It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words.* As photographers, we have the opportunity to tell a story with our images. One prop that is often available is the scoreboard. When you walk onto the sideline or gym floor, take note of the location of the scoreboard and make some mental notes on how you might be able to use it in different situations.
Without the scoreboard, the image below is just a coach talking to his quarterback. Because the scoreboard is included, we can figure out that it is 4th and 4 for the other team who has a 38-35 lead and the ball with only 2:17 to play in the 4th quarter. This quarterback is going to have a tough challenge coming back if/when there is a change of possession because he has only 1 timeout left. Including the scoreboard shows this to be one of the key moments of the game and adds significance to this interaction between coach and player.
1/250 sec. f/3.5. ISO 1600, 200mm, Canon 1D Mark IV, Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS, flash
The game was for a berth into the state championship finals. There indeed was a change of possession, the QB did march his team down the field and about two minutes later, he threw this pass into the end zone for a touchdown and the win.
1/250 sec. f/3.5, ISO 1600, 70mm, Canon 1D Mark IV, Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS, flash
How do you frame this scoreboard shot with the focus you desire?
If you use Back Button Focus as I do, simply put your focus point on your foreground subject, push then release the back button. Your focus is set. Recompose to include the scoreboard and depress the shutter button to fire away. The focus will stay on the spot where you pushed in the back button. The shutter button won't affect the focus. Back Button Focus is a great advantage to the sports photographer because it allows you to have your camera set to servo focus (where it is already set to follow action) and still get the focus where you want it without having to change the location of focus points. That's a huge help when you have only seconds to get the shot focused, change the framing, and then expose the image. The settings to activate a back button and remove the focus from the shutter button will vary with the camera body.
I'll use the same technique in basketball to focus on a free throw shooter and then recompose to include the scoreboard and expose. If it suits your needs, you could then focus on the scoreboard (back button), recompose to include the shooter, and then expose the image (shutter button). Either way, Back Button Focus puts you in artistic control.
1/800 sec. f/2.8, 200mm, ISO 6400, Canon 1D X, Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II
1/1000 sec. f/4.5, 105mm, ISO 600, Canon 1D Mark IV, Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II
1/800 sec. f/4.0, 27mm, ISO 12,800, Canon 1D X, Canon EF 16-35mm f.2.8L II
If you want the above shot, think ahead and sit down in a spot where the scoreboard appears next to the backboard but is not obscured by it. As an alternative, this shot could have been made to include the scoreboard on the wall instead. The photographer would need to move to camera right to reveal it unobscured. As photographer, you get to choose how to frame the shot. Plan ahead. Don't rely on luck.
* "Use a picture. It's worth a thousand words." was originally said by newspaper editor Arthur Brisbane. He was quoted in a 1911 article about journalism. Variations of the quote have also been attributed to Napoleon, an ancient Japanese or Chinese philosopher and also Frederick R. Barnard in 1921.
Philip S. Zivnuska