March 2015 | Issue no.12 | by mark shaiken

This month, do :: or :: diso looks at shooting from above the action . . . sometimes from high above.

KSU UT D700 10612-282-2-2

Nikon D700 | ISO 4000 | 500mm lens | f / 4.0 | 1/400 second, from an old press or video box at the top of the Ahearn Fieldhouse at Kansas State University

If you search on flickr, you will find groups dedicated to shots of Mother Earth and cities taken from a window seat in an airplane high above. The high-above shots are intriguing, compelling, and sometimes envelope-pushing as they present an alternative perspective of subjects as common as farms, coastlines, mountains, streets, byways, and skylines. From above, things look different. Sports images shot from above are also compelling and present the action from an unusual perspective.

Just moving a little above the subject can change the perspective and give a better sense of what lies below, here maybe a greater feeling of hanging on.


Nikon D800 | ISO 100 | 24-70mm lens at 62mm | f / 11 | 1/250 second.

When you are indoors, there is some legwork and planning to take shots from above.  First and foremost, assess how to get above the action. This will take advance work, permission, and a plan so that you, your equipment, and others around, are all 100% safe.  Anything less than 100% is completely unacceptable. With that, here are some bullet points to consider.

  • Wherever you want to position yourself and your camera, make sure that someone in charge of the arena and the teams understands exactly what you want to do and gives you express and informed permission.
  • Decide if you and your camera can be directly above the action, or if you will be elevated, but off to the side.
  • Is there a catwalk — a safe catwalk — above the court to which you can have access?
  • Is there a running track above the court from which you can lean over and shoot?
  • Is there a second level of seats where few fans sit and where you can take up a position and shoot?
  • Are you willing to station yourself above the action for a period of time and in doing so, give up a traditional shot at courtside?
  • If not, can you set your camera up from the higher vantage point and remotely trigger it from your courtside position?
  • If you are remotely triggering, is the camera on a tripod or bracketed securely and safely to something?
  • Last, how high up can you get and just how high up do you want to get?

Permission is very important.  For permission, at the college level, it will be the sports information director, who, depending on what you have in mind, may need coach, referee, and league buy-in. At the high school level, it will depend on the school and the league, but count on the athletic director as your point of contact. In each instance, if you intend to wander from a traditional perch, count on also coordinating with an arena manager or director.  These are all very, very busy folks.  If they say yes, they are doing you a favor and be appreciative.  If they say no, then it is no and be gracious.


Up in the stands. I typically use a 300mm lens to fill the frame and bridge the distance:


Nikon D4 | ISO 5000 | 300mm lens | f / 6.3 | 1/400 second from the landing above the stands at Rockhurst University.

rockhurst tour9614D4 300-454

Nikon D4 | ISO 3200 | 300mm lens | f / 2.8 | 1/800 second (same perch).

On a running track above the action. If the track is near the hoop, I can get away with a 24-70mm (or 70-200mm) lens, or if I am further away, a 300mm lens.

UMKC v IUPUI 112912 D4-368-2

Nikon D4 | ISO 3200 | 24-70mm lens at 70mm | f / 8 | 1/640 second, from the UMKC running track above the basketball court.


Nikon D4 | ISO 4000 | 300mm lens | f / 2.8 | 1/3200 second (same perch).


High Atop, directly over the rim.   In some arenas, like Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, there is access to an area above the ceiling where there are holes that appear to be the remnants of a bygone era of canned lights. In Municipal, the access is 7 stories above the basketball court – and the journey includes a 6 floor elevator to the roof, a walk along the flat roof to a nondescript door that leads to a staircase up another flight to floor 7, to a catwalk and then wooden planks to the coveted hole in the ceiling. Now you can see why I stress “safely” when I pose the question can you get to the position safely and with permission.  The cover shot and this shot are examples.

umkc 122014D4rafters-580

Nikon D4 | ISO 4000 | 300mm lens | f / 6.3 | 1/640 second, from a hole in the ceiling/roof at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, 7 stories above the rim, triggered remotely with Pocket Wizard Plus IIIs.

At the hole, the camera is attached to a sturdy tripod and the 300mm lens is pointed straight down to the rim. To create depth of field, the aperture is somewhere between f / 5.6 and f / 8, the camera is pre-focused in manual mode on a point around the 8 foot high mark and a foot or two in front of the rim. I use the net to focus and then make sure I am switched to manual mode. ISO is dependent on the arena lighting – for Municipal it would be ISO 4000-5000. Shutter speed is no less than 1/800 second.   The camera and lens should be secured with safety cables to something up there, and a Pocket Wizard Plus III attached to the camera port to trigger the camera remotely. It is important to frame the camera so that the image is straight, although it is more than a bit dizzying to adjust the camera from 7 stories up.

The images from directly above will show determination and grit on the part of the ball players as they sky for a rebound, box out, and shoot. Municipal has a blue foul lane so the backdrop there is pure blue that adds to the unusualness of the shot.

Then down to courtside with the other Plus III to trigger whenever the action is around the hoop.

Attached to the Back of the Backboard.   Permission, permission, permission!!  Safety, safety, safety.

You will need (follow the links to see the equipment described):


Each backboard is different but here is a shot of the setup from below:


The lens should be something wide – some use a fisheye, and I have used the 16-35mm f / 4 lens, set at somewhere between 20-28mm. Prefocus at a spot about 8 feet above the court and a couple of feet in front of the rim; ISO 5000-6400; f / 8 if you can make that work for greater depth of field; and shutter speed of no less than 1/800 second. One issue in shooting through the backboard is glass glare from the scoreboard or advertisements positioned throughout the arena. There are three approaches:

  • try to control the glare with black cinefoil gaffer taped to the backboard strategically. The NCAA may not permit this in some venues and sometimes coaches have expressed concern that it might distract a shooter; or
  • use a polarizing filter, although that will knock out some light and could create havoc with your mix of f stop, ISO, and shutter speed; or
  • grin and bear it and hope the glare is manageable.

The first friction arm is attached to the camera (the 244 with the camera bracket), and then with the super clamp at the other end to a backboard support. The second friction arm (the 244N with two super clamps, one at each end) is for redundancy and to assure stability – remember there are big guys that will dunk and really rock the backboard, and your attached camera as well. The redundant arm has one of the super clamps attached to the first friction arm, and the second to another support on the backboard. All the clamps are tightened just as far as they will go. If you are not grunting as you twist them, they are not tight enough. Safety cables are used to assure that, heaven forbid, if anything comes loose, the rig will not fall. Gaffer tape is used to tape everything down so the cables are not swaying and the barrel of the camera is not able to move and change either the focus point or the zoom length you choose.

And here is an example of an image, a grin and bear it image complete with some glare:


Nikon D4 | ISO 6400 | 16-35mm lens at 27mm | f / 7.1 | 1/800 second, from behind the backboard through the glass, triggered remotely with Pocket Wizard Plus IIIs.

No chimping:

In any remote shoot, you will sacrifice instant gratification. No chimping when you are remote. The entire game will go by and you will not know what kinds of shots you got until you retrieve the camera.


Nikon D4 | ISO 6400 | 300mm lens | f / 5.6 | 1/800 second, from the upper stands at Municipal in Kansas City triggered remotely with Pocket Wizard Plus IIIs.


Nikon D4 | ISO 6400 | 300mm lens | f / 5.6 | 1/800 second, from the upper stands at Municipal in Kansas City triggered remotely with Pocket Wizard Plus IIIs.

There are some easy ways to try out shots from above, and if you get hooked on the perspective, you can branch out, in the right arena with an understanding SID, and give the exotic, remote methods a try. But, please please please, only with permission, only with good equipment, only with redundancy, and only safely.

Hard to believe, but with this issue, do :: or :: diso is one year old.  To start year two, next month, do :: or :: diso turns the lens on coaches.



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