As a freelance photographer you have to manage your email and telephone almost as much as you have to take photos.  As a one man operation it can get to be quite a project to say the least.  Every now and then you get a really cool opportunity though to shoot something new or a little different and that’s something that as a Freelance photographer; I love! It’s always a neat thing to be able to view or observe something you had never seen before and to attempt to be creative in different ways.  Sure there are lots of occasions where you have an environmental portrait to shoot or you need to photograph a neat looking building, but how about a sport you know nothing about?  That was me last weekend shooting the NCAA Women’s Water Polo Championship.


(Nikon D5, 3200ISO, Nikon 200F2VR, 1/2500th@F2)

Now, I’ve shot lots of things that I’d never seen before (I shot fencing for the first time a few weeks ago too and that was pretty cool also), so there is a pretty regular routine I follow in order to get myself into the groove for this situation.  I knew nothing about Water Polo so I used Google and I contacted a friend of mine from College who was on the Purdue Water Polo team.  The question I asked Chris was, “what is a good photo of Water Polo?”.  Having never seen the sport before I didn’t know anything about it, much less what a good photo of it looked like.  Chris obliged by emailing some of his favorites.  The next thing I did was ask google what I should do.  Something strange happened at this point, and that is that there was almost zero information on photographing Water Polo online.  I found a few threads talking about it in some different forums, but very little concrete direction.  Mostly just suggestions like, get higher if the action is too fast, and careful not to get wet!  These things are also known as being; Not helpful.


(This shot is early on the first day, hence the sparse crowd)

(Nikon D800, 1600ISO, Nikon 24-70F2.8N@24mm.  1/160th@F4)

That’s what brings us here.  I’m going to tell you how I shot Water Polo.  I’m going to tell you what Lenses I used, and what I wish I had done differently.  Am I the End-All Be-All for shooting Water Polo?  Heck no, but a starting point is better than no point amirite?  So here we go.


(Nikon D5, 1600ISO, Nikon 200F2VR, 1/1000th@F2)

I packed a little heavy not knowing what to expect so for Camera bodies I took my Nikon D5, Nikon D4s, Nikon D750 and Nikon D800.  (I also took a D7000 the last day but only got used a little).  For Lenses, I took my Nikon 400mmF2.8 (on the D4s), Nikon 70-200F2.8E (On the D750), Nikon 24-70F2.8N (On the D800), 14-24F2.8N, and a borrowed Nikon 200F2 VR for the D5 (which hands down has to be one of my favorite telephoto lenses of all time).  I also had a 70-300F4-5.6VR, Sigma 85F1.4Art and a Nikon 24F1.4 Art in my bag, but only the 70-300 saw some pool time during the Final Championship game.  How did the remote setup go?  meh, more on that in a bit. Lets talk about the regular shooting first.

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 (Again the trusty stool.  Glad I carry that thing everywhere)

That is where I was sitting.  I had option to move around quite a bit, but ended up spending a lot of time on my stool in this spot.  With the lens selections I chose I can’t complain as I was able to reach out and touch almost every bit of the pool.


(Nikon D4s, 3200ISO, Nikon 400mmF2.8VR2, 1/1000th@F2.8)

My coverage wasn’t perfect, but I feel like I did get a number of keeper frames out of the experience.  I love going and being immersed in a sport like this because I tend to learn so much about it in such a short time.  It really is quite interesting and I love talking to all the athletes and coaches whose eyes light up more often than not when they realize they get to explain something to someone who knows not a damn thing about the sport they love so much.


(Nikon D4s, 3200ISO, Nikon 400mmF2.8VR2, 1/1000th@F2.8)

The setup I had was very good in my opinion.  The reality of it is though that I would have loved to have had  D500 for the event.  Crop sensor? Odd choice you say but I counter with wanting you to imagine the 1.5x Crop factor of the APS-C sized D500 sensor combined with the infinite power of the 200F2?  300mmF2 BABY.  For the close goal, this would have been the single most amazing combo I can imagine.  I did not however have a D500, and I wasn’t going to go buy one for one event.  Will I own one in the future?  Who knows, maybe.  Not today though.


(Nikon D5, 1600ISO, Nikon 200F2VR, 1/1000th@F2)

The D5 and 200F2 were used on the close goal, and the D4s and 400F2.8 were used on the far goal.  This was a very acceptable combo for reaching both ends, and because I am a fool I may or may not have put the 2x extender on the 400 for a bit.  I never claimed to be that smart.  The D5 was great with the 200F2 because I had more pixels to be able to crop, and shooting at 1/1000thF2, 1600ISO there was plenty of quality there to do it. The biggest issue I had was the water.  A lot of times the offensive players will splash water around to try to distract the defensive players/Goalie.  Think your AF likes to snap at twigs when shooting birds?  Wait till you try shooting through water spray.  Holy Smokes.


(Nikon D4s, 3200ISO, Nikon 400mmF2.8VR2, 1/1000th@F2.8)

I did have some good results though thanks to a little trigger discipline on my back button AF.  I found that I could lock onto the goalie and release the AF.  Assuming she didn’t jump too far one direction or another, she stayed in my focal plane.  Took a little practice, and patience.  But I feel as though I was rewarded overall.


(Nikon D5, 1600ISO, Nikon 200F2VR, 1/1000th@F2)

So there you have it.  That is my guide to shooting Water Polo.  With full frame bodies a 400 and a 200 are the perfect range to hit both ends of the pool.  I did end up using my 70-300 at one point on my D750 as a remote but I was not thrilled with the results.  This is not a function of the camera or lens combo, as much as it was user error.  The images don’t strike me is really what it amounts to.  But hey, there’s always next time.


(Nikon D750, 12,600ISO, Nikon 70-300F4-5.6VR@300mm. 1/1000th@F5.6)

So how did I do?  I was pleased with the event and even though I’d love to try the D500 and 200F2 combo, I don’t own either of those.  Will I get a shot at shooting more water polo in the future?  I sure hope so.  I think I learned quite a bit in this experience and I love the challenge that new sports bring to the table.  Until then though, it’s on to the next assignments.  Tomorrow is Service dog harnesses, followed by the US Diving World Championship.  That just takes us through the weekend, May is a busy month in Indianapolis.  I also have a review of the NEW Sigma 100-400F5-6.3 on the way.  So stay tuned for that, especially if you want to get out to 400mm on your camera, but would rather spend $799 instead of the $12,000 for a 400F2.8.  More Soon.


(Nikon D4s, 3200ISO, Nikon 400mmF2.8VR2, 1/1000th@F2.8)