Trying A Backboard-Mounted Remote Camera
I have wanted to try out a backboard-mounted remote camera setup for a long time, pretty much ever since I got my Bogen Magic Arm last summer. I finally got the chance last night when the stars seemingly aligned. Okay, it certainly felt that way after convincing the college athletic director, three officials, two coaches, and the facilities manager to allow the remote camera.
Once I got all the okays, I was off to work. I had arrived at the gym at 3:00pm for a 7:30 game. This would give me at least 2 hrs until the team started practicing, as well as allow for trouble shooting and set up. I wanted to give myself a lot of time since it was my first time doing the backboard camera.
The first thing to do was figure out what kind of shot I wanted. I knew the SCC men’s team likes to get up high in the post, and that they tended to be mostly right-handed, making the choice to put the camera in the lower right corner pretty obvious.
The most difficult part was composing the image. I included a bit of the hoop for a point of reference, and hoped that I did not aim it too high.
One of the hardest parts of setting up any remote is figuring out your focusing distance. Since I will not be behind the camera, manual focus is a must. I learned from a good backboard camera remote setup guide that a focus point about 1.5 foot in front of the basket and down at a 45 angle (with a wide angle lens) would be my best bet. To focus, I had a person in the gym at the time stand on a folding chair and hold my pre-made “focus finding sign” around where I thought a basketball player might fly into my frame:
I like this high-contrast image of a bear because it makes it really easy to be assured I am in focus. Even the best idea for a remote will fall short if the camera is not in focus.
On that same note, make sure you have several batteries on hand, as the camera must remain on and “active”. Since you will likely be setting up hours before a game (I recommend at least 2-3 hrs), you will probably need a new battery at half time. And don’t forget to have a nice big memory card in your camera. Nothing could be worse than thinking you got the shot when all your camera is thinking is “I’m full.”
So once I had the image composed, and the focus set correctly, I made sure to gaffer tape down everything that could move. That especially means the zoom length and the focus ring, but also meant the lens hood its self, any setting dials, and the pocket wizard switches and cords.
Oh yeah did I mention Pocket Wizards? These devices are about $200 a piece, and you need one for the device you want to trigger, and another to trigger that device. In this set up, I used 2 pocket wizards plugged into my camera. One was set to trigger the camera, and another was set to trigger flashes I had set up in the corners of the baseline. Basically a relay of sorts.
I had the transmitter pocket wizard on a lanyard around my neck, so all I had to do to fire the camera was hit the test button. If I had so desired, I could have put that pocket wizard on my in-hand camera and fire both at the same time — although only the backboard camera would sync with the strobes.
My lighting was two Nikon SB800 Speed lights, 1/4 power, zoomed in to the 50mm setting. They were placed near the corners of the court, about three feet off the baseline. That may sound like little power but believe me, this gym is dark. Ambient is around 1/160-1/200 @ f/2.8 @ ISO 1600. It was not hard to add a little flash to the scene. I also used Cinefoil as a gobo to prevent the light from spreading too far left or right from my strobe. After all, I want to light the court, not the referees or the popcorn guy.
But what does a camera in a backboard look like? Well here is a picture of my remote setup from the front and from the back:
What you might not be able to see are the safety cables going from the camera to the magic arm, and from the magic arm to around a bar on the back of the backboard. For good measure, once I had everything finally set up I wrapped gaffers tape around the clamp connection points, the cable connection points, and the pocket wizards. I did not expect the camera set up to move but I also didn’t want it to, and all these precautions are important to ensure the safety of the participants firstly and also my gear. If you can, I recommend adding a 2nd magic arm to any elevated remote setup, one going from the magic arm you just placed to a sturdy spot. This will eliminate quite a bit of shaking. I only had one, so I made do.
So finally, here are a few of the frames that worked out.
A lot of the photos did not work just because the players didn’t get up high enough. So when I do this setup next time, I am going to try and get the camera up higher and aimed further down. It should up my keeper rate.
But as the saying goes, never put all your eggs in one basket — so even though I had this remote setup, I was still shooting images hand held. In the event my remote didn’t even fire or sync or whatever, I would still at least have something usable for publication.
Yet the remote worked okay for my first attempt and even though I have a lot to work on, it was a great learning experience and fun to do.
Thanks for looking!
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