One of the things you learn in sports photography is that with so many photographers on the sidelines, you’re bound to get the same photo as someone else. Obviously the one way to prevent that is to find a different angle, but sometimes you’re limited on space.
Here in Minnesota, hockey is life. Our high school state tournament regularly draws over 100,000 spectators throughout the week with the 2AA Championship game drawing a sellout, standing room only crowd at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, home of the Minnesota Wild NHL team.
Since hockey limits you to a photo hole along the glass or up top on the concourse level with the broadcast cameras, the best way to mitigate your limited space is to get high. Literally. Almost every Wild game that I cover I’m putting a remote camera way up top in the catwalks, high above the video board and press box. Not quite the venture for those afraid of heights — but there are railings that keep you secure — a remote camera up above gives you a unique angle that not many people see and really helps your photos stand out.
Setting one up is easy provided you’re safe about it and check about 500 times that the camera is secure and not going anywhere. My camera set up is just a simple Canon 7D and a 24-105mm f/4 with a Manfrotto Magic Arm and Super Clamp. You also need your triggers, I use Pocketwizard Plus IIIs along with the standard Canon pre-trigger cable and some gaffer tape to tape down your zoom and focus ring.
To keep it secure I also take 3 safety cables and have a nifty strap from CPS that I use to put under the railing, so with the safety cables and the strap, my camera and Pocketwizard will just be dangling if something were to fail on my Magic Arm.
I’ll keep it brief since I also made a GoPro video showing my setup, but basically you want to set your zoom and focus (make sure it’s manual), tape down both rings, then test to see that your Pocketwizards are working. I grab focus one of two ways, I either focus on one of the ice crew when they’re working on the goalie crease or if no one is there I’ll focus on the boards directly behind the goal and set it that way.
Here’s the short 4-minute GoPro video I recorded:
Normally when I’m shooting I have about 400-500 photos from my remote camera to go through, and I end up keeping about 5 to 6 on a good day. I mention it in the video, but there are a lot of photos of the goalie just standing there, so that ends up being the bulk of what I delete.
The great thing about a remote as well is that you don’t have to set it up in one spot either! You can do it over one of the face off circles in either end of the ice, and you can even set it up over the benches because you can get some really cool shots of teams making a line change or when they take a timeout.
Just remember that anything from a remote is a bonus, you do not want to rely on one to get you your photos. Especially inside a building like Xcel because there’s so much RF interference that can happen, always rely on yourself and then your remote second!