Commack High School Varsity Cheerleaders - Competition at Smithtown West
Cheerleading competitions can be challenging to photograph. You have only 2 1/2 minutes so "spray and pray" won't cut it; you need a plan.
This competition was held at Smithtown West High School. They have a great gym with white walls, LED tubes in the ceiling and skylights, so the light is is a bit better than your average high school gym. White balancing is easy and about the only thing you have to contend with are the reflections from the blue mats turning all of the cheerleaders legs, well, blue.
Here are some tips for photographing a cheerleading competition. This assumes you're shooting the whole team. If you're just shooting your kid things become infinitely simpler - shoot from the stands with a 70-200mm equivalent lens.
- Get there early so you have time to come up with your plan. Take notice of how close the mats are to the judges' desk. If you have credentials you can check with the judges and see if you can sit in front of the desk. If you can't, getting up in the stands may be a better option than shooting from behind the desk because you'll almost certainly have the judges heads in your photos. The only problem with shooting from the stands is in many gyms, such as this one, the bleachers are split and there are none in the center so you'll be shooting from an angle. This problem goes away if you can shoot from the floor in front of the desk but you better have an ultra wide lens because you'll probably be very close to the cheerleaders.
Bring a wide variety of lenses of different focal lengths. You won't really know how close or far away from the cheerleaders you'll be until you get there.
If you have another camera body, bring it; you won't have time to switch lenses.
If your school doesn't go first watch some of the other school's routines. Most of the routines are fairly similar. This will give you a better idea of where to position yourself for the best shots. Once you pick a spot, stay there; you'll miss too much of the routine if you try to move around.
If there's no gap in the bleachers and you can get a spot in the center, go for it. Get up high enough where you won't get the judges desk in the way. You'll probably need a a 70-200mm equivalent for this. You can get away with being up slightly high since the cheerleaders will be facing up into the crowd. This will also help prevent the front line from blocking the others.
Try to get a shot of the parents cheering their team on and the coach's pep talk before the routine. If you have a really wide lens go for a shot of the whole venue when the cheerleaders assemble at the end of the session.
That's basically it. Have fun.