Commack High School Boys Varsity Volleyball vs. Smithtown East
Volleyball is one of the more difficult sports to photograph, especially in high school gyms. Low light, fast, sporadic motion and limited access all make for a challenging evening. I covered the problems with light and color in the previous post on girls volleyball. Let's have a look at dealing with fast moving players and where to shoot from in this post.
As with all sports you should have your camera's drive on "continuous high" and and your focus on "continuous focus". Some cameras have autofocus settings that are customized for the type of motion you're shooting. If you have one for erratic subject movement you might give that one a try. Also, take some test shots during pre-game warmups and see whether your camera's single point autofocus or zone (sometimes called multipoint) autofocus gets the most keepers. With my camera, single point is almost always better for most situations. In volleyball, the players are just too close to each other for zone or multipoint autofocus to work predictably.
For your shutter speed setting, go as high as your ISO settings will allow. I shot this match at ISO 8000 with a shutter speed of 1/800 second and an aperture of f/2.8. Clearly, 1/800 is too slow for some of the photos. You can see some photos are soft due to a tiny bit of motion blur. If you can anticipate where your subject is going to be and focus on them before they hit the ball you can get away with 1/800. If you get surprised and have to pan towards your subject and shoot at the same time, you're not going to get a sharp photo at 1/800. Having said that, your maximum acceptable ISO setting will depend on your camera model. Some do high ISO much better than others. The higher the ISO setting the faster the shutter speed you can use, but ... the more noise you get in the photo. You just need to test your camera and find the sweet spot.
As I mentioned, anticipating where your subject will be before you shoot is crucial to getting a sharp photo. Volleyball is a fast game. The ball travels quickly over a very short distance so you can't just follow it like you can in field sports; you have to anticipate where it's going before it gets there. Knowledge of the game helps. Knowledge of how the team sets up their plays helps even more.
Finally, where's the best place to position yourself. Actually, the bleachers is not a bad choice if you can get a seat close to the net. Except for digs, the players will generally be looking up as they hit the ball so being up a little higher is not a problem. In fact, it may cut down on other players blocking your subject. I'm usually shooting from two places. The first is behind the scoring table which straddles the net. This lets me shoot back into the faces of the players and also get the occasional photo of the front row players blocking a shot, assuming the ref doesn't get in the way. The second place is at the rear corner of the court, obviously well out of bounds. Here I'm sitting on the the floor shooting under the net towards the team on the opposite side of the net. Since the net is blocking the players you have to focus on the players legs. This is a bit more difficult, especially since most of the time the players on your side of the net will block the players you're trying to photograph on the other side of the net. You'll get fewer keepers in this position but the ones you get can be dramatic shots.
Bonus tip - shoot with both eyes open; it's easier to follow the play and anticipate which player will hit the ball.