Setting up a Basketball Remote U. of Houston vs Wichita State

Anyone that knows me well knows that when I shoot photos of a game one of the biggest things that I like to do is to try something different. Everyone that sits on the baseline gets the same or similar shots and when you are at a college basketball game you are usually stuck in a spot and can't move. One of my favorite things to do during basketball games is to utilize remote camera. Remotes are not as difficult as you think they are but you do need special equipment to do them. The first thing I can tell you is that you MUST talk to the venue and make sure it is ok to set up a remote before attempting to do so. If the venue says no then you have to be ok with that and not get upset. There are a variety of reasons why they might not let you use a remote but the bottom line is you have to get permission before attempting.

Equipment used for my remote setup

Whenever I shoot a backboard remote here is a list of the equipment that I use (all of this equipment I got off Amazon but can you can get it from B&H, Adorama, or any other camera sales location):

  • Manfrotto 244 Variable Friction Magic Arm with Camera Bracket (2) - I will get in to why I use two of them later
  • Manfrotto 035 Super Clamp without Stud (3)
  • PocketWizard Plus III Transceiver (2)
  • PowerSync Pre-Trigger Cable (Make sure it is a cable fit for you make of camera)
  • Safety cable (I made my own by going to Lowe's and getting 5 feet of 2/32 cable, a stop kit, and a Round Eye Swivel Quick Snap)
  • Split Key Ring
  • Gaffer Tape - Black (don't get a distracting color)
Front view of my remote setup

After you have gotten permission from the venue to setup a remote you will want to ask if they have a ladder that you can borrow to setup the camera. I have never had an issue with the venue letting me use a ladder (knock on wood). You will also need to set your camera up before the teams take the court to do any kind of shoot around or warm-ups. This can vary by venue and team. While there are various locations you may be able to put your remote for the sake of this tutorial I am going to talk about putting it on the elbow where the arm of the backboard and the pole from the floor meet.

What lens to use can vary depending on who you talk to. I prefer getting as wide as I can, within reason, because I can always crop the photo in post. I usually use my 24-105mm lens set to 24mm when I utilize this position. I have used both a full-frame camera and a crop framed camera for this as well. For this game I used a Canon 7D Mark II camera body which is a crop sensor camera. The negative of using a crop frame with a 24mm lens (cropped to 38mm) is that you get a tighter crop than you might like. To counter this if you are using a crop frame you can use a wider angle lens. I have also used a full-frame body at this location with a 24mm and it worked great.

Side view of my remote setup

The first thing I do is put the camera on the camera bracket on the magic arm. I then climb the ladder to the position that I want to place the camera and find a place that I can clamp my remote camera. Be sure when you are setting up your remote to not position it in the way of any of the television equipment.

I can tell you from experience every school has a different setup on their goals so your positioning may not look like mine. At this particular game it was pretty simple because I was able to clamp to the metal brace on the elbow. At other venues it is a little more difficult to find a place to clamp the magic arm. Be sure if it is in a location that you feel might be questionable to clamp on you should ask the venue if it is ok first.

Once I get the camera positioned in the place that I want it and cropped the way I would like I then attach the second magic arm. The second arm is for stability. Throughout the course of the game there is a lot of vibration on the basket, especially when there are dunks. The second arm not only helps with stability but it is also helpful to ensure that if one of the arm clamps fails the second would theoretically keep the camera from falling on the ground. I clamp one of the clamps to the structure and the second clamp to the first arm.

Rear view of my remote setup

After I have finished mounting I always go back and tighten each clamp again to make sure it is secure. Once everything is secure connect the safety cable. I use a split key ring on the area that I usually feed my camera strap. Feed the cable through the split key ring, through the camera bracket on the magic arm, around the structure and then clamp it together. The safety cable will hopefully never be used and is the last ditch effort to protect your gear and the people below it so that it doesn't fall to the ground.

Once everything is clamped down I ask someone nearby if they wouldn't mind standing on the top of the rebound circle so I can get my focus point. Most of the time there is someone that wouldn't mind doing that, it only takes like 5 seconds. My camera settings are as follows:

  • Shutter speed 1/500 - You can go a little lower because usually people are suspended in air for the shots
  • f4 - I do this so I have a little more depth of field for focus purposes
  • ISO - This is hard to say because it will depend on the lighting of your venue
Full Frame camera with 24mm lens at Texas A&M

Once the focus is set switch the lens to manual focus and use gaffer tape on the camera barrel ensuring the focus ring won't move. I also tape down my pocket wizard cable so it doesn't come out of the camera. Turn on the remote and set your channel. If anyone else is using a remote make sure you aren't using the same channels. Match the channel on your second remote and test. Once everything is ready to go (it should really only take you 5-10 minutes to setup once you have done it the first time) return the ladder.

IMPORTANT: Remote cameras should ALWAYS be a secondary shot. Your handheld camera is your primary shot and what you should rely on. You won't know what you got on your remote camera until after the game once you take down your rig and if it ended up not working correctly then you will be left with nothing.

IMPORTANT #2: Know that in most cases you won't be able to get to your camera until after the game is over so if you are on a deadline know that the remote photos may be some of the last things you turn in.

IMPORTANT #3: Throughout the game continually check your remote to make sure you didn't accidentally change your channel. It happens especially if you use more than one camera on the floor. You don't want to realize you bumped it early in the game and didn't get anything from your remote because your channel was changed. Trust me you will be really upset at the end of the game if this happens.

Last but not least don't get frustrated if it doesn't work the way you had hoped the first attempt. If you follow my photos you see my best shots not the thousands of shots that didn't work out. I have tried various remotes that never worked out but I learned something with each one that I was able to use for future events. Also know that your remote camera may only yield 3-5 keepers per game if everything goes right. Most importantly have fun and don't be afraid to try something new and different. If you are able to do remotes and get good at them it will take your sports photography to a completely different level.

Photos from a few games where I setup a remote

If you ever have questions or want more information feel free to contact me at john@jmgcreativedesign.com.

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