June 2018 | Issue no. 34 | by mark shaiken

There comes a time in any sports photography gig when something is in your way – oftentimes netting, a fence, glass in hockey or basketball, ropes in boxing, or people, perhaps lots of players in a huddle.  Like everything else photography, you can either complain about the obstruction or use it.  This issue, do :: or :: diso looks at how to work around the obstruction or incorporate it in your shot.

Make the Camera Ignore the Fence- Baseball.

Fences are a part of sports.  There are nets in the baseball camera wells; there are chain link fences behind home plate at many high school and college baseball fields.  Here is a shot through a chain link fence — magic – no fence.  If you look closely at the lower right side of the picture, you will see an out of focus light and in that light, you can see the fence I shot through.  That is really the only hint that there was a fence between the first baseman and me.

Here is another example.  Do you see the fence clue?

Your camera can ignore the fence if you tell it to.  Here is how:

  • Get close the fence– Ideally, your best bet is to try to make the fence so out of focus that it cannot be seen in your shot. To do this, one strategy is to get very close to the fence – so close that your camera and lens have no chance of focusing on it. It may not be possible to be right up against a fence but the closer the better.  Make sure you are using a camera hood to avoid accidentally scratching your glass.
  • Use a Large Aperture– Choose a large aperture (f / 2.8 if you can) to narrow the depth of field and help the camera ignore the fence or netting.
  • Wait Until your Subject is away from the fence– If your subject is moving around behind the fence or netting – wait until they are a little further back from the fence or netting to take the shot. The closer they are to the fence or netting the greater the chance the fence or netting will be in focus.
  • Position Your Lens to Shoot Through Larger Gaps– This one isn’t rocket science – but if the fence has largish openings you’ll do better to position these gaps in the middle of your frame.
  • Consider Manual Focusing– One challenge you may face shooting through any kind of fence is that your camera may not know what to focus on – the fence or the object behind it. Switch to manual focus mode and you’ll be in complete control of what is in and out of focus.  This option can be particular hard in sports photography because things and people are moving much too quickly for most humans to keep the action in manual focus.  But, if the action has slowed or stopped it can be helpful in assuring the subject, and not the fence, is in focus.

Glass – Hockey and Basketball

The hockey rink is surrounded by glass and you will shoot through that glass unless you are at an arena that has holes cut out for photographers.  The basketball background is made out of glass and if you have a camera rig mounted on the backboard, you will shoot through the glass backboard.  Here are some examples:

  • Avoid Reflections– Glass creates its own set of problems, largely reflections from the overhead arena lights.  Reflection is all about angles.  The solution to reflections is to move or change the angle of the lens in relation to the glass.  Trial and error for me.  Or, if the reflection is just going to be part of the picture, embrace it.

Incorporate the Fence / Netting / Glass / Ropes into your composition.

This is actually my favorite.  Don’t fight the obstruction – use it.  It gives a sense of what the spectator actually sees at a game or match – fences, backboards, glass boards, ropes, and nets.  In addition to the cover shot of Tim Howard, here are some examples:


Huddles and Narrow windows.

I like huddles and narrow windows into the subject of the image. The players gathered around are the obstruction; the athlete is obstructed by her sports object.  I actually like the narrow view shot.  Strangely, it draws the viewer’s eye to the image as it unfolds at the athletic venue.  So, I usually don’t try to find a way around the narrow view.

But, if it bothers you, or you want to try something different, go up high and shoot down into the huddle.

Give some thought to the obstruction and take your shots both ways – shooting through the obstruction if you can, and incorporating the obstruction into your shot.

Next issue: Expressions.




Mark Shaiken skylineDenver based, mark shaiken :: photography
contact me at: markshaiken@fastmail.com
or by calling 913.530.6539