Ryu: Ping Pong (aka Table Tennis)

Good evening.

Couple of hours ago, my wife and I came back from the vet. Our cat, Maggie won’t have much time to live. Her liver is failing and she’s got about a day on this planet. The cat has been with us for 9 years and she is family. Before all this, I did promise myself that I’ll finish this post today, because I don’t want to remember this day not doing what I set out to do. I don’t think Maggie will be happy with her dad being a lazy bastard. So, let’s get it on, ping pong style.

1. Angles, angles, and more or less angles
As with shooting any sport, it starts with angles. From where are we going to shoot this slower-than-jai alai sport? I’ll show you some examples, because it’s either that or my awesome hand written diagrams.

A. Front
This is how it looks shooting from the front. You can either choose to focus on the action that is happening in the foreground or the background. If you decide to shoot the ping ponger in the foreground, you will need to find moments where you can see his/her face. Because otherwise it’s ass and back all the time. Unless you are looking for fist pump / celebration shots.


Here is the reverse. The problem is that it is very difficult to focus on the background dude, because the foreground dude blocks your shot. If it’s difficult in singles play to get a shot like this, try doubles. You’ll want to pull your arm hair out. The key is to pre-focus and just fire away and hope you’ve done good deeds to merit some in-focus shots.


The other two shots are variations of the above two. I was bored at some point and tried to see if I can get the ball focused completely during a play. If you want to do something like this, you’ll need impeccable timing or 9fps. The other is multiple exposure and as you can see, it’s a work in progress. Same focusing problem here. You need to decide where you are going to focus and stick with it. Try not to move your focus around, because you’ll end up missing the action.

Front4 Front3

B. Side
Includes 3/4 and anything but dead on. This I used a lot when shooting men. What I realised was that men’s ping pong is uber athletic. Plays happen quite often nowhere near the table and the movements are dynamic. If you want these shots, you’ll have to shoot from the side. The 3/4 look is also the same, but with a caveat of having the opponent in the frame. It’s also the easiest way to shoot ping pong because you rarely get the player in the foreground blocking your view, whilst getting a clear view of the background player. Therefore, it’s a bit boring.  It’s just not difficult enough for me. :)

Side4 Side5 Side7

But my favourite was shooting with the 400 2.8 directly from the side. This way, you’ll get details of the action as well as shots not possible with other angles. Mind you, the success rate is low because you’re focusing very close with a long lens, but when you hit it, it’s platinum. Or gold or anything shiny.

Side2 Side3

2. Tech stuff
Since it’s fast, you’ll need to shoot quite fast. No less than 1/800. But this all depends on how good your camera is in low light. I had to use ISO between 3200-6400 depending on the strength of the light in the arena. No flash. You also aren’t allowed to remote it. But I didn’t ask so maybe it’s possible?

3. The GAME
As always, know the rules. How many times does a person get to serve? When do they switch sides? What is the order of the post game handshake? How do they get on the court? When are they allowed to wipe their rackets and faces? How long is the time out? Who is playing in what court? How many sets / games? Know them, because if you don’t, you’re just and idiot.

Celebrations and defeats. Since this is a multi-point sports like basketball or golf, you’ll have ample opportunity to get the highs and lows during the course of the game. As for action shots, you’ll get a fair share of opportunities so if you miss one, shrug it off and prepare for the next one. But as with any sports, each players do have celebration tendencies. Some like to turn around, some like to face the opponent. Some like to pump the fist sideways. But what I did find is that they do tend to face their coach when they celebrate. Not all the time, but often. As for the downers, they are all over the place. So, keep your eyes peeled and your lens clean. But if they are playing an important point and if you are looking for a downer shot, just lock your lens on the guy and wait for him to fail. Tough, but that’s how it goes.

Celebration5 Celebration4 Celebration2 Celebration1 Celebration6

Be very aware of the what point they are on. If the guy is down 3-8 and he starts catching up, he’ll start going crazy around 6-8 and 7-8. Things go bonkers if he makes a shot instead of the opponent missing one.

Ah yes, the Asian factor. Things have gotten better, but Asian people suck at celebrating in sports. Especially the Japanese. It’s like they are emotionally stunted or something. The Koreans are like the Latin America of Asia so when they are fired up, you can’t miss it. Chinese are more like the Japanese in that they mask their emotions quite well. Since top players in the world are pretty much all Asians, you’ll really have to be on your toes when capturing the emotional moments. Don’t expect Tiger pumps and Chastain bras.

Well, that’s it. Sorry, I wasn’t really in the mood to be funny, but I’ll be back to normal next time.

Have a nice weekend. :)


PS Moko, we love you and will miss you.


*Please Read Below*
Big Lens Fast Shutter is funded solely from the pockets of Ryu Voelkel and Matt Cohen. If you think the information we give you about sports photography is making you a better sports photographer and as a result a well balanced human being, please show us your appreciation by supporting us on Patreon and send some of your hard earned dollars/euros/Brixton pounds our way. People who donate will be mentioned on our next show unless you want to remain anonymous. Thank you for supporting us and may the force of sports photography be with you, always.

4 thoughts on “Ryu: Ping Pong (aka Table Tennis)

  1. Some great shots there mate – especially the high serve photo. I showed this post to a couple of mates who play ping pong and they were mightily impressed.

    Sad to hear the news about Maggie the Moggy though.

  2. Mike,

    Thank you for your kind words. Been a week and we are slowly getting used to life with out our cat. As for ping pong, if you ever get a chance to shoot it, definitely have a go. It’s fun.


    Thanks for the compliments and the kind words. As they say, it’s a day-to-day type of thing. Some days are better than others. As for ping pong… you do get bored shooting one way, so you do have to get out of your comfort zone to shoot in a different way. You know, so you don’t get too bored.

Leave a Reply to Toksuede Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s