How I Got the Shot

Editor’s Note: We’d like to welcome new Photofocus contributor Robert Vanelli to our team. You may know him as V, and he is writing a new series of articles for us to take you behind the scenes to see how he makes great images.

For today’s case study, let’s go to the Carrier Dome in Syracuse New York.  I’m  getting ready to shoot a Lacrosse game between Syracuse and Colgate for Inside Lacrosse Magazine. It’s a bright sunny day, but you might wonder why that matters since I’m shooting on a sunny afternoon in May.


Well it turns out that the Carrier Dome’s roof is one giant diffusor producing beautiful yet inconsistent light. I decided to treat the game as an outdoor event with light constantly changing. A huge advantage with the Dome, I don’t have to worry about lens flares or positioning of the sun.

Settings Overview

Let’s review what I dialed in as my camera settings.

  • Nikon D4
  • 70-200mm f/2.8 VR Lens
  • Shot at f/2.8
  • Shutter between 1/1000 – 1/1600 sec
  • AUTO ISO with +0.3 EV


Shutter Speed

Lacrosse is a fast paced sport. I need at least a shutter speed between 1/1000 to 1/1600 of a second. Any slower and I fight to keep the images from blurring. Any faster, I risk the shots looking motionless. Lacrosse is referred to as the fastest sport on two feet. It’s important to capture that feeling.


Shooting wide open at f/2.8 will produce beautiful isolated shots of the action. For professional and college level sports, a minimum of 400mm should typically be used. For this project, I only had a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. While I did have a 2x teleconverter in my bag (which would have gotten me the reach) I didn’t use it.

The teleconverter would have bumped the aperture to f/5.6. While still a very nice aperture to isolate the shots, it didn’t offer me the control I wanted. Also, I didn’t have time to calibrate the teleconverter to the camera using LensAlign and didn’t want to chance it on an important event. In hindsight, I should have had it aligned ahead of time. This would have saved time in postproduction as I spent a lot of time manually cropping images (plus I’d have higher resolution shots).


This was the tricky part. I want to lock my exposure but the light was constantly changing. Instead of focusing on camera settings, I set my ISO to auto, allowing the camera to meter the scene and decide what’s best. After looking at a few shots, I saw how the camera metered the scene. The images were coming out a little too dark. To regain some control, I used +0.3 EV (exposure compensation). More on this in a moment.



The home team usually wears white jerseys. The visiting team wears their away jerseys, usually dark. This can cause the camera to misinterpret the scene. Shooting in pure manual mode (no auto ISO) is not too big of a deal. It throws the meter off but once you set it, you can forget it.

This isn’t the case when one of the 3 elements of exposure (Aperture, Shutter and ISO) is set to auto. In my case, ISO. To fix this, I used Matrix Meter. This meter instantly analyzes a scene’s overall brightness, contrast, and other lighting characteristics and determined the best starting point. Exposure Compensation (EV) of +.03 gave me more control. I still used the intelligence of the camera to judge the scene, then added a touch more light.


I set the camera to auto continuous focus with a 21 point selection. Changing the focal point to the top third of the frame helped keep the shots in focus. This is where the players faces typically fell and it allowed me to keep those the sharpest.


Face off shots low angle

I laid down on the 50 yard line shooting straight on. I love this look but unfortunately I learned in college games, photographers are not allowed lay down. The photographer must be able to move out of the way as fast as possible. Laying down would hinder quick movement.



The best position is behind the cage (goal) BUT is very dangerous and is not allowed. I like the 20 yard line near the GLE (goal line extended). I tried to frame the shot using the crowd or sideline players to accent the background.

Burst shooting

Just because my camera has the ability to shoot 9 frames per second doesn’t mean I need to shoot all 9 frames at once. Shooting short burst; capturing 3 to 4 frames at a time, helped me capture the action without over shooting. This saved time after the game when selecting images to send to the magazine.


What would I do different?

It’s always important to learn from each shoot.  Here are a few things I would want to try or improve on for the next shoot:

  • I would have aligned my teleconverter when I calibrated my other lens.
  • I would have test shot with it before the game to make sure focusing was set.
  • If I had more than a days notice before the shoot, I would have rented a 400 mm f/2.8.

Please leave comments below on this article and what you’d like to see in the future.  Let me know if you’d like me to cover any other aspects of this (or future) shoots.  Thanks for reading!

Be sure to follow Vanelli for more photo and video updates!


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Join the conversation! 6 Comments

  1. As a mostly film photographer, who occasionally shoots Nikon DSLR’s, I enjoyed this article a lot. I find few good photographers explain their techniques, step by step. Thank you for doing this.

  2. I really appreciate the step-by-step break down of the shoot. Thank you and please keep this style of article coming. If you could spend a little more time breaking down where a shorter lens may work. Similar to your situation and certainly for an armature or high school game, renting a larger lens is hard to do.

    Again, great article. Thanks for all the information!

  3. Nice shots! Lacrosse is an exciting sport!


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About Vanelli

After a successful career as a three time Triple Crown Karate champion, Robert Vanelli turned his attention to teaching. As an educator for over 30 years, Vanelli has created several photography and digital workflow program including a special program, Click for Kids. Borrowing concepts from the martial arts, Vanelli instilled values such as integrity, and goal setting using photography as a vehicle to motivate children. As the lead photographer for Exposure Photographic Art Studio, Vanelli has had the opportunity of capturing images of special VIP’s, including the President of the United States, Nobel Peace Prize recipient and former president of Toyota, Dr. Shoichiro Toyoda, CEO’s of companies such as Yahoo,the Oakland A’s and several martial arts legends.


Photography, Sports, Your Focus


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