Sports Photography (In low light)

I was recently asked about shooting fast moving subjects, in this case, football players, in poor lighting conditions.  Stadium lights are nowhere as powerful as the sun and indoor gym lighting can be poor as well and provide its own challenges when finding proper white balance.  I learned how to do this in the cruel, low light of our school gym where everything was painted blue.

It all comes down to the physics of light and each camera setting is going to involve some compromise. For example, if you choose a slower shutter speed, more light will pass through the lens, but you’ll also be subject to motion blur.

The bigger the glass, the more light you are going to let into the sensor, but big glass costs lots of money that you will be placing in the hands of teenagers.

Here are the 4 choices you should make:

1) Open up the aperture to its widest setting, such as f/4. This will let in the greatest amount of light, but also the shallowest depth of field, so your focusing needs to be accurate. If you are not using manual, set your camera to AV.

2) In AV mode, the camera will choose the fastest shutter speed.

3) Crank up the ISO setting to get a faster shutter speed. Modern cameras do a decent job at reducing noise at high ISO settings, but to give you the best chance at reducing the noise of that perfect shot in post-production, you MUST…

4) Set your camera to shoot in RAW format. This way you can tweak the noise, white balance, etc. with software.

With this in mind, go take some shots during practice. If these settings won’t do it, then it’s time to go begging for funding for the bigger glass.

One more thought. Set the shutter drive to Continuous to get the best shot AND once you find the settings that work for that night, set the camera up for Manual to bake in all of the settings. This will make batch editing the pictures much easier in post-production.

One final thought. You really have to be lucky to get a great fast shot in low light if you have your kids shooting in Auto/Program or “Sports Mode”. It’s not hard to learn the basics and dramatically improve your photography. Don’t be intimidated by all of the power a $500 DSLR with a kit lens can offer. It is often said, the best camera is the one in your hands.

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