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USAV Nationals Tournament 2011

Today we are bringing you some images from the 2011 USA Volleyball Open National Championship Tournament in Dallas, TX.  The tournament is held every year around Memorial Day and the host cities change each year.  Kim has been playing volleyball competitively since middle school and has a team that she captains here in Austin, TX.  Throughout the season, teams play in local and regional tourneys to get seeded for the National competition, and her team usually makes it to this event.  We were lucky this year that it was hosted in our home state, and her club had several teams represented there.  Go ATX Volleyball!

If you haven’t been to a volleyball match, it is exciting and fast-paced!  It is also an extremely difficult sport to photograph.  Most locations (gymnasiums) have poor quality lighting and limited space to move around.  The speed at which the ball can come off of the player’s hands is incredible.  In order to effectively capture the action, a fast camera, “fast lens”, and a high ISO value is needed.  Even at the Nationals location, the light was relatively dim, so I was shooting at high ISO values of 1600 – 3200 in order to get a shutter speed of 1/250 of a second or better.  Ideally, a shutter speed of 1/500 or faster is required to “stop” the ball.  On the plus side, the layout was great and I had unrestricted views of many of the courts.

There is so much going on at the Nationals event.  The teams are divided into men’s, women’s, co-ed, reverse co-ed, height restricted (men’s teams 6’1″ and shorter and women’s teams 5’9″ and shorter), special olympics, and sitting volleyball with different skill levels for each of those categories.  Each year, there are close to 1000 teams participating in this tournament spread out into two sessions over a week and a half and over 70 volleyball courts.

I was only able to attend a half day, but the actual tournament runs for a week and a half.  The teams typically play two days of “pool” play to get ranked for the playoff round brackets.  The third and fourth days are for playoffs, where the teams battle it out match by match.  The action is intense and everywhere you look, there is top level volleyball going on.

All of the players are athletic, but some of these guys can jump insanely high!

For people wanting to shoot indoor volleyball, the first rule is NO FLASHES!  Most sanctioned tournaments will not allow you to use flashes, since it is a major distraction.  This leaves little options except to get a professional dSLR camera with very high ISO capability.  As I mentioned, I was using ISO 1600 – 3200.  On some high-end camera models, this can be pushed even higher to ISO 6400 or even 12,800.  The higher the ISO value, the more light is allowed to enter the camera sensor.  With this comes the risk of introducing “noise” or artifacts in the image.  With software, you can effectively clean up the images using noise reduction and  I had to do this with some of the images at ISO 3200.

Another consideration is the quality of lenses used to capture the motion.  Better lenses with low aperture values (f/2.8 or less) are essential to allow the maximum amount of light into the camera, while also giving sharpness.  Focus speed is a major consideration when selecting a lens for this type of shooting.  I used two lenses during the tournament, the Canon 85mm f/1.8 and the 70 -200mm f/2.8 L .  Both have excellent image quality and focusing speed, and are probably some of the best lenses from Canon for indoor sports.

One factor you will notice in many of the images is the out of focus areas, or “bokeh”.  While this is desirable in many situations, it is also virtually unavoidable since the lenses were shot “wide-open” at the maximum apertures.  There are times when I would prefer to have sharpness throughout the image, and this can be done to a degree by moving further away from the subjects.  I was able to position myself in the stands for an adjacent court and shoot from a distance to create “clearer” images, even at f/2.8, however this may not be possible in all situations.  Think small high school gymnasiums!

I also brought a Yashica Electro 35 film camera with me, and took a few shots (non-action) with a roll of Kodak 400TX B&W film.  I wonder if 800 speed film (or higher) might be able to capture some action shots? Hmmm….

Although Kim’s team did not advance to the final day of bracket play, this experience itself is so enjoyable. It is also a good opportunity to see friends from all over the country, sometimes only once a year.  It is also a great networking opportunity for many of the players, as officials and board members of USAV are in attendance.

You can view these, and more photos on our website.  If you were there at the first session of Nationals, you may be in some of the photos!

ashtonsterlingphotography.com

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