with a wide open aperture, so there's not much more you can do. If, as you view the high res files, the images seem blurred, then you need a faster shutter speed. So put the ISO at 12800 for a few shots and see if that helps.

Given that ISO and aperture are pretty well maxed out and your shutter speed may already be borderline low, I recommend not adding +EV. That will lower your shutter speed and risk blur. Instead, “steal” the extra stop in post processing, as I did on this image:

Click on image to view larger version

Jon Kandel
A New York City Nikonian and Team Member
Please visit my website and critique the images!

Attachment#1 (jpg file)


St Petersburg, RU
3571 posts

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#7. "RE: Help an amature with hockey photo settings" | In response to Reply # 3

km6xz Moderator Awarded for his in-depth knowledge in various areas, including Portraits and Urban Photography Nikonian since 22nd Jan 2009
Wed 26-Dec-12 01:33 AM

These images are fine, just underexposed because the metering tried to set the bright white ice to the 18% mid point between full black and full white. Just add a couple ev of exposure compensation on the camera or in post. Here is one with a bit over 1 ev boosted and a bit of .5 pixel radius sharpening. A large full size file would have revealed a lot more detail that the sharpening brought out.
St Petersburg Russia

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Attachment#1 (jpg file)