🌟 Exclusive 2024 Prime Day Deals! 🌟

Unlock unbeatable offers today. Shop here: https://amzn.to/3LqnCuJ 🎁

Sport Photography


TPF Noob!
Dec 9, 2011
Reaction score
Hi All!

I am overwhelmed that I have just been asked to take some photos for an AFL game in my home town!

It will be at night but they have huge lights over the oval.

What I am scared of is I only have a Nikon D3000 and a 55-200mm kit lens!! Will this hold up for this type of thing? I have never done anything like this before!!

Thanks for your help! =)
How far from the field will you be?
Are you allowed to use flash?
Is there any chance of going there to test / practice well before the game (in the same lighting conditions)?
I will be on the field inside the fence so right in the game basically. Flash is allowed but its this Saturday night so no games before hand to test it out =\ Im so nervous but feel like this is a huge opportunity and would hate to let it go!!
Not sure your background, so please don't get offended if I go over stuff you know . . . And I haven't tried to shoot sports outdoors at night.

- Using flash "can" help to freeze motion. But it does other stuff like slow down your shutter so that motion blur might be brought back in that way. And it might slow down shooting because the flash needs time to recharge between shots. And it will make you go through your battery a lot faster. But if its a difference between not getting a shot and getting a shot, I'd go for it.

- But I'm not allowed to use flash at my daughters gymnastics so I don't know much about shooting sports with flash, besides the general flash comments. Such as . . . if your flash isn't getting far enough, then turn up the ISO (but knowing that the higher the ISO the noisier the image), try to use a larger aperture to let more of the light from the flash get through (so probably use aperture or manual mode to control this.), Shutter with the built-in flash is going to be 1/200 sec and you probably don't want to go slower so as to reduce ambient light causing blur in your picture, so I'd start by leaving the shutter speed at 1/200 sec.

- Shooting without flash may be possible, it might not be possible. It all has to do with available light. But I suspect that you might have a good chance, being its a proper sports venue.

Check this post out, where I describe my approach to shooting my daughter's cheerleading without flash. Its just one approach, but it works for me.

Last edited:
Oh, yeah, and something not to do with settings at all is anticipating the "decisive moment" to take the picture.

Try to envision the shot(s) you want to get. Watch how the play unfolds. Anticipate what is going to happen and get your camera there waiting for that moment and fire away.

As examples . . .
With my daughter's gymnastics, its mainly the poses that I wait for. I anticipate the pose and fire at that moment.
With my daughter's cheerleading, I watch the routine and anticipate their jumps and try to capture them at the top most point of those jumps or tricks, etc. In other words the poses.

With AFL the decisive moments will be different, but the strategy can be the same.

With the D3000 the high ISO produces horrible noise which is what worries me! I just dont have the money to upgrade but have been ready to do so for some time now.

Im mainly worried because the only sports lens I really have is the 55-200mm which is such a basic lens. ARGH... What to do?!
Well . . .

Shooting at ISO 3200 doesn't necessarily mean that the image is going to be really noisy. It all depends on how much light there is. If there is enough light, the image quality will be like shooting ISO 1600 in bad light. It's all dependent on light.

And in most cases, I'd rather get an alright shot at ISO 3200 vs. not getting the shot at all.

If you do shoot at ISO 3200 and manage to freeze the motion and get some shots, even if they are a bit noisy, you can look into noise reduction software like Noise Ninja [ Noise Ninja: The gold standard for image noise reduction ] to reduce the noise in an image after the fact.

Then again, if you take the approach I outlined in the other thread, who knows, you might get lucky and be able to pull the ISO down 1/3 or 2/3 of a stop towards ISO 1600.

The other options is to try to shoot with flash, maybe at ISO 1600 as a starting point, to get more light to help the sensor get a cleaner image. That might slow you down a bit, so you might have to be more selective of what shots you go after, and this will use up your battery faster.

Do you have more than one battery?

After this event, you'll have an idea if you want to upgrade to a camera that does higher ISO, or . . . start saving your pennies for faster lenses, such as a Sigma 70-200 f2.8 or something.

Me, right now, I upgraded from the Nikon D70s (which only went to ISO 1600) which I used my Tamron 28-105 f2.8 lens to a Nikon D5100 (which goes to ISO 6400 and can be pushed to ISO 12,800 or 25,600 -- although that is noisy) which I currently only have the Tamron 28-75mm f2.8 lens and Nikon AF-S 18,135mm f3.5-5.6 lens right now. I want the Sigma 70-200 f2.8, but waiting to see if my daughter decides to do cheerleading or gymnastics next year. If she does gymnastics, I want the Sigma 70-200 f2.8. If she decides to do cheerleading, I might consider getting an older Nikon D90 to use my old Tamron 28-105 f2.8 lens on, or maybe start looking at the Nikon 24-120mm f4 VR II lens. But that's some cash.

In the short term, I'm just cranking up the ISO on my Nikon D5100 and "faking it" by trying to clean up the noise after the fact. I'm getting lucky with cheerleading so far and managing to shoot at near ISO 3200 vs. having to crank it up to ISO 6400. But I'm waiting for my daughter's gymnastics competitions to start. Usually the lighting there is pretty brutal.
Dope. I guess the other option is to get an external flash unit like the Nikon SB700 or something.

I keep forgetting about flash because I've been forced to solve this problem without flash, as I'm not allowed to use flash at gymnastics. I do plan to get a Nikon flash down the road, but I just fake it with either using my Pentax AF540FGZ or one of my two Vivitar 285HVs on my Nikon camera when I just down right want to use a flash on camera.

That would let you get more light on the subject. It would have faster recycle times than your built-if flash, but may still end up slowing you down. And extend usage of your camera battery since the flash is recharged by the AA batteries in the camera.

I guess it depends on your experience from the event and what you think will get you the best bang for the buck and fit in with where you want to go next.

PM me after the event. I don't mind looking at your pictures and giving you my personal (ie. IMHO) suggestions.
Last edited:
Oh, yeah.

I had completely forgotten about these shots I posted to my Flickr account.


This was a pretty bad lighting condition at 9pm (according to the exif). And . . . it actually is sports in that it is a race of cars, sort of . . . <grin>

This was taken at our local fall fair.

I was up in the bleachers. So probably about a football field away (the long way).

This was taken with my Pentax K100d (which only goes to ISO3200), a manual focus Pentax-A 70-210mm f4 lens, and my Vivitar 285HV.

This was my set-up.

ISO 3200
Camera set to manual exposure
Aperture set to f4 (maximum for the lens)
Shutter set to 1/125sec (Pretty standard shutter speed for flash use to sync to. And I knew that with it being so dark, there wasn't going to be any ambient light contributing to the picture anyway. And in fact, if I remember correctly, when I took shots and the flash unit wasn't charged up yet and didn't fire, the pictures just turned out straight black.)
This is probably zoomed 200mm. Manually focused because its a manual focus only lens.
Vivitar Flash unit probably set up to max, and zoomed out all the way with diffuser removed.

You can tell I'm using flash because the reflective material on the emergency crew is all lit up.

But the flash was able to freeze motion, but definitely over powered the shot. But again. With that equipement, that was all that I could think of to actually capture the event.

But this is a pretty extreme situation.
Forget about using flash for a start. I don't think some people in this thread understand how big a footy oval and useless a flash will be. Besides that, your main problem is your lens - at 200mm it doesn't reach anywhere near far enough, and with 5.6 max aperture at 200mm you won't be getting enough light in there. What you need minimum is something like a 300mm f/2.8 or 400 f/4. I shot a couple of footy games last year using 70-200 f/2.8 with 1.4 or 2x extenders, during broad daylight. With the 2x extender, shooting effectively at 400mm f/5.6 I had to be around ISO 400 to get acceptable shutter speeds. Even at 400mm I didn't feel I had enough reach. My boss at the time was shooting 400 /2.8 with a 1.4x extender.

Sorry to break it to you but at night you'll be producing garbage with anything short of pro glass. Your only option is to really rent something decent.
My boss at the time was shooting 400 /2.8 with a 1.4x extender. Sorry to break it to you but at night you'll be producing garbage with anything short of pro glass. Your only option is to really rent something decent.

That's funny. The OP asks for advice on using their Nikon D3000 with 50-200mm kit lens, and you say the solution is a $7,200 USD lens. <grin>

Amazon.com: Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM Super Telephoto Lens for Canon SLR Cameras : Camera & Photo

But as far as distances are concerned . . . you'd be surprised at how far an external flash can reach. If the width of an AFL field is 150mm and the OP is standing "I will be on the field inside the fence so right in the game basically.", then that is about the same distance that I was shooting the above pictures of the demolition derby cars running around the track where "I was up in the bleachers. So probably about a football field away (the long way).", and the only light being recorded by the sensor is from my Vivitar 285HV flash unit, as noted by everytime the flash unit not firing, I got nothing but a black picture. Their effective reach can be extended by up'ing the ISO. And they can further be extended with things like this . . . [ "Better Beamer" Flash Extenders - The NatureScapes.Net Store ]

Does it look pretty. Heck no. <grin> Hence my comment . . . "but definitely over powered the shot".

But I think going through an event with less than ideal equipment is a great opportunity to really force yourself to know your equipment, the limitations inherit in them, where you can "fake / cheat it" to get an image, even if it is a bit noisy. Going through with something like this will give the person that decides to do it a chance to see if they in fact like doing it and whether its worth contemplating getting a $7,200 USD lens. Or if they are just happy with a picture that is "good enough", because in the end . . . sometimes good enough is, well . . . good enough.

But in the end, I think anyone that goes through with trying this will have a better understanding of their equipment, perhaps have an idea what they want to do next and maybe that will help prioritize what equipment they'd like to get next. Or, if none of that, at least an appreciation of how hard it is to take pictures in less than ideal lighting . . . <grin>

As for the OP, they were asking for help with that specific equipment, so I offered whatever I could to help them on that specific equipment.
I shoot sports constantly in all manner of situations and lighting so I will toss out a few thoughts for you. First, if that is the equipment you have then you are going to have to shoot towards it's strengths and forget about shots that show it's weaknesses. Body wise as a Canon shooter I won't comment, but lens wise you are in a fair position at best. F4.5 - 5.6 is a poor lens to use under the lights at night. Daytime, you can get useable results stopping action but f 4.5 is far to slow. The human eye/brain combination is outstanding at compensating under lights in stadiums. Camera's with slow glass is not. You are absolutely going to have to crank the ISO up to 3200 and nail the exposure. The better the exposure the less noise to deal with.

I seriously doubt that you are going to be able to get much in the way of field action due to the lens speed. You want a shutter speed of no less than 1/320th and 1/500th would be much better. I easly achieve that on the sidelines of a college football field at night with a 1D Mk IV and 1D Mk III body usually with a 400mm f2.8 attached to one and a 70-200 f2.8 attached to the other. I don't own a lens slower than f2.8 for this very reason.

Lets look at what you can reasonably get. Good sideline shots, facial expressions etc, slowdown in play such as free kicks etc. and the like. Sorry, the AFL here was the American Football League now one of the divisions of the NFL. I have watched some Australian Football League stuff on TV a couple of times but don't know the game. If you can get your speed up to 1/500th you can catch human action. Freezing the ball may be close but the bit of speed movement on the ball with a frozen subject is a quite useable shot.

Forget the flash. Using flash on the sidelines is an art with a whole new set of problems. On the very rare occasions I use a flash on the sidelines it is usually about 2 feet off the ground on a mount on my monopod and is only for very close action to light faces under helmets.

You I am going to assume know the rules and what all goes on at an AFL game. Use that to your advantage. Forget about the game. You are no longer a spectator. You are looking for opportunities to capture the action that you can. Know the rules, the players the best you can and anticipate the action that will present itself and be prepared to capture what ever your gear will allow. Have that camera glued to your face and follow the action full time. Set your camera focus to a single center focus point and on what Canon calls AI Servo. Don't know what that is in Nikon speak but it is where the focus constantly changes with the movement of the subject. Shoot wide open, f4.5-5 and shoot tight. You want to capture the action, not the other blokes standing around or the crowd. They are boring to say the least.

Finally, get low. Action is better shot from your knees than from your feet unless you are a little person at say 1 meter tall. There is a lot more, but at this point, I don't think that you are ready for me to throw in other things that you have not practiced. Good luck, make sure to stay the hell out of the way and have fun. :)
Simple answer, they coped fine with film and not motordrive cameras 30 years ago, so try it
Simple answer, they coped fine with film and not motordrive cameras 30 years ago, so try it

No we coped 30 years ago with 400 ISO film pushed to 1600 and with motor drives or winders. We then processed the film for the push to 1600. When we were lucky we got our hands on some 1600 or 3200 ISO film. (It was expensive!)

I still have my old Nikon F2 collection. The second body had a winder the primary had a motor drive and a bulk back. My glass was all fast primes. Zooms in the 70's sucked big time.
Tacticdesigns, I was not recommending she buy the expensive glass, but renting is certainly an option. I'm unsure of the OP's position if she is getting paid for this or expected to produce publishable pictures or what, so it's hard to know what is appropriate in this situation. Also, don't mean to burst your bubble but it seems you're giving advice on something you don't seem to know so well yourself. The shots you posted of the stock cars are god-awful and I would only ever post them as an example of how not to shoot sports. Also, I'm pretty sure an AFL field is wider than 150mm ;)

OP - I'm confused now as to what sport you are talking about - did you AFL as in Aussie rules footy (what I had initially assumed)? Or American Football? Aussie rules with its large oval fields gives greater working distances than a square field. I think the best advice is to do as gryphonslair said and forget about peak action shots, slow the shutter speed down a bit and focus on smaller details.

Most reactions