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Requested help for shooting Cheerleading.


TPF Noob!
Feb 14, 2012
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Milton, Ontario.
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Hello Everyone, I'm pretty new to the forum. Can't remember where I came across the website . . .

I'd like to ask some advice on shooting Cheerleading.

Any advice, suggestions, comments greatly appreciated.

My daughter and her team have their 3rd Cheerleading competition this weekend. My wife tells me that its going to actually be 2 times they go up.

I've gotten through the first two events, and the got some keepers for the scrap book, but, me being me, I just want to keep learning more to try to squeeze the most out of what I've got. Lighting at the first two events has been amazing. I was completely unprepared for that amount of light on the team. I just couldn't believe it. I was so skeptical that I really played it safe on settings. Their performance is about 2.5 minutes long. We get to stand right at the front edge of the stage. Stage is about 30' square. Girls could be anywhere from 10' to 30' away. And they are running in all different directions simultaneously.

Current equipment:
Nikon D5100, Tamron 28-75mm f2.8

Settings I tried:

Event 1) ISO6400 because I just couldn't believe that lighting for an event could be so good, Aperture Priority f7.1 because I thought I'd try to get more girls in focus so I could give each one a DVD of pictures (and I hadn't used 3d autofocus before for this fast a subject), Full matrix metering, 3d autofocus, ADL was on because I really haven't played with that. -1/3 stop exposure compensation because I don't usually use matrix metering and was worried about over exposure. And I was getting shutter speeds of anywhere from 1/500 to 1/1000 sec.
Results: ISO6400 is way too noisy. I went on-line to a depth-of-field calculator to try figure out how much overkill f7.1 was <grin>. Didn't see any images that came anywhere near overexposure. There was too much detail in the shadows. I'm assuming this was the ADL? There were about 7? pictures out of the 200? pictures that I took where the camera was hunting for something to focus on. But I was still very impressed with the autofocus performance.

Event 2) ISO3200, Aperture Priority f4, Full matrix metering, 3d autofocus, ADL turned off, -1/3 stop exposure compensation because I was still skeptical of matrix metering. Just checking the exif data now, I was getting 1/500 sec. [Some went down to 1/400sec, some went up to 1/640sec, but most were 1/500sec.]
Results: Much cleaner images. As for f4, I went with a different angle (from the extreme side) to try to get all the girls on the team in a single shot (which I got), but when they were spread out across the stage, f4 wasn't quite enough to get all of the girls in focus. It looks nice, though. And still no sign of overexposure. As for the shadows, they go to black and are less distracting IMHO. There were about 3? pictures out of the 200? pictures that I took where the camera was hunting for something to focus on. Also, just looking at the exif data I was going from about 28mm-55mm for the event.

For this next event I was thinking of this set-up . . . [Of course, this is dependent on lighting conditions.]

ISO3200 + 1/3 stop
Aperture f4
Full matrix metering
3d autofocus
ADL turned off
no exposure compensation.
Adjusting ISO for lighting conditions.

If the lighting is bad, then revert to f2.8 and try to get creative with it.

Since I got 2 shots at this, the 1st time I'm going to stand just left of center at the front to capture the poses for the judges more. If those turn out maybe go for something different (but not sure what) on the next day.

Any help, suggestions, comments are greatly appreciated.

Take care, yours truly,
I would assume that the lighting is fairly consistent on the platform, yes? In that case, I'd suggest putting the camera into manual mode. You will have to figure out which exposure values to use, but once you get that figured out, you won't have to worry about it again....and all your shots should turn out consistent. With any type of automatic mode, you're likely to get inconsistent results, depending on what is in front of your lens at the time.

An easy way to get proper exposure, would be to use a grey card. How to use a Grey Card ~ Mike Hodson Photography
But you could also use anything that you estimate to be the same tone as middle grey.
You could also use your histogram display on your camera. Take some test shots, check the histogram and adjust the exposure as needed. Like I said, if you use manual mode, once you get the exposure you like, you don't have to worry about metering (unless the light changes).

So with that in mind...what settings should you use? The first step is to set your artistic goal. You'll probably want to freeze the movement, so you'll want a fast shutter speed. You will also want to keep your DOF in mind. And of course, you don't want too much noise from high ISO.
It's likely going to be a compromise of some kind...it always is.

I would probably use a large aperture, F2.8 to F4. A shallow DOF will help to isolate your subject from the background and of course, help with faster shutter speeds. It may be harder to achieve good focus though, so keep an eye on that. If you want shots with more DOF, go for it, but I'd try both.
As for the shutter speed, go fast, but you may find that you can freeze 95% of the movement with something like 1/500 or even 1/250. So rather than using 1/1000, you can move some of that exposure to the ISO, and get less noise.

I don't know much about Nikon's 3D auto focus. But I'd probably be more comfortable with a more simple AF setting. I like to use single point (or maybe small area, if you can set that on your camera). And then get comfortable moving the point around the frame as needed. This way, you can choose the subject of your photo (where the camera will focus), rather than the camera trying to make the decision.
The indoor competitions are tough because of the lack of light and fast moving subjects. The "hired-guns" that shoot these events always have strobes set up. I try to shoot somewhere between f/4-6.3 with a shutter speed of at least 1/200. I still get motion blur but not too bad. I like a wider dof for shooting the builds and I find anything bigger than f/4 too shallow. But on occasion I do open it up to f/2.8. Another thing that helps is knowing the routine. Especially if you are trying to isolate each girl for pictures. Knowing where each one will be on the mat during the builds, dance routine and tumbling portion pays off. And by knowing the routine you'll know the timing of everything. Good luck!
DOF would be the last thing I would worry about. Remember, the farther you are from the subject, the deeper your DOF even with wide open. If light is a problem, I probably keep it at f/2.8 and fast enough shutter speed. Then I will decide the ISO. Just keep changing your focus point to highlight a person. You will be amazed how deep the DOF is if you shoot with wide angle if you try to fit a lot of people in the frame.
Thanks everyone for your comments. I read them as soon as they went up, and I've been meaning to reply, but it got really busy here at the plant.

Big Mike -- I hear you about manual exposure. I was planning to do that, but got psyhc'd out with the lighting. The 1st event they had a video crew there and these huge big lights behind and above the judges. Then, the 2nd event I was in a hockey arena, which I've never shot in before. But thinking about it, and looking at the pictures, there are no hot spots. Lighting is even, I guess, given the distance of the lights? I've got a light meter as a starting point for settings and then will look at histograms and shoot teams before my daughter's team goes up to test this out. Thanks!

impulsive1 -- I hear you on the f4-6.3. Also, I hear you on the routine. I have been attending the practices and have had the camera out shooting (from the back side of the routine) to get comfortable with the routine. I just suffer from a pretty bad memory for routines. I guess its something I gotta practice. But I did grab a little video of the 1st event, so I'll watch that a few times tonight to pick out a few more moments I want to try to capture.
Question: You say you use strobes. What would the recycle time be on those, and how fast do you find yourself take pictures?

Schwettylens -- I hear you on the depth-of-field. It's something that I haven't explored a lot. This was the 1st couple times out with my new camera. Before that I had a Nikon D70s which maxed out at iso1600, and even with a f2.8 lens, I was often maxed out at 1/125sec taking pictures of my daughter at gymnastics. So knowing that I was already below 1/500 sec, I just maxed everything out and didn't think about depth-of-field. I'll have to muddle my way through the weekend and then at some point in time go back to those depth-of-field calculators to play around with different settings to see what to expect from my camera and lens.

Again . . . Thanks everyone! I greatly appreciate it!!!
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