Photographing Water Polo
Hello and welcome back. Today we are going to talk about photographing another water sport. Earlier I discussed the ins and outs of photographing swimming and diving but today I want to take another step in that direction and talk about the art of photographing water polo. As the team photographer at UCLA I have been blessed with photographing a top notch collegiate program with a rich winning history. I spent many, many days on the pool deck photographing water polo and I am here to tell you that this sport which at first may seem easy to photograph has challenges that are unique. Let’s wade right in.
The first thing you are looking for when approaching the pool is what angle to shoot from and there are two factors which will help you make that decision: sun and background. Let’s talk about the light angle first. In many cases, you are looking for low angle front lighting situations however backlighting in many cases can be a legitimate preferred choice. Check out my article on backlighting here. With water sports on the other hand, backlighting becomes very problematic because when the sun hits the surface of the water it magnifies and becomes very intense. While you can still compensate to open up the shadows, the backlight becomes so hot it serves as a distraction and you lose detail. In my experience, I prefer to stay on the front lit side when photographing water polo. If you are lucky enough to photograph a game that starts early in the morning or late in the afternoon, the warm low sun can provide you with beautiful action photos. Knowing that you need to put your back to the sun will force you to shoot from one end of the pool but it also forces you to cover both offensive and defensive positions. It can be a common mistake to always shoot them coming straight at you. Keep in mind that should you shoot on a day when there is overcast, you can roam at will. Just keep in mind that even though it may be overcast, you may still have one side that is still brighter than the other.
The second decision you need to make is how you place yourself on the pool deck. Do you get down low and attempt to shoot from the water level or do you find a higher angle? I am going to tell you my preference and that is to find an elevated vantage point and here is why. Water droplets and clean backgrounds. I mentioned earlier that water polo offered unique challenges and here is one of them. When players are thrashing about in the water (and there is a lot of thrashing) water droplets are showering all around and if you are at a low angle you are forced to find a clean shot through all that debris. Waving arms and splashing water makes it hard to capture action that may not be happening directly in front of you. On the other hand, if you were to find an elevated vantage point you are able to minimize those distractions plus you get the added bonus of cleaning up your background. Instead of capturing the other side of the pool in the back of all your shots, you get clean blue water. Isolation is a key element of any great sports photo. Of course you don’t always have the luxury of an elevated angle so if you are in the pool deck, you may just need to edit more as you will have to eliminate more photos.
Let’s talk about a few other things to remember when photographing water polo. A very fast shutter speed is an important element. I like to crank up my shutter speed so that I can completely freeze those water droplets. A player who scoops up a ball and cocks back before firing on goal will create a fantastic rooster tail of water droplets. This is very dramatic and it will add great detail to your photo. I also like to open up my aperture to f2.8 – 4.0. This will give you a short depth of field that will also help isolate your subject.
If you are lucky enough to have the sun angle coming from the end of the pool you will have the opportunity for two cool shots. If the play is heading in your direction, you can position yourself in the corner and capture the shots on goal. WARNING…Be heads up from this position as it is easy to be in the line of fire. You have been warned! You might want to confirm with the officials that you can stand there. The other cool shot is focusing on the goalie at the far end of the pool and wait for them to rise out of the water to block a shot. If you are lucky, you get the back of the player taking the shot in the foreground.
Have enough to get started? You will be great. Get out there and have a blast!