Depth of Field and Focal Length

November 05, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

As many of you know by now, I'm a big proponent of "Shoot Tight, Crop Tighter."  However, I am also a believer in variety and using the scoreboard to tell a story.  In this edition of the blog, I am going to go through the steps in shooting a wide angle basketball shot that has a unique perspective, includes the scoreboard, and game action.


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First of all, let me say that the vast majority of my images of this game were the typical 70-200mm shots.


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The depth of field at 105mm and 17 feet distance is 1.33 ft.




When the game got down to the end of the second half, the score was tied at 46, there were 9 seconds left to play, and the team in blue (Kapaun) had the ball.  A time out was called and I moved to Kapaun's end of the floor to shoot the final seconds.  I was shooting with a 1D X and the 24-70mm f/2.8L II lens.


Here is how I set up the shot of the player and scoreboard:


1.  I sat under the basket to the edge of the lane.  How far off the edge of the lane?  I positioned my sight line so that the edge of the backboard matched up with the edge of the scoreboard.  This sight line also helped determine how far away from the baseline my position would be.  Here I was about 8 feet from the baseline.


2.  The shot desired was going to be from the floor--literally.  The camera was going to be placed on the floor and angled up slightly to include the scoreboard mounted on the roof.  The focal length had to include the floor therefore my focal length had to be wide.  My choice was 35mm.


3.  Pre-focus, using back button focus, on the rim.  Approx. 17 ft.  Pre-focusing was required since the camera was going to be placed on the floor and there would be no way to aim my focus point on any given player.  Using back button focus allowed me to aim the camera in hand, focus at the desired distance, and later push the shutter button without any refocusing.


4.  Since my ISO was 6,400, it was necessary to shoot the shot at f/2.8.  How was my depth of field going to work?  This is where a familiarity with dof calculations helped immensely.


At 35mm and pre-focused at 17 feet, my depth of field extended from 12.5 to 26.4 feet.  The total dof is 13.9 feet.  That would be plenty to have my subjects in focus.


5.  Place the camera on the floor and aim it up a bit so as to include the floor and the scoreboard.  How much is a 'bit'?  Trial and error will give you a good idea.  Since I'm shooting very wide, my aim need not be perfect, just in the ballpark.


6.  Follow the action with the camera.  I wasn't looking through the viewfinder, just aiming the camera as it sits on the floor.  (Tilted up slightly)


7.  Get Lucky!   Yes there is a large element of luck.  You will have to have action that is visible to you roughly in front of the basket.  This capture had it all.


8.  Fire away in a burst as the action comes into view.  Don't forget to include the rebound.



Kapaun senior Atir Cherne drives the lane with 3.3 seconds left to play to break a 46-46 tie and defeat Wichita Heights 48-46.

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In this particular case, I was able to capture key action in the final seconds.  You need not have that be the case to use these same principals for very wide angle shooting.   Pre-focus, get the camera on the floor, practice your aiming, and fire away.  If you can shoot at f/4.0 that will give you even more focusing leeway.  Remember that the primary insight that makes this work is that depth of field increases rapidly as the focal length decreases.  Wide angle lenses have a large dof.


These shots won't be the majority of your images but can add variety and a bit of spice.  Try it for rebounding action.


BTW, I'm off to Kauai for two weeks so the next blog issue will be in 2015.  Cheers.






Phil Zivnuska


Philip S. Zivnuska