Take a sneak peak into my “usual work”. Photo-shoots with friends are fun, but can’t do those all day – gotta sustain my equipment somehow. I’m a full-time student, but I also make money through sports and event photography on the side.
I got a job in Japan during winter break through a photog-friend of mine. He normally shoots photos for a international school in Tokyo, but he was out of the country when this basketball tournament was going to happen, so he assigned the job to me.
High school basketball – been there, done that, like a gazillion times. I’ve shot countless basketball games for The Phillipian, so I felt more than prepared for this job.
Bringing my big lighting case from the U.S. to Japan on the airplane without anyone helping me was a pain in the butt, but I managed. Lights in high school gyms are never good, so I knew I wasn’t going to be shooting without my lights, no matter what. I also had to drag it with me for an hour on the train.
The first thing I always do when I get to any location: take my camera out, set the WB to daylight, and take a test shot. This is the kinda lighting we’re talking about in the gym I was going to shoot:
Sucks. Terrible. Disgusting. No wonder photographers call high school gyms “dungeons.”
The reason why I set my WB to daylight for the test shot is because the color temperature of all of my lights are balanced to match the color balance of daylight, and it makes it easier to figure out what gel I need to use for color correction. It’s very hard to tell with the naked eye, since human eyes automatically adapt to the color temperature of the lights. Since the test shot above has an orange tint, I put a full CTO gel on my lights and set the WB on my camera to the tungsten preset. Color correction – done.
This setup shot was taken from the other end of the court from where I was shooting. I was shooting players under the basket from the left corner in the photo so that the stands are in the background, instead of the tan-ish boring wall.
As usual with basketball, I used a three-light setup. This setup can only cover half the gym, but that’s normally enough for me. I used an AlienBee AB800, Canon 580EXII, and Canon 430EXII, all triggered via Cybersyncs.
By nature, sodium-vapor lights used in most gyms only produce certain colors in the color spectrum (think rainbows), so colors look washed out, even when using the correct WB. Therefore, I decided to kill the ambient light as much as I could by using a fast shutter-speed and low ISO, and replaced it with good quality light from my AlienBee AB800 light. I set it to 1/2 power to get a good balance of power and recycling speed and aimed it at the grey ceiling so that the light would bounce off and recreate a soft, ambient light. This light ensures that the shadows and the background do not show up as completely black.
I also taped a Honl Snoot onto the reflector to act as a gobo to prevent the strong lightfrom the AlienBee to spill directly onto the players on the court. You could use anything opaque, like a black piece of paper, but the snoot happened to be what I had in handy.
The AB alone would’ve brought back the rich colors from the dead, but I set up an additional two hard lights for visual effects. The bounce flash scatters soft light everywhere, creating a flat light that makes photos look dull. On the other hand, hard light creates shadows and highlights that makes photos look more three-dimensional and epic.
Since the hard lights hit the subject directly and don’t go through diffusion material, I was able to use low-power lights compared to my AlienBee. Using a Superclamp, I mounted a battery powered speedlight to backboards at each corner of the gym so that the player on the court is essentially being cross-lighted; at any angle, one light acts as the key light, and the other acts as a hair light. Those Superclamps are very handy – I could mount something to virtually anything that has an edge, or shaped like a tube or bar.
I normally aim the speedlights to a space located around 10 ft high between the center circle and the top of the key. They were both set to something around 1/8 to 1/4 power. The highlights and shadows created on the players’ sweaty skin raises the whole photo to another level of epic-ness.
I probably should’ve used a safety cable just in case the clamp comes loose or an earthquake happens (yes, I’m in Japan), but I didn’t have any. Superclamps have a very solid build and I trust them, but you never know; liabilities issues could get messy and it’s probably not worth taking the risk. I will add that to my shopping cart next time.