BetterPhoto Q&A
Category: New Questions

Photography Question 
Linda Finstad
BetterPhoto Member Since: 10/20/2006

Shooting in indoor riding arenas

Hi - is there anyone out there that sucesfully shoots horses and dogs in poorly lit indoor riding schools.
I recently upgraded my camera to a 5D and a 70-200 L 2.8f lens hoping I would be able to capture action shots at our local dog agility club.
But the results were really disapointing. The only shots that could be salvaged were shot at very close proximity. Even they werent worth showing anyone with a hope of selling them.
Please help - if you have any sugestions regarding settings I would be most grateful.

To love this question, log in above
1/8/2007 1:24:55 PM

Mike Rubin
BetterPhoto Member Since: 10/15/2004
  Sounds like the problem I had shooting High School Basketball in a school gym. The lighting is very poor and I cannot use a flash as it will disturb the players (animals in your case) I had to increas my ISO to 800/1600 to be able to get the shutter speed up high enough to freeze the motion at f/2.8 When I swithched to my 50mm f/1.8 I was able to lower the ISO and get rid of the noise. I considered the high ISO shots unusable even after removing the noise.
It is difficult ($$$$) if you need to go faster than f/2.8 and still need the range of a 70-200.

To love this comment, log in above
1/8/2007 6:36:56 PM

Irene Troy
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/27/2004
  Hi Linda Boy do I sympathize with your difficulties! I own horses, dogs and other animals and am often trying to capture images of them in surroundings that are anything but ideal for photographers. A few things that I have learned: you can and often must use flash, but you need to direct the flash properly. I am no expert in flash photography, but I have learned to bounce the light instead of shooting the flash directly onto my subject. I sometimes use a plain white card that I attach to the top of the flash unit with a rubber band forcing the light to bounce toward either the ceiling or (since in most arenas the ceiling is too high for this) to bounce on the card itself, thus softening the light. Because it is usually impossible to place off camera lights in an arena, I tend to shoot at a higher ISO than normal and to use a high shutter speed whenever possible. I do try to use a tripod when possible, simply because it makes it so much easier to get a sharp image. However, as you probably have already experienced, using a tripod around animals is not always possible, thus the high shutter speed to eliminate shake and blur. Also, try to get down to the animals level and shoot straight on or upward rather than downwards.

Because I have spent most of my life around horses and dogs I have learned to watch their action and to anticipate their next move. This is essential when photographing since the animals [particularly in agility trials!] move so quickly that unless you are prepared camera in position, exposure preset, etc. you will miss the shot or get a shot that does not display the action you want. If you are not experienced with agility work, watch a few training sessions first and learn what the dogs are likely to be doing at each stop. This will serve you well when you are ready to shoot an actual event. A little knowledge, in this case, will serve you very well. Finally, get close! The light in show rings is always horrible unless the ring is outside so you need to be close in order to have any chance of capturing your scene without have horrible shadows. Because of the usual setup for these type events, you will need a long lens that will permit you to zero in on your subject without having to actually be physically close impossible in most show situations.

Good luck and I hope someone with more lighting experience will also respond so we can both get some pointers in that area.

To love this comment, log in above
1/9/2007 6:30:06 AM

Christopher A. Vedros
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/14/2005
  Mike said "It is difficult ($$$$) if you need to go faster than f/2.8 and still need the range of a 70-200."

It's not just a question of cost, but what is currently available. Canon has 85mm lenses at f/1.8 and f/1.2, and a 135mm f/2 lens. Once you get to 200mm and above, f2.8 is the fastest available.

Linda - you already have a great lens for this application. You need to look at the other factors that could improve your pictures. The timing that Irene describes is very important in shooting sports or any action. Have you tried using higher ISOs to increase your shutter speed?

You didn't really say what was wrong with the shots that weren't good enough. When you said that only the ones taken at close proximity were good, it makes me think that mayber you were using a flash, but it wasn't strong enough for distant shots.

Give us a little more info about what settings you are using and what was wrong with the pictures, and we'll see what other suggestions we can come up with.

Chris A. Vedros

To love this comment, log in above
1/9/2007 7:04:18 AM

Linda Finstad
BetterPhoto Member Since: 10/20/2006
  Hi Guys
thanks for the imput,
I have uploaded a few dog agility pics, so you can see what I mean. I am really embarassed to show them so they wont be in my gallery for long.
I think one of my problems was the flash did not reach the subject and my ISO was too low (400) but even with that setting teh pictures in the ring were really grainy.
I think I will wait until they have outdoor events and try again, capturing the action was not a problem - however caturing it well seemed like am impossibility.
I know it can be done because you see show pictures on event photographers web sites. That have been taken indoors.
I would really welcome any sugestions. As there are quite a few local agility clubs and no one seems to have the photography covered. ( maybe they tried and couldnt see the light either) sorry about the pun.

To love this comment, log in above
1/9/2007 3:34:42 PM

Irene Troy
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/27/2004
  Hi Linda I took a look at your gallery of dog agility events and have a few ideas: it is obvious that you are underexposing your images and perhaps you have something when you mention that the flash may be too far from your subject. What type flash are you using and have you considered using a flash extender? As I previously mentioned, I am anything but an expert on flash and often make mistakes similar to what you have here, so I will leave the real advice to someone with more knowledge. I do know that when I started using a flash extender bracket, my flash pics - made under similar circumstances as your pics here began to improve.

Another observation: sharpness appears to be an issue. Using a faster ISO will allow you to use a faster shutter speed thus improving sharpness. I have learned a trick that has given me some success in photographing horses while they move through obstacles (trail classes) or jumping. I set my tripod up close to the obstacle/jump, place my camera on top; set a high shutter speed and attach a cable release so that I can watch as the horse approaches the obstacle/jump and release the shutter at the perfect time. Because I mount my long lens I am able to stay well out of the way while still achieving a clean image of the horse and the obstacle/jump. The tripod helps me to achieve a sharper image as does the fast shutter speed. When I shoot hand held as is unavoidable in most horse shows and dog events I push the ISO and shutter speed up as much as possible. As I said before, learning to anticipate action can help you to be prepared when the dog moves. I can see that you already have some idea of what dogs are doing in these events so this should not be a real problem. Of-course, if you can shoot outdoors it may be a whole lot easier!

BTW: is that your Arab mare? She is really nice! I love her head!

To love this comment, log in above
1/9/2007 4:00:44 PM

Mike Rubin
BetterPhoto Member Since: 10/15/2004
  Thanks Chris, Now I can stop dreaming of how to pay for one.

To love this comment, log in above
1/9/2007 4:52:04 PM

Jamie M. McCoy   I take photos at horse shows.

All the horse show photographers around here use flash.

The photographers at the High School basketball games also use flash.

Can you explain how do take shots in poor light without a flash?

To love this comment, log in above
4/25/2007 9:52:45 PM

Jamie M. McCoy   By the way, I wanted to add.

The camera I use is a Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi

Also, am I right....I was reading this thread again, Are you all saying that all I have to do is increase the ISO?

To love this comment, log in above
4/25/2007 9:56:08 PM

Jamie M. McCoy   Anyone care to help me here?

To love this comment, log in above
4/26/2007 7:35:37 AM

Log in to respond or ask your own question.