We teach a lot of photography classes here and one of the most popular questions I get from moms and dads with good cameras is “how to photograph indoor sports“? The answer isn’t all that complicated but there are certain factors that cannot be ignored. And one of them is money. I know it’s not fair, but those with the more expensive cameras have a far better chance to capture indoor sports shots than those with lesser expensive cameras. Why?
ISO is your camera’s film speed. In other words, it’s the sensitivity to light setting on your camera. A low ISO needs more light to expose the image properly than a high ISO. Find the ISO setting on your camera. It probably has a range of somewhere between 100 and 3200. On really good (expensive) cameras it goes much higher. The higher the ISO setting the less light the camera needs to make a proper exposure.
But there is a trade-off….especially in the lower end cameras. The higher the ISO the lower the quality of the image. Not a big deal or even noticeable on a small computer screen. But when you print you will notice a big difference in the quality. The picture can take on “noise” and look “grainy”. A portrait photographer, especially when using studio lights, will usually use the 100, 200 or in a pinch the 400 ISO setting on his/her camera. Because they need high quality to sell to their clients. But a sports photographer isn’t ever going to get to use 100 ISO when shooting indoor action sports. Simply not possible.
Look at the picture of my daughter playing basketball this past Saturday. She plays Special Olympics basketball and was bringing the ball down the court at a pretty good clip. Knowing that motion freezes at about a shutter speed of about 250 I set my aperture at 4.0 (the largest setting I had on my lens that I brought) and then just raised my ISO until I was getting about 1/250 of a second on the shutter speed with the available light. In this case I was using a Canon EOS 5D Mark II Digital SLR Camera with EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM Lens. The camera can go up to 6400 ISO. But I seldom like to max out the ISO. And while I didn’t keep all the EXIF data of my photos I can tell you I shot most of the game at 5000 ISO.
That’s a pretty high ISO. Most entry level consumer digital SLR’s don’t go much past 3200…or sometimes even 1600. So you can begin to see how difficult it can be to take good action shots of indoor sports without the better equipment.
Life isn’t fair. I get it.
Can you use motion blur to make better pictures? Sure.
Look at the picture above. Again, I cannot tell you the exacts because I’m just not Type A enough to always keep the exact data. But my memory tells me most of these pictures of a local Pinewood Derby were shot at 2500 ISO. Again, 4.0 was the f-stop. Here I was looking to blur the cars while freezing the kids. So I raised my ISO until I got to a shutter speed of about 90. Sometimes I remember it was 125, depending.
Yes, I could have raised my ISO high enough to get to 1/250 or even 1/400 of a second but those pictures are boring. I remember testing it and it just looked like the 4 cars had stopped on the track.
The point I’m trying to make is that motion blur in sports photography can be acceptable, even desirable for certain pictures. So if your camera cannot quite freeze the action, how can you make the action part of the story? There is always a way. You just have to get up from your seat and figure it out by looking at the action from all angles.
Writing about indoor sports photography can be an endless subject. Look for me to stay with this theme for a few more days. I can think of two topics I’d like to go in to in more depth right now;
- How To Use Flash For Indoor Sports Photography
- How Your Angle Minimizes Motion Blur When Photographing Action
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