I’ve been covering hockey for over three seasons now and while I’m no Bruce Bennett, nor will I ever be, I have figured out some things myself while shooting. I also believe it’s my duty to share what I’ve learned photographing hockey to help others out. There may not be enough room along the glass for everyone to shoot, but that doesn’t mean what I share won’t be beneficial for those people wanting to or starting out photographing hockey. While I have learned a lot from watching others, like Bruce Bennett and others, I also had to humble myself and learn some things the hard way. There is nothing like photographing NHL hockey and I’ve photographed baseball, basketball, football, golf, soccer and more.
Warmups are not Just for Players
There is no better time to dial in your settings than during warmups. From white balance to shutter and aperture, get everything ready to go during warmups. Warmups is just that for you and the players, a time to warm up.
After I nail down my settings, I like to fool around a bit. Maybe I’ll drag the shutter as the players skates by me or sometimes I like to try multiple exposures during warmups. I’m not saying they always come out as I hope for, but there is no harm in trying new things. I say it’s better to try things during warmups than the actual game where it counts more.
Shoot Like How They Skate, Fast
What do hockey and Vin Diesel have in common? They’re both fast and furious.
When I first started photographing hockey, I was arrogant and cocky. Like I’ve shot for the NFL and MLB before, how hard could this be. Let me tell you how embarrassed I was with my first few games shooting hockey.
I remember it clearly. My first couple of games I photographed the Penguins, Avalanche and I think the Coyotes. When I say I was questioning myself, I was like what did I get myself into. Majority of my photos were blurry and I was shooting at 1/1000th of a second. Surely at that speed I could freeze the action. I couldn’t and don’t call me Surely.
I think 1/1600th of a second is the minimum you need to shoot hockey from. That also means you need to shoot wide open and bump up that ISO to get the 1/1600th shutter speed you need to freeze the action. And I won’t lie, there are times I think 1/1600th of a second might be a bit slow too. Take the time during warmups to get your shutter speed set and that it’s freezing the action.
Keep Your Head on a Swivel
They say life comes at your fast. A hockey puck comes at your faster. Lord does it come at you fast.
Hockey is a sport you need to be paying attention at all times. From players checking others into the boards in front of you to them slapping the puck around the glass you always have to keep an eye out. And also watch your lens as well.
There have been numerous time I think I’m watching the action and out of nowhere a player comes flying into the glass by me. And I’m always like where the hell did he come from? Here I am thinking I’m watching what’s going on and that I’m being cognizant of the action around me and these bodies start flying out on nowhere.
Another little tip, do not have your lens sticking out of the hole. Easiest and quickest way to get that kick in the stomach feeling when the puck shatters your glass. I’ve seen it happen a few times. One time a puck flew directly into the hole and hit the lens directly. The photographer did nothing wrong, it was one of those freak accidents. I still wanted to cry for him when he showed me the lens. It wasn’t pretty.
Hockey can be a brutal sport on the ice, but the feeling of watching your lens shatter can be just as equally brutal.
Don’t Just Shoot the Action
There are so many moments during the game that you can photograph that isn’t the action. I love photographing the moment before a face-off happens. Players are lining up and staring at the circle waiting for the puck to drop. I love capturing the intensity in their eyes.
And during breaks in the action when the ice crews comes out to clean up some of the excess ice, it’s a great time to grab some portraits of players. They’re just skating around killing time and that is a perfect chance to get some real intimate shots without other players blocking them.
And don’t forget the goalies. Goalies need love too. They’re always splashing water on their faces during breaks. And how can you forget photographing the goalie helmets with all their intricate designs and patterns.
Try Different Angles
And not just in the bedroom either. I kid, I kid.
For the most part if you get a photo hole during a game it’s yours for the whole game. Now if you’re not that lucky to get a photo hole there are tons of others places to shoot from.
There are other places along the glass that don’t have holes you can shoot from. The downside to this is that the glass might be dirty or scratched up from all the hits and checks into it. If you can walk around pregame and look at spots along the glass that are relatively clean and don’t block the view of fans you might be able to shoot from there.
Also, a very important tip. One I learned the hard way. Always get the permission from the team photographer first. They’re in charge of the photo holes and where people can shoot from. It’s not a great feeling getting chewed out. Trust me.
Don’t ignore shooting from the concourse either. A higher up vantage points gives you a lot more of the ice to work with than if you were on a side photo hole by the ice.
I like to shoot from the handicap sections around the concourse. I know it’s going to sound mean, but those in the handicap sections often can’t stand up so I don’t have to worry about them blocking my line of sight. It sound awful but it’s true.
Another option would be to shoot from behind the fans and when the teams scores you can have a great shot of the fans standing and cheering.
There are so many places you can potentially shoot from. It’s up to you to discover those places for yourself. Every arena is different, so familiarize yourself with yours!
I’m sure I have a lot more tips on photographing hockey stashed away in my brain somewhere, but for now, these are my top 5 tips to help you out.