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He shoots, he scores! Tips for capturing the breakneck speed of hockey

Hockey players might not be as speedy as NASCAR, but it is one of the fastest sports in the world. The players whip around the ice on razor-sharp skate blades in a game that can change in a matter of seconds – making it a difficult event to photograph. Even for fans that have been going to games since they were youngsters, they may not feel compelled to bring along the DSLR because they didn’t think they could get great shots. True, shooting a hockey game is difficult for a number of reasons, but not impossible. It requires some knowledge of the game, the right equipment, and a fair amount of patience.

But whether it’s your kid’s amateur hockey league or two top-notch seats you scored at the NHL level from your boss, hockey can be an exciting game to photograph – it’s the kind of activity that’s designed to be captured with that DSLR you got, and will serve as great practice if you’re learning the ins and outs of using one. To help you gain some confidence in shooting the sport we spoke with freelance professional photographer Joseph Nuzzo, who shares with us some tips and his work as a hockey photographer. Not only is Nuzzo an experienced sports photog, he also plays the sport in his spare time, so he comes to the game not just as a pro photographer, but also as a fan – like you.

The action in hockey moves so quickly you need to be proactive.

“Hockey is one of the most difficult sports to shoot because the action on the ice is moving so quickly. Unlike other sports, photographers cannot move with the play,” Nuzzo says. “Pro photographers are required to shoot from a small hole cut out of the arena glass at each goal line or from the second level. These holes are placed there by the NHL specifically for media photographers. When shooting ice level this means your best opportunity is when the play is in your end of the ice. This, of course, cuts down your best shooting opportunities to about half,” he adds.

Avoiding getting hit

Nuzzo says the biggest obstacle for media photographers is not getting hurt or breaking expensive gear. “Placing a camera lens through the opening in the glass, out into the playing area exposes the lens and shooter to great risk. A common play in hockey is the “dump and chase.” This is when a team shoots the puck into the offensive zone at high speeds along the boards and then chases it down. Often the puck is whipping around the boards at about the same height as the openings in the glass for camera lenses.”

Joseph Nuzzo Avoiding getting hit

He says that if a puck hits the camera lens it will almost certainly break the lens. “I saw it happen twice to the same photographer in one game! I never saw that photographer again. Having broken probably $6,000 in lenses in one game would be too much for almost anyone. Also the boards and protective glass are designed to flex. This helps protect the players from injuries when they are hit along the boards. If you are shooting in the same corner and the glass flexes you need to make sure you are clear of the camera opening. If not, when the glass flexes it could hit your camera leaving you with a pretty bad black eye, a broken camera, and a bruised ego.”

He adds that lighting in NHL arenas is constant and bright but shooting on an amateur level will certainly be tougher as arenas tend to shut off lights to save money.

Know the game

Having played hockey his whole life, Nuzzo points out that it has defiantly influenced his shooting style. “I have and still do play goal and I am always looking for great shots of the goalie making saves. It is my favorite part of the game as well as my favorite type of photo. Having played for so long also helps me predict where I should be pointing my camera ahead of time. While you certainly don’t have to play hockey to shoot great photos you should have a good understanding of the game. If you don’t know a lot about the game, just tune in the TV and watch a few games to get a feel for the game. The action in hockey moves so quickly you need to be proactive. If you are reactive it is usually too late and you missed the shot,” he explains.

It is essential to have a camera that can fire-off multiple shots.

Nuzzo primarily shoots with a Nikon D3S camera and a f/2.8 70-200mm lens. He says having a fast camera is essential for almost any type of sports photography. “It is essential to have a camera that can fire-off multiple shots in rapid succession without slowing down or lag. A shot at goal in the NHL can top over 100 miles per hour. To catch a goalie making a save or a puck entering the net, your camera has to be able to shoot fast. I typically will shoot in manual mode at ISO 2,000 with a shutter speed of 1/1,000 of a second at f/4. I set my white balance manually as well. Since I usually shoot in the same arena I know the correct white balance from experience. I don’t like to shoot below f/4 because I want as much of my photo in focus as possible. Shooting at f/2.8 can lead to players being out of focus because the camera focused on a stick or a ref in the background.”

Know the players

Nuzzo says that most teams have a game day email listing all the key stats for that night’s game. Make sure you sign up for it. It will let you know if a player is about to hit a milestone. That way you can be ready for it. It will also let you know what players on each team are on a hot streak. These are the guys you want to key in on.

Joseph Nuzzo Know the players

Remember to set your white balance

As Nuzzo already mentioned, it’s important to get the white balance right, but after a few times shooting in the same arena you’ll have it down pat. “White is a popular color in hockey. The boards, visiting jerseys, and the ice are all various shades of white. This will confuse your camera’s auto setting. Manually set your white balance off the ice once all the lights in the arena are turned on. This is usually when the players take the ice just before the game begins. Getting the right white balance will help prevent the ice from looking dirty or gray.”

Joseph Nuzzo Remember to set your white balance

Making the save

Nuzzo says that in order to stop a shot that can reach speeds of over 100 mph, a goalie has to react before the shot is taken. “Knowing this little secret will help you get great goalie shots consistently. In order for you to get a shot of a goalie making a save, watch the goalie’s knees. Once his knees start to bend, start shooting and don’t stop. This means the goaltender is anticipating a shot. The goaltender will go down in a butterfly position to cover the low ice for most shots. If the puck reaches him, you most likely got the shot.” Using your camera’s burst mode can also help.

Joseph Nuzzo Making the save

Changing shooting locations

Most arenas have an area for the media that’s suitable for shooting from a designated spot on the upper level, but not everybody has access to it. But that doesn’t mean you can’t good shots from different angles. “Sometimes I will shoot the first and third period from ice level and shoot the second period from the upper level. This gives me a different perspective. Shooting from the upper level gives you the advantage of getting a decent view of both nets but at a cost. You will need a 400mm lens and you may have the glass in your shot on the side of the arena closest to you.”

Joseph Nuzzo Changing shooting locations

Look for emotion

“Up to now we have spoken a lot about getting shots of the action but emotion is a major part of the game too. Some of your best shots are going to be the players’ faces.” Nuzzo adds that the look on a player’s face, whether it be elation or despair can be some of the most compelling shots you will take of the game.

Joseph Nuzzo Look for emotion

Celebrate in your head

“Seconds after the home team scores a goal is an exciting time in a hockey arena, especially if you’re a big fan of that home team. A siren sounds, lights go off, the crowd jumps to their feet. Time to celebrate…but not for you. Don’t get caught up in the celebration and more importantly, don’t stop shooting. Now is when you will get some of your best shots of the emotion on the player’s faces,” he concludes.

Joseph Nuzzo Celebrate in your head

(Copyright images via 2013 Shutter Speak Photography)

Joseph NuzzoJoseph Nuzzo is a freelance professional photographer specializing in NHL, event, concert and entertainment photography. Nuzzo’s work has appeared in newspapers, magazines, websites, and once even on a map. Learn more about Nuzzo or contact him via his website at www.ShutterSpeak.net

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