advice on taking low light action shots

Discussion in 'Beyond the Basics' started by twilightfootball, Aug 11, 2009.

  1. twilightfootball

    twilightfootball TPF Noob!

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    Hey there, I’m working on behalf of Sony UK, and we’re doing this low-light football photography event (check out the Flickr page here - Flickr: Twilight Football ) and I’m doing some research on low light and sports photography.

    As low light, dusk/dawn photography is pretty tricky, and action/sports photography also isn’t that simple either, I’m basically looking for some advice to give people interested in the event.

    What’s the essential kit to have, how should I set up my gear, and do you guys have any shots to show me of sports shot in low light or any stories on the topic you could share that could help me out?

    Ali Plumb (on behalf of Sony Twilight Football)
     
  2. bigtwinky

    bigtwinky No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Low light and action do not go well together.

    I did a night time (8pm) shoot of an ultimate frisbee game and it was craptastic.

    They say if you do landscape work, you need a tripod, a wide angle, filters
    If you do portraits, you need lighting, xx mm focal range lens
    If you want to do sports, you need money. You need money because you need good gear.

    You need a wide aperture lens, f/2.8 or better

    You need to be able to get to high ISO with no image noise (or something that can be easily removed post processing). I'm thinking 1600 is a minimum.

    If you are shooting sports on a wide field, you need a long lens, usually a 300mm, so you can nicely capture expressions on faces during pivotal moments.

    If its a pro game, the lights on the field will be way more usable than if its an amature game.

    I shot my XSI, with an f/2.8 lens at 1600 ISO and the pictures were not usable. A friend was shooting his 5d MkII and f/2.8 lens at 6400 ISO and he was getting good shots.

    Ways to help out if you have entry level gear is to go for more emotional shots, people sitting on the bench, huddles and so on. Or wait for the action to be at its peak to snap the picture...such as a basketball player being at the apex of his jump for a slam dunk...he is usually travelling slower than when he is running down the court.

    As for sports photography, a general rule is that if you are seeing it in the viewfinder, you probably didn't capture it. Definatly read up on the sport, know the rules so you can anticipate what is going to happen and know where to be to get the right image.

    Take photos with people's faces as much as possible as human reaction is something humans loves to see.
     
  3. B Kennedy

    B Kennedy TPF Noob!

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    big twinky hit the nail on the head. Night time and action are very hard to do without spending a lot of money. Even indoor action shots can be quite complex without the right equipment. Depending on how close you can get to the action will depend on the lenses. You *might* be able to get by with a 70-200 range at 2.8, but if you can't get that close your looking at a fixed 300/400 and at that fast of a lense you're looking at big bucks (in Canon terms, say $4000 USD and up). Of course we're talking about getting great shots crisp and exposed well. Now if your shooting amateur games, you may be able to get by with much less and higher iso's.
     
  4. JerryPH

    JerryPH No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Essential for low light and fast moving people?

    A D3/D700 and a 50mm/85mm F/1.4 lens.

    It's not fast moving, but it is DARK and lit in wierd colours.

    [​IMG]

    D700, ISO 3200, 50mm F/1.4 lens at F/1.4... these were the results.
     
  5. bigtwinky

    bigtwinky No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    I had a chat not too long ago with a Montreal Photojournalist who covers all of the Montreal Canadians games, has shot 8 Olympics and has done some amazing work (great pics of Yoko Ono when she was here not too long ago).

    I was able to ask him questions about his craft and one of the questions was about lights at the events and how it differs between pro and amateur events.

    Pro games are done in pro stadiums or arenas and often have much much better lights than the amateurs. The pros need to think about not only the fans seeing well, but also all the TV cameras and so on. So lighting is never a problem at pro games.

    So I would think that to shoot amateur stuff, you need to have even better stuff (higher ISO cameras, f/2.8) than at pro games as the lighting conditions are even worse.

    Either way, you need good gear to get good results.

    I'd show you some of my Ultimate Frisbee shots, but that would ruin whatever small amount of credibility I have on this site :confused::mrgreen:
     
  6. gryphonslair99

    gryphonslair99 Been spending a lot of time on here!

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    There are a few basics for low light sports shooting. The body you use needs to have good high ISO capabilities, with fast, accurate autofocus. Most entry level bodies will not meet these requirements. There are several good mid level camera's that will. In the top end market the Canon 1D MIII and the Nikon D700 are the two best. Fast FPS can be useful, but not a big necessity.

    Glass needs to be fast, f2.8 or faster, sharp wide open, and fast focusing capabilities. There are a lot of fast lenses out there, but just being fast does not make them suitable for sports. Some commonly good, fast glass in the Canon and Nikon range are the 70-200 f2.8, 300 f2.8 and 400 f2.8. The last two are expensive glass but their abilities wide open are amazing.

    A Monopod is a good idea if you are not used to shooting sports. The added stability can be helpful.

    As for shooting itself, my preference is manual. If you are not comfortable with that then shoot Aperture Priority. That may sound backwards since you want a minimum shutter speed of 1/250 with 1/500 being ideal for soccer.

    The reason for shooting Aperture Priority is actually quite simple. To get the shutter speeds you need you need to shoot wide open. In Aperture Priority you set you aperture, and adjust your ISO to get a useable shutter speed. A sports shot with some ISO noise is preferable to one with blurred motion due to low shutter speeds. It is easy to keep you shutter speed up with the aperture you want if you shoot in Aperture Priority. Changing ISO is usually something that can be changed very fast.

    As for shooting the action itself. There are several things you can do to make capturing the action easier. First, know the sport, the rules, the way the action flows and the players. Some players are offensive players and some are defensive players. If you know the players you can anticipate who the scorers will be and who will provide that great defensive shots.

    Also knowing the players will allow you to anticipate the action that will happen, and prepare for it. One the action start, keep that camera to your face and track the action through the viewfinder. While fast FPS can be useful for some occasions, the best shots are ones that are anticipated and you are prepared to shoot. Spray and Pray shooting may or may not capture that exact moment of action you want.

    As for settings, use one focus point. I generally shoot the center focus point for field sports. Court sports where I am closer to the action I pick another point. Also set your focus to what Canon calls AI Servo. It is a constant focus mode that changes as the action moves. If you body will let you do so get your focus off of the shutter button to another button that you can use to track the action. This takes a bit of getting used to, but makes it easier to be prepared to get that exact shot.

    Most of the action is easier to catch in Portrait mode rather than Landscape mode for most shots. As for a flash unit, leave it in your pocket. When I am on the sidelines of a college football game or soccer match I always have a flash with me. It is only used however before and after the game, never when the game is being played.

    Lastly, go out an practice before the game. Every season I go to preseason practices at some of the colleges. The coaches understand that I am there to get myself ready to shoot college football and sharpen my skills and they have no problem with it. The athletes practice, and sports photographers need to do the same. Good luck and have fun. Sports photography can be trying on a shooter, but it is one of the most enjoyable as well.
     
  7. twilightfootball

    twilightfootball TPF Noob!

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    First of all, thanks so much, this is amazing, detailed, great stuff, so thanks especially to gryphonslair99 and bigtwinky, but thanks generally, anyway.

    Right, so, low light sports photography is very hard, even if you have the perfect gear, it seems - my follow up question is one about light... what would you guys say about the idea of using strobing or external, hired lights, to light up the players from the pitch side?

    Not something you could do regularly, but for the perfect shot, do you think it could work?
     
  8. Anesthetize

    Anesthetize TPF Noob!

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    I'm not sure what you are talking about when you say "hired lights" to light the players from the side, but it strikes me that unless you are able to afford lighting up the whole pitch, you are expecting to match a situation worth photographing with the perfect positioning (and that one's not up to you). By positioning I mean a football player hitting a beautiful cross into the box, some emotional display of joy or frustration or simply a good technical moment from the exact spot where your light gear is and where to are shooting at.

    That doesn't sound like it's something bound to happen a lot, though.
     
  9. JerryPH

    JerryPH No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    A lot is going to depend on location. At a pro game, they won't likely even let you get in with a pro dSLR, much less a pro dSLR, huge lens and 2500 W/s strobes.

    The kind of flashes that you are talking is in the THOUSANDS of dollars range. A small top of the line battery operated flash is not going to do much to add to the exposure of someone on the pitcher's mound if the lights are behind the batter. Heck... 10 of them still won't make much of a difference... lol

    Also... ever see what someone will do to you if you had such a strong strobe and flashed them during a crucial moment? How fast can you run? :confused: :lol:

    Most places would throw you out immediately. A good lens and camera combo cannot be beaten... that and some knowledge to know how to use it right and you are likely better off.
     
  10. Anesthetize

    Anesthetize TPF Noob!

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    I had a teacher in college who used to say that "Everything is possible. And I do mean EVERYTHING. You just need enough time, money, freedom and intelligence". He applied this phrase to engineering but the "money" and "freedom" parts sure apply to photography.
     
  11. JerryPH

    JerryPH No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    A little intelligence never hurts either... lol
     
  12. gryphonslair99

    gryphonslair99 Been spending a lot of time on here!

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    I wouldn't classify it as very hard. It does take some understand and concentration. As for the lights. I would forget that idea if you are talking about using them during an actual competition.

    First the lighting needs to be even across the playing field from all sides. Secondly it needs to be at a height that the current lighting is so that it is not a distraction to the competitors. Taking photographs at a sporting event is secondary to the sport. A good sports photographer is not even noticed and never does anything to in any way hinder or distract the players, officials, coaches or the event.

    As for a flash unit or strobes, again those are things that could distract the players. Most venues will not allow such a thing. The only time I use a flash unit at an outdoors event such as this is before or after the game. Never during the game.

    One thing that would be helpful to know what you have in the way of gear to shot this thing. Gear does matter for sports because of the nature of the action you are shooting.
     

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