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Photography Question 
Renee L. Harris

How to Shoot Action in Low Light?

I have the Canon Digital Rebel XT and am having trouble taking action shots inside a gym as well as at night football games. I have used the manual and tried a variety of approaches but must be missing a simple step. Does anyone have this camera and take successful shots as outlined above???

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8/31/2008 9:46:33 AM

Samuel Smith
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/21/2004
  Welcome Renee,
No simple step missed. Just low light. Have you tried an ISO of 1600? 3200? Even a fast lens (one with a very wide aperture - i.e., low f/number - to let in more light) isn't enough in those situations.

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8/31/2008 10:56:49 AM

W.    Hi Renee,

Sam is correct: the word "photography" is derived from Greek and means "writing with light". This presumes the availability of sufficient light to write with. So if there isn't sufficient light like in the gym and with night football games there can be no writing with it, can there?
Depending on the light situation at your specific venues, fast, expensive, glass in combination with ISO 1600/3200 may just be enough. Just! And shooting Raw can perhaps add another couple stops latitude in Photoshop. But at the end of the day, if there isn't enough light, there just isn't enough light.
Of course, if you shoot at telephoto focal lengths, say 100mm and longer, you will be using a tripod or other support. That may allow you to use a stop slower shutter speed than the recommended inverse of the focal length if you choose your exposure moments carefully (when there's little or no lateral movement in the subject).
Have fun!

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9/1/2008 12:21:18 AM

Dennis C. Hirning
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/17/2005
  Steer Wrestling
Steer Wrestling
© Dennis C. Hirning
Canon EOS 40D Digi...
I had a newspaper photographer tell me that when shooting sports, the minimum shutter speed should be 1/500th of a second. He is very likely correct for newspaper publication. Since you are probably not looking to do that at this time and you probably don't have access to the arena lighting flash he has available, you could try experimenting with another approach. You can show action by stopping it or enhancing it. It takes practice but you could try panning if the action is moving from one side to the other in front of you. Here is an example. It was shot under terrible lighting conditions. ISO 3200 1/50th second at F4.

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9/2/2008 6:12:18 AM

Glenn C. Riffey
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/13/2004
  I have shot in those situations and I've found that using a lens between f/1.4 and f/2.8 I can take acceptable photographs; ISO around 1600. I shoot in manual mode with preset settings. I'll take a reading off of grass or some other medium area and try a few examples and then adjust exposure accordingly. As mentioned above, action going across in front of you I would pan with the action and action coming at you just let the auto focus do its thing.

What you need to remember is to use as fast as lens as you can for faster shutter speeds. If you have a lens slower than f/2.8 odds are not in your favor in those lighting conditions no matter what your ISO setting. Otherwise the only pics you will get are those where there is little to no action in order to achieve a sharp, non-blurry, photo.

Shoot manual, get a basic setting with which to start and shoot a few practice shots and then adjust your f stop or shutter speed accordingly. You can shoot in those conditions without flash, and if you are more than 50' from the action flash won't do you much good anyway.

And forget Image Stabilization, that only gives a sharp background while it won't stop action. Hope this all helps some.

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9/2/2008 1:39:27 PM

Samuel Smith
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/21/2004
  i disagree glenn,
image stabilization,and correct selected focus points,work.
spot focus,or whatever your cameras options are,work.if the background is in focus more than the subject,a different sensor is setting the focus point.
dennis and you are helping.but since renee is a new member,i would think manual is not on her list.
the I want to take great pic's with this camera probably is.
what do we do?
we steer her in the easiest path to.......
and,the panning thing,we don't know.ability,knowledge?
?? sam

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9/2/2008 5:52:48 PM

Johanna S. Billings
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/16/2007
Maybe I am just a hopeless optimist, or experiencing beginner's luck, but I do believe this can be done. The photo above was taken at a rainy Friday night football game. I shoot for the local paper but I don't have any fancy equipment as referenced above. I buy my own equipment. No media bankroll, unfortunately! I have an Olympus e-500. The background is blurry but notice the kid I was shooting (with the sax) is in focus.

My daughter is in colorguard and I am active in our high school band parents. As such, I shoot all the band shows,the majority of which are at night. The band is definitely a moving target, though I confess they may not move as fast or as unpredictably as football players. Still, I have gotten acceptable to excellent shots. We sell prints for a fundraiser and I have had many published in area papers. I am now shooting my second season. Here are a few things I find that work:

1. Get where the action is. That means go right down to the edge of the field. I have a press pass but I have never been asked for it. Just act like you belong there while making sure to be courteous. Don't stand between the judges (or refs) and the band/game, etc. But you can probably safely walk the inside of the track without bothering anyone. (Hint: it's often easier to apologize than to ask permission in advance......)

2. Crank up the ISO, as some other responders said. I find I don't like to go much above 1000 because there's too much noise -- exacerbated by our band's black uniforms. But that's an individual decision.

3. Consider an external flash. I've seen the guys who shoot football using external flashes. Sure, it's not going to get you a crisp shot from across the field, but it may help on a lot of shots. I use a fill flash often for shots in the stands. I don't want it to look like daylight, I just want to sharpen up the focus and even out the shadows. I will occasionally use it on the field with the guard in the front row or the pit, all of whom are not far from me. I don't use it often, too, because I don't want to blind everyone.

4. Get a monopod and a bracket. Most of the football photogs have monopods. At first I felt a little dorky with mine but it is worth it. You get that much more stabilization. It won't freeze action, as others said, but it will lessen problems from camera shake. The bracket allows you to control the direction from which the external flash is throwing the light. You don't have to flash from the side just because you want a vertical shot, for example. The bracket allows you to flip the camera and flash so that they can be at different angles.

5. Shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot. From the time the band enters the field until after they are off the field, I am constantly shooting. I do throw away quite a few shots but I also manage to get quite a few decent ones too. The best way to get a high number of good shots is to shoot as many as possible.

Good luck!

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9/2/2008 6:04:33 PM

Glenn C. Riffey
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/13/2004
  Hi Sam,

I think you missed my point about Image Stabilization. As you know, in low light situations you will most of the time have slow shutter speeds. Yes, a faster lens gives you more of a chance for faster shutter speeds, but most lens today start at f/3.5 and go to as much as f/6.3 if it is a zoom. These do not allow for fast shutter speeds in low light.

In this case Image Stabilization gives you that extra chance of getting a sharp image in low light with a slow shutter. That is, static objects will be sharp but those that are dynamic will be blurred, according to its motion, because of the slow shutter speed; Image Stabilization does not stop action, a fast shutter does. That is why I said in this situation, low light photography, a fast lens is always better than a slow one with Image Stabilization for stopping action.

Now, if one can afford a fast lens with Image Stabilization that is the best case, but most of us cannot afford to spend $1500.00 or more for a fast lens with Image Stabilization.

So, I hope this clears up what I was saying. In low light photography, a fast lens with high ISO and a faster shutter speed will always stop action better than a slow lens with and a slow shutter speed and Image Stabilization.

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9/3/2008 12:08:11 PM

Samuel Smith
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/21/2004
  well glenn,
I only disagreed with the statement that only the background will be in focus?
where did that go wrong?despite shutter speed,how does the background become the focus point?vr,is?
so where is renee?
but is was developed for low light situations,well action too,but to add a stop or two to a shooting situation and not focus points.
without a response from renee,we are being set up.
it didn't clear it up.only the background is in focus?

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9/4/2008 8:30:30 PM

Glenn C. Riffey
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/13/2004
  Hi Sam,

I don't want to get in a war of semantics here. When IS or VR is in use it is usually in low light situations where slow shutter speeds are being used. What ever is static, be it background, forground or right beside the subject, will be in faily good focus. The subject, if it is moving will be blurry depending on how much it is moving and how slow a shutter speed is being used.

Tell you what, go to this site and read the forum discussion. Sounds like the same problem with the same person or camera and you can see here what I was talking about and about what Renee can do to solve her problem.

IS or VR alone does not stop action, only a fast shutter speed will stop action.

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9/5/2008 8:25:32 AM

Renee L. Harris   I appreciate everyone's advice. I shot 50 shots in the gym (my daughter is the Libero and all over the place) ISO 1600 and had about 20 show up fairly clear and acceptable quality. As you can tell and some have pointed out I am an amateur who has taken some awesome pictures as you all have. But I too am a "soccer mom" who loves a good sports shot. Tonight I will play around with photos at the football game. My son is a kicker and if the lighting is right I get good photos-just can't master it when the sun goes down and most of his games are during that time. Unfortunately I am not as well versed in terms as you all are, but my son is taking a photo class in HS and the teacher has been helping with all your responses and agrees with most. Is this sight not a good one for the "soccer mom" like me.Hate the term by the way!Glenn I will check out that site, and no that is not me writing in. I know this will work as I see many other photographers taking shots at the games and I am determined. Love the idea of raising money for the school from the photos Johanna. I take them for every sport and have been giving them to the kids. Not too smart...Renee

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9/5/2008 9:56:47 AM

Harold W. Motte   IS for sports action will be negligible.
IS is not needed to be on for a tripod.
You can get a 100mm f/2 or 85mm f/1.8 for way way less than $1000. Over 50 feet- flash is not much good. Max aperture will give shallow DOF. A starting point for indoor gym with "ok" lighting, no flash.
Aperture priority, f/2.8, ISO at 1600. Let the camera decide shutter speed. See what happens, and adjust from there. IF too dark, up ISO first. IF DOF is not a concern go to F/2 or F/1.8 and keep ISO 1600 and see. Shoot in Aperture Priority mode. Continuous af function ON. Custom white balance would be a good idea.

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9/7/2008 12:07:54 PM

Samuel Smith
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/21/2004
i can't even spell semantics glenn.but focus points or something is wrong if the background is in focus,not the subject.regardless of lens or camera.
although I agree with derek/howard,these tools can help wether it be any form of stabilization.
this includes bumping up the iso?
almost all ad's(athlectic directors)will give full access to the field of play.there is no secret or world renown gimmick.just calls,emails are a no.yet you can be on the sidelines renee.
renee,if you get 1 in 3 or 1 in 4 good pics in a brand new gym you're doing good.though some have more expierence,you will learn.yes it will be by default and then expierence.
semantics is a cuss word in my wourld,and do your spell check if you wish,guess I just don't like a chest bump.
disclaimer:no harm or intent of harm was intended.point of view was intended as to shed light on a topic,not to say i'm right,but to share an opinion.
sam I am..

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9/7/2008 10:12:05 PM

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