Calculating shutter in low light to avoid motion blur

gossamer

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Hi everyone, there are two problems with this picture. The first is that, somehow in the process of changing from my 24-70mm to my 70-200mm VR2 lens on my D500, the Qual button was pushed and the shutter speed dial rotated, changing my RAW+Fine to NORMAL I was nearly entirely through the shoot before I noticed this happened. It doesn't look like there's a way to lock this to prevent it from happening, so maybe this is just a tip for people to watch for.

Consequently, I only have the JPGs, but would RAW have helped anyway? Read on...

The other problem I have is the motion blur in the hand of the picture below, making the picture a little soft. This image was taken at f2.8 1/160th ISO 5000. It was near complete darkness, and I was shooting in manual, so I wanted to keep the ISO as low as possible, and the shutter as fast as possible, to reduce noise.

The little display of the D500 is very difficult to identify any real problems with a picture because it's so small (and my eyes are so bad). Do you have any tips for avoiding this motion blur problem in situations like this, or do you just err on the side of caution and increase the ISO and shutter speed?

The picture below was taken in darkness, with the exception of the field lights. I know the 1/160th isn't fast enough, but with ISO 5000, you can see the image is already falling apart, so increasing the shutter and ISO any further wouldn't have helped.

Clearly more light is likely the only solution in this example, but how can I tell in the field what the minimum shutter speed would be to avoid this motion blur, yet also keep the ISO as low as possible?

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480sparky

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Shooting raw won't help with shutter speed / motion issues.
 

Overread

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"keep the ISO low" is only a general bit of advice.

Sadly its given to too many beginners and put in too many intro videos without going into what the statement really means and the result is that you hit problems trying to keep to the theory in all situations.


In any photo you have to decide what the most important elements are to you which will dictate what settings are more important to others. So lets take your photo above - action, low light.
You want crisp sharp detail on the motion. The depth of field helps, but overall you want it pretty wide anyway and you're not really after a super great depth of field as long as it covers the subject. So from those two elements you can see that shutter speed is going to be probably your most important setting.

This doesn't mean you have to shoot in shutter priority (I wouldn't) but it does mean that the shutter speed is one of your most critical settings.



So next comes experimentation. Varying the shutter speed in decent lighting on the same subject type to establish the limit points. I'll help you cheat a bit here as I've done showjumping and can say that in showjumping if I want a sharp shot I MUST have the shutterspeed at least at 1/620sec or faster. If I drop one notch down to 1/500sec I get blur on hair and hooves and moving parts. Any slower and even more blur appears.

So now I know one limit point - 1/620sec. Any slower and I won't get shots I'm happy with. Now you might find that rodeo could be a bit faster (the animal isn't just jumping its panic jumping so it could be a touch faster).

Now lets think aperture, wide open at f2.8 is giving you more than enough depth of field on the subject, you might even want a bit more depth of field but certainly you're not after f8 or f13. So you can safely let that aperture go wide in the low light.

So what's left - ISO. Now sure you want it as low as possible, but at the same time you need the shutter speed fast and your aperture is already wide open. Raising the ISO is the only option you've got. You're still only raising it as high as you need it to get a good clean exposure, but you are still going to raise it. In fact a high ISO correctly exposed is better than an underexposed lower ISO*.


In your situation I'd sent the ISO as high as I need it to be. That might be all the way to 6400 or higher still if your camera can go higher. Yes it will still be grainy, heck if you're already at ISO 5000 and its underexposing that far chances are you will still be underexposing at the cameras top limit. Sometimes the situation is just rubbish for the photography and indoor sports is one of the most challenging times for a camera.



*For sensors which are NOT invarient. Sony and nikon have them now where they can recover fantastic detail from the dark regions in a shot even at high ISO values. So that can change some of the ISO elements and let you get away with slower ISOs and boosting the brightness. However it won't resolve the shutterspeed issues.
 

adamhiram

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I typically use 1/(shutter speed) as a rule of thumb for minimum shutter speed handheld. With VR and a still subject, 1 stop under is doable, and anything slower than that requires some luck in my experience. For moving subjects, I tend to at least double that base value, and sometimes quadruple it, depending on how fast the action is. For a 70-200, assuming you're at the long end, I would think the latter would be around 1/800 to have any chance of freezing motion, but obviously every situation is different. I would have no expectation of 1/160s being usable for this event, even in good light. I believe crop factor affects this rule of thumb, but it'll get you close enough.

This likely means shooting wide open at f/2.8 and bumping ISO pretty high. In my experience with the D500, ISO 6400 images are still pretty usable, and if you need to go higher, black and white is your friend. I agree with the small screen making it difficult to gauge sharpness, but hopefully you can zoom in and get some idea of the results.

Side note - I'm curious where you are located in NJ? I'm in South Jersey myself.
 

SquarePeg

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A subject in motion I would not go below 1/500unless I wanted some motion blur. If I wanted to freeze action completely I would go 1/1000, choose my aperture and auto ISO. That’s where I start then adjust aperture or +- from there.
 

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Generally in sports photos, it's more acceptable to have noise than blur. Sometimes you just don't have the light to produce really good quality shots, and when that happens in sports it's tough but there isn't really anything you can do about it.

For this type of shot I'd have probably started at 1/800th and ISO 25,600, chimped a bit while zooming in to see if that was enough. The D500 is a bit of a strange beast as the high ISOs beyond the native 51,200 loose too much detail to be of any use, so I wouldn't reccomend pushing beyond native. If noise was still a concern, I'd have spit my shooting time and after I felt I had a few acceptable shots at higher ISOs I'd drop it to 1/250th and see if that would be enough.

Also consider what you are shooting, here is a photo of peak action, but the bull riders while they are in the pen, just before the enter the ring can be a great subject that don't require super fast shutter speeds. So thinking about shot choice can also play a role.

Personally, I don't seem to mind noise in B+W photos as much either so that's always an option.
 
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gossamer

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Great responses; thanks so much, everyone. I think 1/500th would have significantly affected the noise in the picture (in conjunction with raising ISO, of course). The pics which were blurry seem to stop at about 1/320th. You could definitely see them deteriorate as the night went on and I increased the ISO over the course of about a half hour.

It's good to know that I do really have a good handle on what the settings should be, particularly after this experience shooting beyond dusk, and with the help of everyone's comments.

Side note - I'm curious where you are located in NJ? I'm in South Jersey myself.

I'm in Bergen County, northern NJ, about ten minutes from the NY border and 25m from NYC. We're the biggest county in NJ, and in the far upper-right of the state. If you're ever headed to NYC, drop me a line; I'd love to buy you a coffee. Otherwise, beach season is over - I'll look you up next summer :)
 

ac12

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Shooting action in LOW light stinks.
There is no "magic silver bullet."

This is the same issue that we have shooting high school football at night under lights.
I tell the yearbook kids, forget what you heard about keeping the ISO LOW.
You NEED shutter speed to freeze the motion, so you raise the ISO as high as you need to, to have at least 1/500 sec shutter speed.
A high ISO noisy but NOT blurry picture, wins most every time over a low noise but blurry picture.

Alternatively, you have to learn to shoot at the peak of the action, when you can use a slower shutter speed.
But this is a skill that is not easy for many to learn. As it requires knowledge of the sport, and experience to learn the timing of when to press the shutter button.

And when it gets DARK, you want the FASTEST lens you can get, and shoot wide open.
The Sigma 50-100/1.8 would be a great low light lens, if the focal range of the zoom matches the scene.
 
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Derrel

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this is an example of a situation where a really fast lens, such as an 85 mm F1.4, or a 105 or 135 mm F2 would be much better than your F2.8 zoom lens. I would have notched up the ISO to 6400 instead of 5000..

Still,at small size this photo looks decent, and I do not mind the cow poke's arm being blurred slightly.

For 1/160 of a second,your result was fairly good. Had you been able to access an f/2 lens, you could've doubled your shutter speed to 1/320 second; had you had access to an 85 mm F1.4 lens, you could have quadrupled your shutter speed!

in really bad lighting, I think Nikons 85 mm F1.8 G series is a pretty good lens for shooting from farther away, and then later cropping in at the computer. For night time sports and action, the fast prime lens such as the 200 mm F/2 really shows its worth. However lenses such as that are big and heavy and very expensive; because of that I have long recommended that many people buy the 85 mm F1.8 G, which is a very sharp lens, and which is around $399 brand new. It is a pretty good low-light lens.
 

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The problem with shifting to wider and wider lenses is that the depth of field becomes thinner and thinner and thus your accuracy with the shot has to get even more precise. For something like showjumping, racing, agility etc.. you might have a chance since you can pre-train the camera on a spot you know the animal will go past/through. For rodeo experience might teach you some common directions that the animal will take most times - but by and large I'd wager once the gate is open the direction will vary a lot. I'd wager its actually quite a challenge to shoot well.

Of course as Derrel says you can go wider with shorter focal lengths, but then you lose out on the tightness of the action and have to rely on the surroundings far more and/or more cropping.


In general, as noted above, there is no easy answer. Low-light action is always a challenge that will push things to the limit; even more so when you've got almost no control over subject nor situation - heck at many events you can't even pick your shooting position.
 

Derrel

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four shots at 30 to 40 feet, there is plenty of depth of field enough to where the 105 or 135 mm lens, and the same goes for the 85 mm F1.4 or F1.8 lens used at distances of 5 to 20 meters... typically depth of field is more of a distance related thing then it is aperture related.

cropping is less of an issue now than it used to be. When I first started should be newspaper sports and the digital era was new, we Nikon sugars were using 2.7 to 4.2 megapixel cameras, and then rather quickly The Nikon company boosted it mega pixel count to from six megapixels to 12 megapixels. Today 24 megapixels is standard and 36 to 47 megapixels is common, and that allows for a lot of cropping.

One thing to remember is that prime lenses may have a slight advantage in T stop over zoom lenses like 70 to 200 mm F2.8 models, which typically now have 19 to 23 elements, which leads to a T-stop which is a bit lower than the marked f-stop. It's not a lot, however at the margins,it may be a factor. For example for many years my "brightest" Lens was the Nikon 135 mm F/2 defocus lens,which seemed to me to be roughly 4/10 of a stop or so brighter than my 70 to 200 or 80 to 200 zoom lens at corresponding f-stops.
 
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adamhiram

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I think Nikons 85 mm F1.8 G series is a pretty good lens for shooting from farther away, and then later cropping in at the computer.
Would you recommend this lens for use as a telephoto sports lens though? I find it to be a phenomenal portrait lens, but not particularly good for tracking fast action. I'll chase my preschooler around all day with a 50mm f/1.8, but never had much luck with the 85mm and fast moving subjects.
 

ac12

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I think Nikons 85 mm F1.8 G series is a pretty good lens for shooting from farther away, and then later cropping in at the computer.
Would you recommend this lens for use as a telephoto sports lens though? I find it to be a phenomenal portrait lens, but not particularly good for tracking fast action. I'll chase my preschooler around all day with a 50mm f/1.8, but never had much luck with the 85mm and fast moving subjects.

Depends on the sport, and how far you are from the subject.

I would think as long as you are not too close.
I visually have a hard time tracking fast action if the frame is too tight on the subject/player. I need space around the moving subject to be able to track the subject, especially an erratically moving subject.

When I shoot volleyball (with a 35/1.8 DX or 50/1.8), and QUICKLY shift subjects and shoot, the first shot is usually OOF. The camera/lens is still focusing when the shot fires. Then for the 2nd shot the lens has focused on the subject.
 

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