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Photography Question 
Andrea R. Siebert

indoor action shots

i have no trouble shooting action shots outside, but when it comes to indoors-that's another question!
i have an excellent light source (SB 800)and wonderful lens' (50mm 1.8, 70-300 & 28-80 all nikon)but I always have trouble catching a perfectly clear action shot! sometimes my camera focuses on the wrong thing because of the action and then I get a blurry subject and clear backgroun. I know gym lighting and florecent lighting does not help-but I would really like some comments, sugesstions, etc.
i would really like to capture my daughter in gymnastics without having to worry about whether they'll turn out blurry or not.
thanks for you help!

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7/17/2008 7:55:29 PM

Pete H
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/9/2005

You've almost answered your own question in the 1st sentence.

"i have no trouble shooting action shots outside, but when it comes to indoors-that's another question!"

Focusing on the "wrong" subject indoors is usually due to low light on the subject. The camera simply is having a hard time finding enough "contrast" in your intended subject. This is how most autofocus systems work. (contrast Detection)
Something in the background may have better contrast, so the camera focuses there. This is a typical problem when using autofocus with some cameras.

I doubt you will be using flash for gymnastics as that would be quite distracting to the participants.

Your best option is to "pre-focus" on the area where the action will occur. This is often known as "trapping"
Trap focusing does work and works well; this is how it was done before we had the latest digital cameras with superior autofocus capabilities.

You can pre-focus with auto focus and then turn OFF the autofocus; or focus manually.

Use the smallest f/stop that is practical to maximize your DOF, but not so small that the shuter speed is too slow causing image blur. You may (and probably will) have to raise your ISO to accomplish this.

Gym lighting is really not a problem if you shoot RAW. You can correct the white balance later in Post Processing, or manually WB if you are shooting only jpeg.

I'm not sure what camera you are currently using.
Today's sports photographers are using the latest and greatest in focusing technology.
"Dynamic Focus" (tracks) or (follows) the subject as it moves, all the while keeping sharp focus; and they do an excellent job too.

"Trap Focusing" works well but has limitations.

EX: If the subject is NOT changing it's distance from you very much (left to right) like the balance beam in gymnastics, pre-focusing works great.

If the participant is doing floor excercises and is either approaching or retreating from you, pre-focusing will only work for a very narrow distance; or a certain (spot) on the floor.

If you find yourself shooting a lot of action, (sports etc...) you may want to look into the latest generation of DSLR's. Their autofocus systems are now quite advanced. They have pretty much cured the problem of (Follow & Focus)with almost frightening accuracy.

all the best,


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7/18/2008 7:06:03 AM

Andrea R. Siebert   yes-i have used the dynamic setting on my camera. I have also set the aperture as low as I can-and sometimes that doesn't work. I was playing with the aperture and shutter settings last night, and while I could get the shutter faster, then the aperture didn't allow enough light in (ex: I set the ISO to 800 and the Fstop on 1.8, 2.8-mostly below 5 and the image barely showed up-there was not enough light-if I set it at 800 and raised the fstop to 5.6 and above, then the shutter was too slow, resulting in blurry photos) am I making sense-am I doing something wrong? i've had my D50 for over a year, so I should know these things! also, when I shoot action inside (like gymnastics-and don't worry-this is just little tumblers, not professional gymnastics)i try to bounce the flash off of the ceiling to reduce shadows-can this cause a problem with blurry focus? so many questions---thanks for bearing with me!

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7/18/2008 7:51:35 AM

Pete H
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/9/2005

I'll try to lend more advice when I get some more time...Might not be until Sunday.

Unless you are in a gym with a fairly low white ceiling, bounce flash won't work.

I don't wish to burst your bubble, but the "Dynamic Focusing" ability of the D-50 is limited, that is; it does not do a good job on fast moving subjects.

This is why I suggested (pre-focusing.)

Believe me, shooting 1.8 to 2.8 @ ISO 800 is more than adequate for most well lit indoor shots. Even though the depth of field is quite shallow, if you (pre-focus) on the spot where you anticipate the action to be, you will be ok.

Set your camera on aperture 1.8 to 2.8..meter off the people you wish to photograph.

Let's pretend you got a reading of 1.8 @ 1/125th sec.

Now set your camera to manual exposure mode and dial in those exact settings. This method will prevent the camera from re-calculating the exposure when in aperture priority.

Now pre-focus on the area you wish to capture the action..Shoot!

I'll try to be more specific when time allows Andrea.


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7/18/2008 8:38:33 AM

Andrea R. Siebert   thank you for all of your feedback. I really appreciate the time you are taking to respond to each of my questions.
I shot pictures for VBS at my church this week and I had enough light-i again had trouble with moving objects-many of them! there were groups I had to take of kids and they were always moving (not posed, just snapshots)! I wanted to take pictures of them so they all were clear in the picture-but most times the camera only focused on one or two individuals and the rest were blurry-i tried the dynamic mode, but with so many kids-i'm sure the camera doesn't know what to focus on in that situation. do you have any sugestions when there are many moving subjects (not neccesarily action) as opposed to just one? I hope i'm making sense.

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7/18/2008 11:07:11 AM

Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
  A gym isn't as brightly lit as people think. Iso of 800 probably isn't going to be high enough without a flash. Even at f/1.8
If you have higher iso settings, use the highest one. And depending on the gym, you still may need to underexpose and lighten the picture later, for the sake of reducing blur. Then as your technique gets better, you can shoot closer to a proper exposure.

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7/18/2008 11:34:36 AM

Pete H
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/9/2005

We probably need to begin at the beginning. :)

You are facing more than one problem; therefor I suggest you tackle them one at a time.

Based on your description, it is difficult to know if the problem is one of motion blur or depth of field restriction..perhaps a little of both.

"I wanted to take pictures of them so they all were clear in the picture-but most times the camera only focused on one or two individuals and the rest were blurry-i tried the dynamic mode,"

I think it best for you to start with an understanding of depth of field.
We can tackle subject motion blur another time.

In it's most basic description, DOF increases as the physical aperture decreases. So f/1.8 will have a very shallow DOF, where f/11 will be greater; or will have more in FOCUS in front of and behind the subject you are focusing on.

I'm uploading a VERY basic illustration of this for you to look at.
My apologies if I am assuming you know little about photography concepts.

It appears (and please, no offense whatsoever is intended) that there are some gaps in your understanding of things like shutter speed, aperture, ISO and how they inter-releate.
Attempting to learn them all in one fell swoop is daunting at best for anyone new to photography.

If you prefer, you may email me directly; otherwise this thread may get really long. LOL

all the best,


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7/18/2008 8:41:37 PM

Andrea R. Siebert   yes-i do understand the whole cencept-but sometimes I feel like I don't understand it completely when it comes to specific situations. i'm probably asking too many questions at once that are totally different subjects-sorry to get you confused! most times I don't have trouble taking reat portraits (which is mainly what I do) so when it comes to action (what I don't do alot of)it bugs me that I can't always figure it out! I think I rely to heavily on the auto systems of cameras and do not do enough practice with manual settings-i am learning alot though with research and asking LOTS of questions! hehe.

thanks!i'll keep practicing!


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7/18/2008 9:35:50 PM

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