What ISO do you shoot at for SPORTS?


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May 20, 2007
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Bolivar, MO
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I'm tempted to shoot my next sporting event (cage fight) at 1600 ISO w/ my 40D and XT to get faster shutter speeds, but I surely don't want to come out of there with a bunch of unusably grainy pics.

Basically, all I'm wondering is what ISO do you shoot at for sports, when attaining a high shutter speed is critical?
I know that this is probably going to sound like a smart A$$ answer, but it is not intended that way. I use the lowest ISO possible that allows me to maintain the necessary shutter speed to get the shot. I can post process for noise, I can't post process for blur caused by too slow of a shutter speed.

Indoor sports photography is one of the biggest challenges in photography IMO. It is purely a compromise of lens speed, shutter speed and ISO to get a proper exposure. You have to decide where you are willing to compromise.

One of the most important things in shooting sports it to know the sport you are shooting. Not only the rules and how the game is played but who the participants are and what their strengths and weaknesses are. If you do that you can anticipate the action that will come and have the best setup to get the shot.

I've never shot a cage fight, but 1/250 of a shutter speed would seem to be the bare minimum to freeze the action. For most of my glass I would prefer an f-stop of 2.2 as I tend to use primes for indoor sports over zooms. This lets me keep my ISO down and still allow me to stop down my lens a touch for more DOF and sharpness.

For the basketball shots at the collage I shoot for I am getting away with an f-stop of 2.2 with a shutter speed of 1/320 at a 1250 ISO on my 40D and 30D. Other places I have to bump my ISO up to 1600 to get the same f-stop and shutter settings. Those are my minimums for basketball, as I am pleased with the results I am able to achieve.
Isn't this a matter for you to decide? If I say ISO100 will you just go to the cagefight and bring back unsuably blurry pics instead of grainy ones?

I'd rather a sharpish grainy pic than no pic at all. That said slow shutter speeds can emphasize the action.
High ISO is mainly noisy in dark areas - your primary subjects ought to be fine if you get the exposure right. That leaves you a number of options, which are not mutually exclusive.

The lighting is pretty consistent, so take as much work off the shoulders of the camera. Set your WB manually, as well as much of the exposure as possible. This will also make your camera faster, of course.

Set WB
Set Shutter Speed
Set ISO (1600 may be a little high - maybe 1200?)
Set EV to +1/3rd ... to make sure you get a little more exposure.

And then - because it will be noisy (if at all) in the darker less important areas - use Noise Ninja or another application to reduce grain.
I surely don't want to come out of there with a bunch of unusably grainy pics.

I can deal with grainy pics. You can't work around blurry ones.

I would recommend taking your 40D canon and try out a few photos at various high ISO settings. I bet you would be surprise just high of an ISO you can acceptably push.

Just like Aperture and Shutter, there is no one solid answer to your question. It all depends on lighting conditions and subjects.
Also forgot to mention that some digital cameras can resolve and capture a good amount of information in the underexposed areas of the photo.

In a really low-light condition, I'll sometimes purposely underexpose a stop by pushing the shutter setting faster by one stop. Then bring back the details in the shadows in post-pro. Of course this really depends on the camera itself.... take your 40D and experiment.
I use the lowest ISO possible that allows me to maintain the necessary shutter speed to get the shot. I can post process for noise, I can't post process for blur caused by too slow of a shutter speed.
I realize this sounded like a dumb question!

Here are some thoughts that might help justify a stupid question :)

  • I can use flash and bump down the iso a bit, but the flash is a hassle
  • In the cage fights, certain shots have different lighting than others..depending on where the light hits.
Mainly I'm wondering "Do you hand your clients grainy images?" No doubt the 40D is grainy at 1600...probably usable, but grainy nonetheless. From what it sounds like, 1600 is normal for shooting sports. There is so much more to the picture than absense of noise. Sure, if a customer orders a 20x30, yeah I'll post-process it. a 4x6? probably not. So, hearing people use 1600 if needed is just what I was looking for.
I've talked to wedding shooters that don't hesitate to shoot at ISO 800 and will even go to 1600 every now and then.

They key is that you get a good exposure. If your exposure is off and you have to adjust it, then the noise will really show. If you nail the exposure, the noise will be kept to a minimum.

Mainly I'm wondering "Do you hand your clients grainy images?"
Maybe. But would you hand your client blurry photos? Never. (unless the blur was an effect you were going for).
For hockey in an arena in which flash is not allowed, I shoot at ISO 800 or 1000 and there is almost no noise (D300). When I used my D80 for the same conditions, I had to use ISO 800 just to get manageable noise but wasn't able to freeze the action. And Nikon's Active D-Lighting certainly helps on the D300. The D80's D-Lighting sucks. So, when I can't use a flash and it is indoors, I use ISO 800 most of the time. And that allows me to use 1/400 or 1/500 shutter speed depending on which end of the ice I'm shooting at (different lighting for some reason at the different ends, stupid University of Maine.)
High ISO is ok, as is some noise. With different PP techniques you can either take out the noise, or use the noise to your advantage by purposely making the image grainy. It's all up to you though. I'd rather have some noise then blur...can't do a darn thing about the blur.
You can always noise ninja away some or most of the grain anyway... but my preference would be to have the hassle of using the flash, becuase for me, using a strobe is not really a hasssle.
I'd rather a sharpish grainy pic than no pic at all.

..... or a clean, noise-free image with blur.

Definitely, "a sharpish grainy pic" wins hands down any day of the week ....

If you're in a situation where you MUST use a high ISO in order to maintain a good shutter speed for the shot and you get a great shot but there's some noise it - rejoice! .... you got the shot!

It doesn't bother me in the least to shoot at ISO 3200 if the situation demands it .... is there some "grain" in it ? Sure (and unavoidable, probably) .... but, as has been mentioned, there is noise-reduction software to handle "some" of the noise (I don't think you can truly wipe all of it out).

Don't be afraid of those high ISO's if you need to keep your shutter speed up ...
I honestly don't think you can ask this question without stating your gear. It helps to know what kind of lens you have if you have a faster lens you wil be able to use better ISO speeds. Another thing is thatther really is no set ISO you need to figure out what is going to work with the conditions and your gear.
It's a pretty simple answer really. As LOW as possible. Cage fight use a flash they are seeing stars anyway. Honestly I set mine as low as possible according to the light conditions and I shoot alot of sports and go by 1/400 as low a ISO as possible

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