My Short, But Intense, Hockey Shooting Season

(Above: It was an amazing mid-air catch by Lightning goalie Sebastien Carbon — now if I could just get the crowd to react on cue). ;-)

It Was Eight-Game Crash Course and I Loved Every Minute!
Regular readers of the blog will remember my post from February 3rd called “My First NHL Hockey Shoot…and It Sure Looked Like It” (link) and in that post I mentioned that I actually registered the domain “” (you could tell I was new at this, since I didn’t know at that time you just call it “hockey” and not “Ice Hockey.” Noob!).

(Above: I was disappointed there weren’t more fights. I always figured there would be more fights than playing time, but as it turns out, they play quite a bit. Luckily, by the end of the season, the helmets were coming off, fists were flying more often —- the crowd loves it — I love it!!!!).

(Above: Ahhh, nothing like the smell of crushed ice in the morning. Well, that’s what time I got home after the game some nights).

After Shooting My First Game, I was Hooked
I wasn’t sure how I was going to like shooting hockey. Everybody had warned me that it was the hardest of all team sports to shoot, and I heard stories of shooting in very crowded conditions with a tiny hole in the glass (made even smaller recently by the NHL to protect fans and photographers), and the action moves so fast at ice level that it’s a real challenge to get anything decent. I agree with all of those statements for sure.

Plus, the other shooters at the arena had me good and freaked out about from the start about getting hit with the puck or getting knocked on my butt when two players crash against the boards in front of me (both of which almost happened on numerous occasions). But after I shot my first game — I was hooked. I stunk at it, but I felt like I could get better, so I really wanted to stick with it (which was lucky, because the wire service I was shooting for had already assigned me to two more games).

(Above: OK, it took me a bunch of games to finally get a decent shot with the puck just coming off the stick).

(Above: This shot, taken during my four game shooting, was a breakthrough for me as it was chosen by Zuma Press as one of their “Photos of the Day” and they look at images from tons of different wire services, so when I saw someone mention on Twitter that my shot was on there, I was just about doing backflips).

The Dance Continues
So I kept going back for more, which led to my post here called “My painful dance shooting Hockey continue.” Here’s the link. I only posted one static shot from the game. That’s how badly I felt I did. I still had to turn in at least 15 to 20 shots for the wire service, which I did, but I was not thrilled with my uploads (and I’m sure they weren’t either, but thankfully since they knew I was new, they let me keep shooting. After all — that’s the only way I was going to get any better, right?).

(Above: Depending on my shooting position [assigned by the team photographer], I could either just shoot at the goalie [up to the blue line], or that and down to the opposing goal, but you always had a pretty clear view of the goal in front of you).

Call for Help
After struggling for a few games, I realized it was time to call my buddy, and sports photography genius, Dave Black for some help, and man did he help. First, he told me to get decent shots you really need to understand the game, and until I got to that point, I was going to struggle along. Luckily, for the first time in my life, I was really starting to enjoy hockey. In fact, I was becoming a fan. I was learning who the players are, and I sat down and learned the rules of Ice Hockey, and I started to get a feel for where things were going a bit. I didn’t have it “down” by any means, but at least a little flame started to flicker.

Dave told me to spend the first period shooting from an upper deck with a 200-400mm lens — instead of down at ice level with closer glass — and this would do three things:

(1) It would give me a chance to get some decent shots, since you can shoot freely from up on the mezzanine without having to worry about a hole in the glass, since you’re shooting above it.

(2) You won’t miss any shots because it’s like shooting fish in a barrel up there. It’s actually easy because the game moves much slower from that vantage point. And…

(3) Then in the 2nd and 3rd periods, when I moved down to the ice level, it would actually seem slower to me and I’d be able to follow the action and puck better, and doggone if he wasn’t right.

The only problem? The shots from above the glass, from the mezzanine level, just aren’t dynamic. You cover the action, but that angle doesn’t give you the impact from shooting at ice level, which is why everybody wants to shoot from ice level. However, AP shooter Mike Carson gave me great advice that night. He said the mezzanine is great for shooting overtime  — when you have to get that game-winning goal — because up there — you WILL get it. It may not be as dynamic, but if they need the shot of the winning goal —- you’ll be the guy that has it.

I wrote about this (with some behind-the-scenes photo) in a post called “The Challenge of Shooting Hockey (and a Progress Report). Here’s the link. 

(Above: Where’ the puck? Read below).

Making Slow but Steady Progress
Luckily, the guys who shoot this stuff all the time, including Team Photographer Scott Audette, were really friendly and they actually tried to help me along. They knew I was “the new guy” and although they teased me for it, they were also helpful and tried to find me decent shooting positions, and they gave me tips along the way that helped a lot.

One night, between periods, I went over to Scott Audette and just straight up asked him for some shooting tips. He is an absolutely incredible hockey photographer (he’s been at it for years, and I know a lot of guys have been at it for years, but his stuff in just insane). He was happy to help, and he had some really great tips for me about what type of shots to be looking out for, and he told me to look at the NHL shots that get published, and to look at how many don’t have the puck in the shot. He was right. That really surprised me, but it also helped me improve what I was sending to the wire service (in most other sports, if the “ball” isn’t in the shot, it’s generally not a good shot).

(Above: After talking to Scott I realized that you can only have so many shots of the puck in the back of the goal, so I started going for the player’s reaction after the goal. Not just the celebration (upper left), but the anguish as well (far right), and sometimes you get all three — puck, celebration and anguish all-in-one).

It was a dark and stormy night….
OK, it was neither, on the way home I always call my wife and give her progress report on how it went that night, and God bless her you know she probably couldn’t really give a rat’s butt, but she listens dutifully, and gives me lots of encouragement, and that night, after my sixth game, I told her, “Honey, tonight I made a big leap. I didn’t get any spectacular shots or anything, but it was the first time I actually felt comfortable shooting hockey. I felt like I was finally moving in the right direction, and I was comfortable with my settings, and my white balance, and my lens selection, and my shooting position, and by golly it was starting to come together at least a bit for me.” She seemed genuinely happy for me (which is just one of the thousand things that make her the woman of my dreams, but that’s for a different post).

Only Two Games Left In The Season
Time was running out on the season, and with Photoshop World and some other commitments, I had to miss a number of home games, so I was only able to shoot the final two home games of the season. But, I had very good shooting positions for both games (to me, that means a position where I can shoot “down ice” to the other goal with my 300mm with a f/1.4 tele-extender on it, and being able to shoot the goal I’m in front of as well).

Now that I was starting to get comfortable, I have to say that during those last two games I had the most fun I’d had since the first game, and I was enjoying the sport itself (and getting to know the players) more than I ever expected to, as I moved from shooter to hockey fan. I was screaming and cheering a few times when I should have been shooting, which is a peril of being a fan at the game you’re shooting. It happens to me a Bucs and Bears NFL games all the time.

(Above: Nice save off the stick….but I’m a Lightning fan, so….)

I Didn’t Realize What I Had
One thing I realized after four or five games was that the Scott Audette, the team photographer) pretty much shoots from the same shooting position for every game, so it must be a really good location, and of course, it is. The thing I didn’t realize was how good it was when he gave me that position the very first time I shot hockey. Here I was on my blog, complaining about shooting in this little hole, and how restricted my movement was, not knowing that the team photographer had given up his shooting position for me. Thanks Scott, and I’m sorry I whined at all (you don’t know, what you don’t know, right?).

(Above: I’d be praying too — but I think it was a thankful prayer, because Lightning Goalie Dwayne Roloson had an amazing night, and was MVP of the game. It was an amazing thing to watch, and he was right in front of my shooting position).

In the end…
I have a LONG way to go with shooting hockey. Eight games just begin to scratch the surface of what it takes to get really good at shooting hockey, and that is driven home right after every game, when I go into the office where the shooters hang out before and after the game. It’s Scott Audette’s office, and his assistant (also named Scott), is already uploading Scott Audette’s images to the league, and I see them nice and big on Scott’s 30″ display, and it always sends me out of there knowing how far I have yet to go.

There’s a lot to learn about shooting this sport
Everything they warned me about was true, and everything they promised (that I would love it), was right on the money. I got help along the way from Dave Black, Bob Dechiara (who regularly shoots the Boston Bruins, and helped me out quite a bit from the start), and of course to Scott Audette and his crew (Scott and Vinny). I’m very thankful to them for “letting me live” and for giving me great opportunities to learn.

I hope to get some hockey assignments next season, so my somewhat less painful dance with shooting hockey can continue. GO BOLTS!!!!! :)

      1. Except Dwyane Roloson….who actually does use a wooden stick and has been around about that long!

  1. If you are ever in California during hockey season….I’m the team photographer for the Ontario Reign….minor league team to the LA Kings. Come on by, I’ll even give you the strobes!!

      1. Scott, you’ll love shooting Ontario!  Lee is one of the friendliest hockey photogs I know!  I’m one of the photographers for the Las Vegas Wranglers and have gone out to Ontario to shoot my team on the road.  Do yourself a favor and take up his offer to come shoot out there…you won’t regret it!  

  2. Great story, great shots, Scott.  Although that fan with the iPhone may have got a better shot of the fight in that second picture! ;-)


  3. You´re getting there, as you seem to do with every new sport you shoot. I don´t look at that much hockey images since i think there are other sports that offer a more estethic view of the game kind of.
    But you´re doing very good. Is there JPG only and just a touch of retouching to these like a curve here and some sharpening there and so on?
    I think your whitebalance seem to be very good since it´s JPG, i´ve only shot with my D3 in strange lighing conditions before and i thought i was a bit off in the JPG department therefore i always shoot raw.
    I´m interested to see how my new D4 will deal with mixed lights, it seem to have a lot better Auto WB setting, i´ve only shot raw yet but nonetheless.

  4. Thanks Scott for the shout out. Glad to see you are becoming a hockey fan. You should check out the book called Black and Gold which is all about the team photographer from the Boston Bruins and his long history in pictures. It’s loaded with great stories and photos dating back to the late 70’s when he first started with the team. He is a legend in the business. Barnes and Noble as well as Amazon has it.

    Looking forward to seeing more hockey photos from you next season.

    Congrats to the Boston College Eagles hockey team who won the National Championship in your home rink, The Tampa Bay Times Forum.

    Go Bruins!! 

  5. Thanks Scott, I really enjoyed your telling the story of your hockey season. As a long time hockey fan I found your story very interesting. Thanks again.

  6. Go Bruins!! 
    Great read +Scott Kelby- as a wicked big hockey fan from Baston (now Maine) I’m supah envious of your access! Although interested to hear you like using a 1.4 converter (isn’t that soft?) and you got some killer shots along the way. By the way one of my favorite blogs is Tom Guilmette’s the NESN videographer who shoots the B’s and the Sox, and he’s got some wicked vid’s there on what it’s like to have his job. Too bad you guys aren’t in the playoffs- maybe next year. -Nate.

  7. Great to see the Winnipeg Jets in your coverage!  Go Jets, go.  Next season be sure to get the end that Tampa defends twice ’cause the Jets will be awesome.

    Oh yea, great growth in your coverage skills.

  8. Great series of posts and photos, Scott… I noticed in an earlier post you mentioning camera settings (ISO, Shutter Speed & Aperture) but could you please confirm what focus technique you use, i.e. manual or auto focus. I shoot with Nikon’s D700 (love it) and use the AF-ON technique for tracking auto focus… do you use AF-ON, or just simply the shutter release itself? Thanks!

  9. Nice recap of your learning curve Scott…ice hockey is a challenging sport, moves very quickly.  And to add even more difficulty, try shooting HS w/out the holes in the glass.  The D3s has been a huge help in these dimly lit venues.

  10. Love the closeup shot of Pavelec (13/16)!  Awesome.  Was at the final in Winnipeg this weekend, saw Stamkos net his 60th (and grudgingly gave him a standing O for the effort).  Amazing atmosphere but sure wanted that final win of the season. 

    Scott, you need to come and shoot a Jets/Lightning game here at the MTS Center to really understand what the hockey experience is like.  Just bring ear protection.

  11. You know Scott, your a bit hard on yourself here. As a 51 year old Canadian (That itself pre-qualifies me) I have to tell you, your work in the arena (as 90% of everything you do) is really great. I know these are the best shots from those nights, but seriously.. How much better can these get? Even if cats start sleeping with dogs, fire and brimstone comes hammering down and Kelby Group folded tomorrow. You’d be on 20 publications a week sharing your mind’s eye with all of us. It’s too bad there isn’t a ‘Hall of Fame’ for people in the photo industry. As Kelby has it’s shingle attached to 40-50% of everything I read. GREAT JOB on the rink shots.

  12. Hockey is the only sport I like. By “like” I mean I will go with my husband and watch the game. Looking at your pictures including the ones above really added a new perspective on the sport. The pictures from a non sport photographer’s perspective are really cool. It makes me want to be there. I was at the 2nd game you had been to and was watching you from about half way up the rows. We were seating right behind you. Everytime something happened I thought “I hope he got that.” I’m sure you did. Even when you are there, you don’t always see the looks on the players faces. You’ve really caught that. So if anything, you made me a die hard fan.

  13. To get really good at shooting hockey, spent some time shooting high school or college games… they are slower than the NHL but still full of action :)

  14. No one better get grumpy like the football shooters, cause when Scott offers the “Shoot an NHL game” contest, IM WINNING IT HANDS DOWN. ;)

    Great shots Scott, I really look forward to seeing the progress next season!

    Go Caps!

  15. Thank you for this story. I had a terrible weekend concert shoot, my first with a pass and failed miserably, so it is nice to know that even you have a learning curve. I felt horrible but I am doing it again in a week, so hopefully I learned something along the way. Also it is great to hear that you had photographers help you and give you hints. Besides my mentor, all the assignment photographers were not friendly at all. I guess that was my first wake up call that not everyone is willing to help a noobie.

  16. Scott,

    >>(Above: I was disappointed there weren’t more
    fights. I always figured there would be more fights than playing time,
    but as it turns out, they play quite a bit. Luckily, by the end of the
    season, the helmets were coming off, fists were flying more often —- the
    crowd loves it — I love it!!!!).

    If you have the time, please read an excellent journalistic series in the New York Times:
    Derek Boogaard: A Boy Learns to Brawl

    It’s a three part in-depth series. If you love hockey, you’ll love the article.

    From Part II

    >>Punched Out, Part 2Over
    six months, The New York Times examined the life and death of the
    professional hockey player Derek Boogaard, who rose to fame as one of
    the sport’s most feared fighters before dying at age 28 on May 13.
    This article, the second of a three-part series,
    explores the devastating toll — physical and emotional — of fighting on
    players who are celebrated for their toughness.<<Kevin

  17. Hello Scott,

    Are you still shooting hockey?
    Your blog articles are very helpful. Thanks for that!
    Going for my first hockey game shoot this sunday evening in the Netherlands.
    Tomorrow I will have a look at the arena how it looks now, to check out the light and possible shooting positions. I was 20 years ago a huge fan of the Dutch hockey team Smoke Eaters. In that time they had some Canadians playing for them. Now they have a couple of Americans in their team. Thrilled to be back in the stadium, now as a photographer. But I will always be a hockey fan!

    Kind regards,
    Huub Keulers

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