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Shots on Goal: Goalie Photography

Picture 6

Which of these look like your hockey photos?

Setting your white balance manually plays a large part of getting  professional quality hockey photographs. Read on to learn more about what white balance is, how it affects your photography, and most importantly some key tips on how to set it in an arena

White Balance/ Color Temperature

Hockey can be one of the toughest sports to photograph due to difficult lighting, dirty plexiglass and cold temperatures. So over the next few weeks I’d like to share my techniques that I’ve learned over the past couple of  years.

My goal whether I’m shooting hockey or any other sport is to get the exposure correct in the camera the first time so I don’t have to do a lot of post processing when I get home. If I’ve done everything correctly all I have to do is straighten my horizons, crop and sharpen the image. An important part of getting the exposure correct is understanding the role color temperature plays in setting the white balance.

Light Color Temperature

What are we doing when we change the white balance  in the camera? We are identifying what the color white is under the current lighting condition.  Our eyes are able to adjust to different color temperatures because we’ve taught our brains what white looks like under different types of light, daylight, tungsten, fluorescent. The camera from time to time needs a little help.

The reason that pictures turn out with a yellow/orange cast in incandescent (tungsten) lighting and bluish in fluorescent lighting is because light has a color temperature. A low color temperature shifts light toward the red; a high color temperature shifts light toward the blue. Different light sources emit light at different color temperatures, and thus the color cast. The chart below (Figure 1) will give you an idea where the different light sources fall in the within the light spectrum. All the temperatures on the right side of the chart are in Kelvin, which is Celsius + 273.15. Check out Wikipedia for a more complete definition of Kelvin.

Figure 1


Setting White Balance

Most digital cameras today have the ability to set white balance through a series 0f presets in the menu of the camera.  This is where we tell the image sensor in the camera to shift the color for the appropriate light.

The three presets that  work the best for hockey are Manual, Auto and Fluorescent. I’ve found setting the white balance manually to be the most effective way to get the white of the uniforms and ice to look white( figure 2). Auto tends to work well but I’ve found the uniforms have a gray look to them(figure 3). This because the sensor is trying to make all the  neutral colors an 18% middle gray. Fluorescent for me give me a bit of a blue cast over the picture so I rarely use it. (figure 4)

Figure 2

Figure 2. White balance set manually

Figure 3

Figure 3. White balance set to Auto

Figure 4


Figure 4.White balance set to fluorescent

Setting white balance manually for great goalie shots

There are a number of ways to manually set the white balance. My preferred method is to set a custom white balance off of the ice once the teams finish their pre game warm up and before the zamboni cleans the ice. This is because the reflectivity of the ice changes when the zamboni cleans it.  Point the camera towards a well lit section of the ice, make sure there are  no colored lines in the frame, and manually set the white balance. If there are colored lines in the frame they will throw off the rest of the colors in your pictures.

Another popular way of setting the white balance is to use an 18% gray card. Place the gray card in front of the camera, make sure the light reflecting off the card is the same light illuminating the ice and take the reading.

This is just one of the ways I try to make my pictures look the best they can. If anyone has any other techniques they would like to share please feel to send in a picture and a small explanation of how you took it.

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  1. Jeff

    One additional suggestion is to shoot in RAW mode, assuming it is supported by your camera. That way, you can tweak the white balance in post-production without loosing any image quality.

    Why would you want to do that? Well, some arenas are lit by lighting systems that change color temperature many times per second. Depending on exactly when your camera’s shutter is open, the color of the light might be different. Mercury-vapor lights are notorious for showing this problem, and adjusting the white balance on a per-frame basis can be the only way to produce shots with the correct color.

    • Scott Slingsby

      Excellent idea Jeff, shooting RAW is the best way to get the proper colors.

      I’m planning a future article on lighting in the rink. Something I want to try is slowing the shutter to 1/30 while taking the custom white balance off the ice. I’ve heard this might even out the colors and make it less likely to get the pink or blue ice with the fluorescent lights. I’ll put my results in the article.

  2. Chris

    Thanx for the tips I will try them this weekend. Would a FLD filter give similar results?


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