Need advice on low-light action shots

Discussion in 'Beyond the Basics' started by Point-N-Shoot, Oct 2, 2006.

  1. Point-N-Shoot

    Point-N-Shoot TPF Noob!

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    I'm sure there are many threads on this topic already, but I have a specific question regarding equipment.

    My daughter is a high school cheerleader, and I'm trying to get shots of her during evening football games. As all of you probably know, the lighting is less than ideal, and the action shots I'm getting are complete crap. I'm new to SLR photography (hence my user name), I'm using a 20D with the 17-85 EF-S lens in auto-mode most of the time. I've tried using the manual modes and cranking up the ISO...but the noise of the photos was unbarable.
    I was thinking that maybe an external flash, or a lens with larger aperature might fix the problem (somewhat)...and I'm wondering which of the two items would be a better investment...the Canon Speedlite 580EX, or the Canon 200mm f/2.8L lens.

    I have the Canon 70-200 f/4L, but its the non-I.S. model and I dont have a tripod to prevent hand-shake (not that it would matter much when they're doing their stunts). I dont really have the budget to drop more than $600 on an upgrade right now, and the 200mm was the only tele lens that I found in that price range. However, most of the time the girls are not that far away...so I thought perhaps the 50mm f/1.4 or the 85mm f/1.8 would help. Then again, perhaps the 580EX would be exactly what I need to freeze the action for my 17-85 or 70-200 lens to get better shots.

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
     
  2. zedin

    zedin TPF Supporters Supporting Member

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    Well I would say it depends. With the camera in apature mode and the largest apature selected what are you shutter speeds you are getting? Would 1 or 2 stops make that much of a difference? (since that is what the lens purchase would get you) I would be more likely to go with the flash since you can do a high speed sync (probably 250 with canon) and freeze the action with the flash. You said you are not shooting from too far away so that shouldn't be a problem. The other option is to use the flash off camera but that is a little more technical (but not too much more).
     
  3. fmw

    fmw No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    With low light you're going to be using slow shutter speeds and that will produce motion blur in the image. If that is not the effect you seek, then it is time to invest in a flash unit powerful enough to light the subject at the distances from which you shoot.

    I used to shoot night baseball games for the local pro team and they didn't allow me to use flash. I used fast film and fast lenses (500mm f2.8 for a 35mm camera) and got grainy results but I couldn't overcome the laws of physics. Shooting day games was quite a bit easier. Good shooting.
     
  4. SaSi

    SaSi TPF Noob!

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    Your thinking is right. In low light you need a fast lens or a flash, or both.

    If you are allowed to use flash, then by all means get the 580EX. Crank up the ISO to 400 or 800, as your camera will perform good enough with 400 and adequate with 800 if needed. Use a rather open apperture or the max if needed. For action shots, the 17-85 isn't too bad, even when wide open (I have the same lens and tried it).

    There is a possibility that the low light is just too low to take good pictures even then. If need be, you can shoot RAW and then use Digital Photo Professional to brighten up the shots. You can gain 1 stop (i.e. ISO 800 vs ISO 1600) that way without noticeable drop in quality. Just an increase in contrast.

    If all that proves insufficient, then go out and buy the EF50/1.8. (any lens with an f2.8 opening is marginally - 1 stop - faster than the one you have). It's dirt cheap and excellent. It has been given the nickname "plastic fantastic". It will give you more than 2 stops compared to the EF-S 17-85, and since the lens you are using is not a real telephoto, you are not loosing much in terms of magnification. And the extra 2 f-stops will probably give you better exposure and image quality at lower ISO(the EF50 also has better resolution) so you can crop the picture and achieve the zoom effect in cropping.

    Hope I gave you a few ideas.

    Let us know how it turns out.
     
  5. benhasajeep

    benhasajeep TPF Noob!

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    You will not have a problem using a flash at the football game. As long as your not shooting the players from the field. Since you are shooting your daughter the flash will be no problem. In my opinion the flash will be your best bet. I used to shoot football games and did not use a flash. But I was taking pictures of the players using 3200 t-max.

    The flash will give you more aperature setting possibilities. With it you will not be limited to only shooting wide open and slow shutter speeds. In my opinion for this problem the flash is the best choice.
     
  6. newrmdmike

    newrmdmike TPF Noob!

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    definatly get the flash. split the difference between a full on flash exposure, and a flash free exposure . . . even if your shutter speed isn't enough to stop the motion, the flash will be. and that way you still get some good ambient light

    i use sb-800's A TON, and have found them usefull at close to 90ft for flash fill, but idk about canons flash units.

    i love shooting slow shutter speeds with flash, you get good ambient light, sharp subjects and motion around them.
     
  7. SaSi

    SaSi TPF Noob!

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    There may be an alternative to what you want to achieve. Instead of using a faster lens, you can boost the power of your flash. Even at the telephoto setting, the flash will have a rather moderate angle of dispersion.

    Wildlife and bird photographers have improvised building flash extenders and subsequently these hacks have been commercialized. An example can be seen here:
    http://www.naturephotographers.net/gs/gsbb.html

    I got the hint from this web page:
    http://www.waynesthisandthat.com/flashfocuser.html
    where you can see in the example shots that you can achieve up to 4 stops enhancements by focusing the flash output. This means that with the flash extender you can shoot with f11 where you would actually need f2.8

    You could build one on your own, by using white plastic cards and a fresnel lens for the front. The fresnel lens is doing an important part of the work, as it is focusing the light to further fight dispersion.
     

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