Indoor Sports Photography - Digital Photography School

Indoor Sports Photography

indoor-sports.jpgWinter’s here for many of us, and so is the common place for indoor sports. Basketball. Volleyball. Gymnastics. Sure, indoor sports are fun to participate in and watch, but let’s face it; Indoors sports aren’t the easiest of events to shoot for a photographer.

During my time as a high school basketball photographer, I spent significant time developing the skills to produce sharp, action packed, and exciting photos for the team. It was not uncommon to find myself in a gym with such low light that even 1600 ISO didn’t produce results. Like the time when district championships were held in the gym with the worst lighting in the county. Even the big photojournalists there were limited.

Here are some things to consider when photographing sports indoors:

  1. Watch for action and movement. Sports like Basketball and Volleyball are consistently fast paced. Your job is not simply to capture the event, but also the connection between players. This takes some skill and anticipation.
  2. Set your camera to a high ISO setting. Most recent SLR cameras will now allow you to shoot on 1000 ISO or even 1250 ISO. These options will reduce your concern for noticeable film grain (from ISO 1600). At the same time, your camera’s sensor will be more sensitive to what little available light you have.
  3. Shoot with a fast shutter speed – at least TV/200 if you can. Once again, because you need to capture movement, a fast shutter speed will freeze the motion of the athletes, giving you a clear photo. [And if it comes down to it, settle for an underexposed image in camera. You can always adjust a sharp photo later].
  4. Use a lens with the lowest aperture possible, say f4.0 to f2.8. Because you don’t have much available light, and you are working with a faster shutter speed, a wide aperture is your best friend in this setting. A wider aperture will increase the intensity of the light hitting your sensor, maximizing the available light.
  5. Look for expression. Anger. Aggression. Rivalry. Teamwork. Excitement. Victory. You cannot successfully shoot any sport without watching, waiting, and capturing the emotions and relationships of the game. You will win at the end of the day if you have an emotional picture that isn’t completely sharp.
  6. Shoot in RAW. The likelihood that you will achieve perfect coloring in camera is slim. Gym lighting is as notorious for green tinted lighting as it is for low lighting in general. Shooting in RAW will enable you to fix the colors in your post processing.

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Christina N Dickson is a visionary artist and philanthropist in Portland Oregon. Her work includes wedding photography www.BrideInspired.com and leadership with www.RevMediaBlog.com.

  • http://www.rschulzphotography.com Rob

    Mercury dee-

    What you have left out is ISO. If you are shooting at a ISO of 200 (which you might do outdoors) you will be underexposing in most indoor situations. On Canons in TV mode, if you aperture is flashing at 2.8 it means that you have hit your largest aperture and still are underexposed- thus you will get dark pictures. In a gym, I generally will have to use and ISO of at least 800 in order to get 1/150 or faster (I try to go for at least 1/250 for sports) even at f2.8 without a strobe. In a poorly lit office or home, I may have to bump it up to 1600. With a 40D you should be ok up to 800 but beyond that the noise will probably be a bit of an issue. With my 50D I try to limit ISO to 800 while my 5DII can easily go to 1600.

    The only other option is the use of flash and strobes but I know that my local sports teams do not allow flash during games. I have tried using my 50 f1.4 and the depth of field is just too thin for fast sports action to get reliable focus. Bump that ISO up and, if necessary, use software (Photoshop, Nik Dfine, Noise Ninja, etc) to help remove some of the noise.

  • Mercury Dee

    Thanks for the info. A great help. I notices the flashing 2.8 but was unsure what it meant. I eventually boosted iso to 800. But some areas had very poor lighting even for the competitors.

    Your response helps tremendously

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  • joanie

    Emil,

    Many photographers choose NOT TO USE A FLASH in order to not disrupt the game. (Flash photography is by the way not allowed at CIF games).

  • Shelly

    Thank you for this website! I’ve been the team photographer for my daughter’s summer swim teams the last five years, and now that she’s made the high school team I have been asked to shoot photos for the high school team as well. The only problem, is that I haven’t used a manual setting on any camera in, oh, almost two decades! The summer teams all swim outdoors in bright sunlight, so I have no trouble taking beautiful action photos using an all automatic sports mode on my Nikon D40x with an 18-200mm lens. The high school team swims indoors, in a poorly lit natatorium, and flash photography isn’t allowed at meets. I have some learning to do! I’m taking a crash course on your website with my manual in hand. Your website is proving a lot more helpful! The first meet is tomorrow. Wish me luck! I hope I have something to show for my efforts!

Some older comments

  • joanie

    November 6, 2011 06:55 am

    Emil,

    Many photographers choose NOT TO USE A FLASH in order to not disrupt the game. (Flash photography is by the way not allowed at CIF games).

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    January 31, 2011 10:27 am

    I’m impressed, I must say. Actually rarely do I encounter a weblog that’s both educative and entertaining, and let me inform you, you might have hit the nail on the head. Your thought is outstanding; the issue is one thing that not sufficient persons are talking intelligently about. I am very pleased that I stumbled across this in my seek for one thing referring to this.

  • Mercury Dee

    January 15, 2011 04:09 am

    Thanks for the info. A great help. I notices the flashing 2.8 but was unsure what it meant. I eventually boosted iso to 800. But some areas had very poor lighting even for the competitors.

    Your response helps tremendously

  • Rob

    January 13, 2011 04:35 pm

    Mercury dee-

    What you have left out is ISO. If you are shooting at a ISO of 200 (which you might do outdoors) you will be underexposing in most indoor situations. On Canons in TV mode, if you aperture is flashing at 2.8 it means that you have hit your largest aperture and still are underexposed- thus you will get dark pictures. In a gym, I generally will have to use and ISO of at least 800 in order to get 1/150 or faster (I try to go for at least 1/250 for sports) even at f2.8 without a strobe. In a poorly lit office or home, I may have to bump it up to 1600. With a 40D you should be ok up to 800 but beyond that the noise will probably be a bit of an issue. With my 50D I try to limit ISO to 800 while my 5DII can easily go to 1600.

    The only other option is the use of flash and strobes but I know that my local sports teams do not allow flash during games. I have tried using my 50 f1.4 and the depth of field is just too thin for fast sports action to get reliable focus. Bump that ISO up and, if necessary, use software (Photoshop, Nik Dfine, Noise Ninja, etc) to help remove some of the noise.

  • Mercury Dee

    December 28, 2010 11:02 pm

    When I am taking pictures (Canon 40D) and put the camera in TV mode (shutter priority) while shooting indoors anything over 1/90 is very dark. I use a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. Am i missing something here? Outdoors everything seems to work fine using 1/250 or 1/500 or higher. But indoors, how can i get sharp action stopping images?

    Thanks in advance. Great articles!!

  • Jenell

    October 23, 2010 01:33 pm

    Rob- thanks for the suggestions. Never thought about the speed of the auto focus but that certainly makes sense. Strobes aren't an option, so I guess I'll just keep working at it and adjusting lighting and WB in post processing.

  • Rob

    October 19, 2010 01:46 am

    Jenell- I had tried a 50 1.8 and the autofocus just wasnt fast enough for quick action. I had more success with a 70-200 f2.8 because it focuses so quickly. The 50 f1.4 or 85 f1.8 are better choices (I have tried both in the same situation but they have been hit and miss) than the 50 f1.8 due to the USM but your depth of field will be so narrow that it will add another level of issues. If you are shooting handheld, I would suggest a monopod. That will greatly help stabilize your camera and you will get a higher percentages of keepers. Also, if you are not using the center point only to focus, that will help as well.

    Ultimately, you probably just need more light to get the highest quality shots, but if your schools are like our local schools and do not allow flash usage, you will be limited. I can shoot at ISO 1600, f2.8 and 1/400th in our gyms. I get some ball and arm motion blur shooting volleyball but at least the subject is sharp. Without some fairly powerful strobes it will simply be too dark for much more. If you are allowed to use strobes, a 580II on either end of the court on some simple triggers would probably be suffient in most small gyms.

  • Jenell

    October 17, 2010 01:42 pm

    I'm using a Canon T1i with a 50mm f1.8 prime for high school volleyball and basketball. I've been shooting in manual setting with my ISO to 1600 or 3200, aperture f2.0 and Tv at 800-1000. I have the focus set to burst mode, AI Servo, and I still consistently have blurred pictures. Every now and then I get a good one. What am I doing wrong? I often will shoot in RAW but not 100%. I can deal with underexposer or an off white balance, but the blur I can't get rid of. Would an 85mm 1.4 be a better choice of lens? I have a 28-75 f2.8, and a 17-35 f2.8. Seems the 2.8 is too dark in most gyms. If I set the Tv lower than 800, the ball isn't sharp. Any suggestions?[eimg url='undefined' title='undefined']

  • Rob

    March 4, 2010 02:36 am

    My 50D has the most current firmware but I dont think it completely solved the banding issue. I have seen a few images even with the 5D MkII that show the same behavior at very high ISO settings so I think it is just inherent to Canon. At least my 5D Mk II envy is over as I received mine this week since the Mk III is probably many months away. The low light performance is outstanding but it is unfortunate that the 50D feels so much more responsive. I guess that is what you get with a giant mirror for that big beautiful sensor!

  • Gavin

    March 3, 2010 01:04 pm

    Rob, Thanks. Has the firmware of your 50D been updated? Agree with 1Ds M IV is well above and 5D M2 is just what I need.

  • Rob

    January 26, 2010 02:24 am

    Gavin...great shots. I am sooooo jealous of the 5DM2 high ISO performance. My 50D just cant get close to that at that ISO range. I start to get apparent noise at ISO 800 and by 1600 it is pretty bad with banding issues above that. I know that Canon is making some announcements in the next month or so, hopefully it will be a 5DMIII with another stop or two of ISO performance (but it will probably be the 1Ds M IV- well above what the wife will let me spend!)

  • Gavin

    January 25, 2010 04:13 pm

    Using a Canon 5D Mark2 with a 70-200 IS f2.8 shot with ISO of 2000-2500 and a shutter speed of 1/200 for most shots. I was shooting in RAW. Check out http://gavingoh.wordpress.com/2010/01/24/brunei-barracudas-vs-singapore-slingers/

  • Becky

    November 27, 2009 01:10 pm

    e: I shoot my nephew’s wresting matches and found the suggestions in the article to right on target. The key points are: 1) set your camera to a high ISO setting, 2) shoot with a fast shutter speed, 3) use a lens with the lowest aperture possible. Until recently, I was shooting with a Nikon D80 and 70-200mm f2.8 lens. I usually shoot at 1/200 to 1/250 shutter speed with an ISO of 1000-1250 and the aperture set wide open (f/2.8) and this has worked well for me at wrestling matches. I recently upgraded to a Nikon D300, which allows for higher ISO. I used it at the nighttime football games and got some great shots. Fortunately, the noise in the pictures has been minimal. One other thing is that I use a monopod at both the wresting matches and the football games … it really helps steady the camera and reduce fatigue. You didn’t mention what indoor sports you were shooting, but note that a lot of indoor sports do allow flash photography. There was a DPS posting just this week on shooting gymnastics that was very helpful. You might want to check out that post (http://digital-photography-school.com/how-do-i-photograph-a-gymnastics-event-dps-community-workshop). Good luck!

  • E

    November 26, 2009 02:19 am

    I have access to D200 with an SB800 flash. Any suggestions on what settings would be best for doing indoor sports? I like Aperture Priority for outdoors but when I go inside it doesn't work so well - but that's with the flash on the auto setting.

  • Rob

    April 24, 2009 03:43 am

    Just my 2 cents. I have obtain fairly good results with indoor volleyball with my 70-200 f2.8l and 24-70 f2.8l wide open and 50D with ISO set to 1000 (using aperture priority with a shutter speed auto set to around 1/125). I usually get some motion blur on the arms and the ball but it doesnt affect the composition all that much. I have tried my 50mm 1.8 but the focus is just too slow as well as my 85mm f1.8 which is better but not as fast as my L glass. My first few games I didnt set the focus to center point only and I struggled to keep things in focus since it kept wanted to capture the still players in the background. Center only has helped significantly.

    Here are some of the shots. http://www.photobucket.com/HartVarsityVBall The vs Saugus is the most recent game.

  • Jonathan

    March 19, 2009 04:03 pm

    @Jim News

    Let me know how it goes! If you want to make the bounce more powerful, while directing less light into the players and referees faces, I highly recommend taping a business card on the side of the flash. That way, as you hold it sideways, the light that would normally go up gets directed towards the floor as well.

  • Jim News

    March 19, 2009 10:44 am

    Johathon...I picked up a Nikon SB-24 Speedlight used and just got it. I've talked to one of my coaches, who is going to allow me to try your bouncing trick at a practice. It's the worst gym I shoot in, dark wood floor and old, bad lights. I can't wait to try this. Thanks for the tip.

  • Jim News

    March 17, 2009 12:07 pm

    Perhaps someone already mentioned this note about lighting. Inside most gyms, they use either mercury or sodium vapor lights. Even though the human eye can't see it, the lights cycle several times per second. Meaning, the light source fiickers constantly. An easy way to demonstrate this is to set your camera to shoot several frames per second and shoot a static object, like a chair. When you look back at the shots, you'll notice the light changes, even though the camera didn't move, not did the object of the shots. Of course, there is nothing you can do about it, but you should be aware of it. I had a parent at a game come up and ask me what was wrong with her camera, a Nikon D40. I explained the light to her and she was happy to learn there was nothing wrong with her camera.

  • wackeekaren

    March 16, 2009 03:35 pm

    Wow, nice article. I recently got a Canon 1000D as a gift and have been practicing shooting indoor basketball gamesusing 18-55 lens. Sometimes I do get nice shots, but then again, I'm irritated by the noise because of the high ISO setting that I used.

    Here's one of the sets that I have. http://wackeekaren.multiply.com/photos/album/124. Other sets are also there.

  • 73Rocks

    February 17, 2009 03:15 pm

    After reading some of the comments here I would have to say that I have an advantage over some others in the fact that I can use my flash at any of the games if I so choose. The smaller schools in NE SD are delighted to have someone come in and shoot their sports teams in action. I do know that it is distracting sometimes, and that is why my 1st choice is to use my Canon 50mm f1.8 with my Canon Eos Xti with an ISO of 800 . . . IF the lighting will allow it. Otherwise I use my Quantray 55-200mm with my 430EX, set at Shutter Priority of 500 with an ISO of 400. The thing I might ad is that with my flash, it has a “High Speed Sync” function so I can go over the 200/sec shutter speed limit. Two examples of going without a flash – 1st one is my Canon 50mm f1.8:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/73rocks/3287078526/

    2nd one is the result of having to adjust on the fly. It was a conference tournament game, with 3 refes, two sets of cheerleaders in each corner, and people constantly walking in front of me at one end of the gym. My solution – pull out my Canon 85mm f1.8 that I would normally use for football games and go sit in the stands. I got some very good, and very unique results:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/73rocks/3286261397/

  • Jim News

    February 17, 2009 08:35 am

    By the way, thank you so much to DPS for bringing up this topic. More than anything, I enjoy the challenge of my work as a sports photographer. In a studio, I control the subject, the lighting, everything. On a court or field, I'm just along for the ride.

    Oleksiy...I use a D3 and D90. With the shutter at 500 to 650 and the ISO set to automatic, in bad light it could go as high as 3200. Yet, because of the great image sensor, you can read the small letters on a moving basketball, not to mention the clarity of faces. Of course, as Jonathan says, good 2.8 glass is the key. I've had good luck with Sigma lenses. Especially considering the price compared to Nikkor.

  • Jessica Erin Photography

    February 17, 2009 04:32 am

    Great tips here! I'm a photojournalist at a newpaper plus I'm a portrait photographer, so sports photography is totally new to me. I shot my first indoors basketball game last week and was NOT pleased with the results. I tried the high ISO's, with and without flash and just wasn't getting the shots I was hoping for. I was alternating between a cheap 18-55 lens on my canon and my 70-200 2.8 lens. The shots were either to dark or slightly blurred. Here's one of my shots...
    http://www.upstatetoday.com/news/2009/feb/11/manley-makes-senior-night-even-more-special-seneca/

  • Stephen H.

    February 15, 2009 04:41 am

    I haven't photographed a high school basketball game in quite some time, in fact the last time was when I was in high school and all we had were point and shoots. When I photographed that, I had to time everything just right because there was a half second delay between when I clicked the picture and when it would take. But I heard from others that we weren't allowed to use a flash because the coaches and others would get mad. If you are allowed to use a flash, then that would be excellent, but I think that is where a lot of our limitations come from. So instead of using a flash, I got right in front of the goal and took pictures when they were right there in front of me. Obviously I didn't have a great zoom. While a lot of the shots I was looking for were generally the same, I was able to use about 50% of them.

    The last 'basketball' game I photographed though, was in an arena and I was photographing the Harlem Globe Trotters. The lighting was superb, I was using my 70-300 mm lens zoom because I was very far away. I don't think my iso was very high, and I got some pretty crisp shots.

  • homebrew

    February 15, 2009 02:12 am

    OK, here are the relatively few keepers from the dog show. As you can see, I didn't get much that wasn't right next to me and some of the pictures are a little soft from over-long shutter times.
    Next year, I'll buy/rent a 70-200 2.8 and nothing goes below 1/200.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/homebrew901/sets/72157613798879444/detail/

  • homebrew

    February 15, 2009 02:12 am

    OK, here are the relatively few keepers from the dog show. As you can see, I didn't get much that wasn't right next to me and some of the pictures are a little soft from over-long shutter times.
    Next year, I'll buy/rent a 70-200 2.8 and nothing goes below 1/200.

  • Jonathan

    February 14, 2009 03:27 am

    @jim news

    Only our front and back pages are in color, and this past basketball season, many of them were on the back page in color. Since the season is nearly over, our latest issue (which came out yesterday) featured golf on the back and basketball inside in black and white.

    I find it very odd that they wouldn't let you use a speedlight, but can see why they wouldn't as well. Luckily, our newspaper has a good relationship with the athletic media department, so they know that if we get good shots of the team, it makes them look good. Good thing you've got nice glass to work with. I wish we could say the same.

  • mark.i

    February 13, 2009 05:04 pm

    I've been shooting indoor sports (mostly basketball & volleyball) for more than a year now and what I can add to the comments here is to make sure you capture the faces of the people engaged in that activity. Not only does it cover the emotion point, but I find that the viewer can relate to the picture better, or feel it stronger, with such a "personal touch".

    And one more thing, learn to anticipate specific movements. If you know the sport and the players, this won't be too much of a problem.

  • Jim News

    February 13, 2009 04:01 pm

    jonathan

    I'd LOVE to use a speed light. I shoot indoor sports in 9 high schools, one Division Two college and one Junior College. With the exception of one high school, I'm not allowed to use any kind of flash from the floor. I've watched guys get tossed for it many times. Your use of light bouncing is brilliant if it works. Do you print your paper in color, or convert to bw? I shoot in color, but a lot of my stuff ends up converted in the papers.

  • Jonathan

    February 13, 2009 10:11 am

    @jim news

    For my photographers and working for the paper, we don't have the luxury of a fast lens like the 70-200mm f2.8, a speedlight is a necessity. Since we shoot mostly action shots, we shoot vertically and rotate our SB-600s towards the floor that way it can bounce. This way no shadow is created and it doesn't bother the players.

  • oleksiy

    February 13, 2009 08:07 am

    Risk, you don't need VR when you shoot at high shutter speeds. None of my lenses has it built in, you can see the results above. Also, i think you'll miss all the good shots anyway if you sit far away from the boxing action. From what i've noticed - you only get a chance to get a good picture if you sit right by the ring and you shoot between the ropes.

    Jim News - setting up your shutter speed to 500 - 650 will only work in a perfectly lit arena or with a camera that shoots well at ISO over 2000. My canon 40D doesn't go that high and i try not to shoot at ISO 1600 unless I have to. So when I shoot at F2.8 and at ISO 1000 or 1250 I am usually grateful when I can bring the shutter speed up to 320 (and this is in pretty good gyms where top European basketball teams play)

  • Jim News

    February 13, 2009 07:47 am

    If you are on the floor of a basketball game, never, ever use a flash. At the least, it will distract the players, at most, it will get you tossed off the floor. If you have a smart camera, like a D90 or D3, set your ISO to Automatic, then bring your shutter speed to 500 to 650. You must have at least a 2.8 lense to do this. I work with a 28-70 2.8 sometimes but the bulk of my work is done with a 70-200 2.8. This gives me clear shots with no motion blur and a nice depth of field. Blur doesn't impress people, it just looks like an out of focus shot, ie a bad photo. Of course, the bad light will still give you problems, you will likely need to make a few adjustments such as levels, but you will get clean shots without blur. Here's what I suggest, try this setup and show up early to the game site. Generally, high schools play their junior varsity teams prior to the varsity games, so show up early and play around with your settings during the jv game.
    I can't speak to the use of RAW files since I never use them. I shoot in high res JPEG.

  • Risk

    February 13, 2009 07:26 am

    Thank you very much, Christina!
    I will be soon attending to indoor sports event (boxing) and I was really afraid to miss a good shot! I will be shooting with a D40. The only question about this is what lenses to use? I have got the 55-200mm and then there's the 50mm. The lowest aperture is on the 50mm, but I'm afraid I'll be sitting far from the stage... And the 55-200 doesn't have VR... so I fear I get all my shots blurry, what should I do?

  • Josh

    February 13, 2009 07:25 am

    Hi all,
    Well, first time contributor here but I thought I'd offer my two cents worth since I took some shots last year that shocked me how well they turned out. Having run a volleyball magazine for three years we had to discover quickly how to capture the action in indoor volleyball without the best equipment in the world.

    A flash gun is ideal but sometimes they are not permitted and many people don't own a good flash gun that can freeze the action so here's what we did.

    Using a Canon 40D with a stock Canon lens 70-300 f4-5.6 we shot with an ISO of 800 and a shutter speed of 1/250 for most shots. 1/250th isn't quite quick enough to stop a volleyball in flight but the results were satisfactory enough.

    The key however, was shooting in RAW. These photos were all extremely dark on the camera LCD screen. I opened up my trusty Digital Photo Professional software that came with the camera, applied a blanket exposure increase of 1.7 stops and voila, super photos! Well ok, not award winning but I think most people would be happy with them.

    Anyway that's my two cents on the topic.

  • sparham

    February 13, 2009 04:17 am

    I've discovered that "knowing" the sport REALLY helps. This will help you know where to expect those great shots you desire. Also if you know where there is a lull in the speed of the action, you can get a shot during that time.

    Basketball is where I spend most of my indoor time behind the camera and again knowing the sport definitely helps.

    If you follow the link below you can see some of the collages that I put together for my daughter's school. I used two different lenses when capturing these images, so there is some contrast. I shot with a Sigma 70 -300mm f/4.0 lens until the end of 2008. In 2009, I started using my new Canon Zoom Telephoto EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS and had more gratifying results.

    http://www.parhamsphotography.com/New%20Collage%20Links.htm

    Nonetheless, I have to speak about not only knowing the sport, but also using the right settings. For basketball, I always shoot in Aperature Priority mode (set to 2.8). The usual shutter speed then ranges from 1/160 - 1/250. I sometimes shoot at ISO 1600, but usually try to shoot at ISO 800 to reduce noise.

    Like Becky, I too spend little time post processing, but rather cropping to use the images in the collages.

    Hopefully this input will help others get the shots they long to capture.

  • Debi

    February 13, 2009 03:09 am

    This is exactly what I needed - So many of my daughters activities are indoors, ballet/karate - Without a flash this is so difficult to get an image you are satified with -

  • homebrew

    February 12, 2009 02:23 pm

    I just went to the Westminster Kennel Club dog show this weekend and I can't emphasize enough how useful these tips are. At that event anyone who wants it can have floor access and the tips still apply. No matter how close you *think* you'll get, don't expect to carry a 50 mm lens and expect a lot of good shots -- I was handicapped by Madison Square Garden's lens rules and it really hurt. And it can seem bright on the floor but it's just not -- those high ISO's are a must, even though I had 2.8 glass. And finally, the short exposure times; it's almost amazing how much a dog (or an athlete) can move in even 1/100 of a second. If you choose a longer exposure time in hopes of a lower ISO you'll end up with a lot of completely noise-free shots of blurs.

    The one thing I'd add is that if possible go with a camera or setting that has a good fast burst. I disagree with the above commenter that 2.5 seconds isn't enough to get most of the action you want (at least at a dog show!); but either way being able to get as many shots in a short period is the way to get that grimace, that smile, that look that you might not have been able to capture if you had fewer shots of the action.

    I'll post my few keepers after I've had a chance to do postprocessing. Next year I'm sneaking in a longer lens - I learned that the Garden is more permissive with this event than with most others. I'll also bring a proper flash rig -- dogs don't get annoyed the way people might.

  • Scott Thomas Photography

    February 12, 2009 11:50 am

    I've seen many indoor sports photos in the ISO range 1600 to 6400 out of Nikon's D3/D700 cameras so, if you have the latest cameras I wouldn't worry about using such high ISOs.

    I've been shooting high school hockey over the last month with an older Nikon D70 using 1600 ISO with a 70-200VR f/2.8 lens. Have improved my results dramatically but the images need lots of post-processing including using Noise Ninja to clean up the noise. Saving for a D700 for next season!

    I like the points made about capturing the athletes and the sport which is really what sports photography is all about once one masters the technical challenges.

  • oleksiy

    February 12, 2009 08:28 am

    i'm an amateur basketball photographer. got myself a canon 40d and use three lenses that work perfectly for basketball. a sigma 70-20 F 2.8 ($700), a Sigma 18-50 F2.8 ($400) and a Canon 50 F1.8 ($80). I usually shoot at ISO 1250 or 1600 with the Sigmas and can go lower with the Canon.

    For those who shoot middle school basketball and have the ability to stay behind the base line - the Canon would be ideal. This lens was third in my list, had it been first, i am not sure i would have spent the money on the sigmas, the quality is so good. The ONLY disadvantage is that you can't zoom in to catch the action on the other side of the court and or to get a close up on emotions at halfcourt. Other than that, with poor lighting (I haven't used flash at all yet) I get in the gyms over here in Ukraine, the value for money is superb.

    You can check the photos here.

    sigma 18-50 f2.8 http://flickr.com/photos/naum/3113723481/in/set-72157611263646401/
    canon 50 f1.8 http://flickr.com/photos/naum/3196127689/in/set-72157612560133482/
    sigma 70-200 f2.8 http://flickr.com/photos/naum/2846937431/in/set-72157607221937652/

    many more in my photostream with the settings in the exif values

  • Becky

    February 12, 2009 04:27 am

    JD - If your ultimate frisbee is in a gym lit simlilar to the standard high school gyms, I'd drop your ISO to 1000 to 1250 and try shutter speed of 160 - 250and aperture at f2.8 While I'm just a beginner/amateur in the indoor sports photography area, I've found through trial and error of thousands of shots that keeping these settings give me excellent exposure and allow me to freeze the motion (most of the time). I think these setting would capture the ultimate frisbee motion, but not sure. If I bump the ISO to 1600, the pics start to get grainy and a shutter speed higher than 250 frequently makes the photo too dark. Using these settings, about the only post-processing I have to do is cropping. I use the manual setting on my camera so I control both the aperture and ISO. One other thing I should mention is that the 70-200mm lens is "too much zoom" for taking pics at mat-side, so I am usually in the stands so I am using the longer focal lengths. I too wish I had one of the Nikon bodies that went higher than 1600, but for now that remains on my wish list. I am currently saving for the 24-70mm f/2.8 so I can sit mat-side. :-)

  • JD

    February 11, 2009 10:28 pm

    Thanks for the great tip. As an ultimate (frisbee) player we too move indoors and hibernate for the winter months. It's a fast paced sport that certainly provides it's own challenges. Do you find that more-often-than-not you are having to do post processing on your shots?

    I always push my ISO to 1600 and set my shutter to 200-500, but the pics are sooo dark. I shoot with a Canon XTi and envy some of those Nikons & Canons that can push 3200 ISO.

    Peace.
    JD

  • jay

    February 11, 2009 09:00 pm

    I just bought a new Nikkor 80-200mm f/2.8 and cant wait to take some sports photo's. I know that using this lens indoor will definitely be a big help. Thanks for the tips!

  • Lorenzo

    February 11, 2009 05:49 pm

    That's a great post, Christian! I totally agree with all your advices.. I'm a volleyball player and sometimes I enjoy taking some shots (obviously when not playing =) ).. I did not have much experience in taking this kind of low-lighted photos, but after few times I come to the same conclusions you posted here, especially for what's concerning underexposed! I used to get mad with it, trying to get best exposure levels and later at home finding that almost all my shots were ready to trash... As I am not a pro I can't buy one of "ultra-lighted" lens, but I found a solution in taking RAW underexposed pics and ajust light and color balance at home!

    Here is some shots I made when I didn't get the trick yet.. unfortunately I haven't any example of underexposed pics!

    http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=9210&id=1657744216&l=596be

  • Emil

    February 11, 2009 05:34 pm

    I did this like a week ago.

    Am I the only one who tried flash? :)
    I set my camera to shutter priority to the fastest sync of the flash (1/200), apperture wide open, ISO 1600.
    Camera: Nikon D80
    Lens: Nikkor 70-300 VR 4.5 - 5.6 (but next time i'm going to use 18-105 VR)

    Here is what I managed to do:
    http://emilav.wordpress.com/2009/02/06/2009-02-05-basketball-game/

    Emil

  • MeiTeng

    February 11, 2009 03:59 pm

    Good tips! I have never tried shooting indoor sports. I did cover a street futsal match and like what you shared..everything's fast paced and I have trouble keeping up with the movements on camera. These tips will help the next time I attempt sports photography. Thanks for sharing.

  • Jonathan

    February 11, 2009 03:10 pm

    I'm the Photography Editor for Houston Baptist University. We don't use any heavy equipment, so this is the exact same advice I give all my photographers before a basketball shoot. We use between D50, D70, D40, and D60 and we never go over an ISO of 800. The grain would be too much for newspaper. The lighting is so poor in our gym, that shooting is RAW is OK because we're using SB-600s and don't plan on using a burst shutter. Not to mention a speed of 3-4 FPS isn't going to capture an entire dunk or speedy dribble and at around 1/320 you nearly get rid of all blur, as long as the flash was effective. I also recommend aiming your speedlight towards the ground so it can bounce against the court, its very efficient.

  • Becky

    February 11, 2009 01:33 pm

    Excellent article! I’ve been shooting my nephew’s wrestling matches this year and found her suggestions to be “spot on”. I’ve have had great success with the wrestling photos using my Nikon D80 with a Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8. I usually shoot at 160 to 200 shutter speed, ISO of 1000 – 1250, and aperture at 2.8. These setting give me plenty of light and usually freeze the action and the zoom lens allows me to follow the action since it moves all over the mat. If I take a non-action shot (for example: the wrestler before or after the match or the coach), I usually drop the shutter speed to 80 to 100. Alejandro’s suggestion of taking a few test shots before the match/game is excellent…I forgot to do that recently and ended up with a bunch of green-cast photos for one match. I’ve also found that using the incandescent WB setting usually works best for met. I also use a monopod.

  • Jim Fox

    February 11, 2009 10:23 am

    I typically use my Sigma 70-200/2.8 for my stuff. I find it more useful than my 85/1.8, which was recommended I use for basketball, etc. I've tried to use my 85/1.8 and end up always going back to the 70-200/2.8 and sometimes to the noisy (focus motor) Tamron 17-50/2.8. I'm thinking of adding the Canon 24-70/2.8. To bad the 24-105 wasn't a 2.8. I just don't get the fascination of using the 85/1.8. I also found having a gray card now helps a lot.

  • Dan Rode

    February 11, 2009 06:11 am

    I have found shooting indoor basketball at the middle school level to be nearly impossible without VERY fast glass. While I would love to use a f/2.8 zoom (in the 50mm-150mm range) Those don't come cheap. At ISO 6400, I can rarely hold more than 1/125 @ f/4.5 which is too slow. My Nikon D90 does a fantastic job with the noise at this very high ISO but the shots are still nothing I'd hang on my wall. The lighting is dim and uneven in even the best gymnasiums at this level. The only solution, IMO, is faster glass. An f/2.8 lens will help some.

    My hope for indoor youth sports like basketball is an 85mm f/1.4.It's much faster and will let me freeze the action at reasonable ISO. It's still not a cheap lens. A 50mm f/1.4 or f/1.8 might be a cheaper alternative.

  • Alejandro Z.

    February 11, 2009 05:52 am

    BTW, the author forgot to close a "strong" tag, so everything is showing in bold.

  • Goober_357

    February 11, 2009 05:31 am

    Thanks for the tips! For those of you shooting hockey or skating in an arena, try white balancing off the ice.

  • Alejandro Z.

    February 11, 2009 05:22 am

    Shooting in RAW means your camera's burst mode is crippled, unless you own a pro camera (a Canon 50D, for example, will max out its buffer after 16 RAW shots... barely 2.5 seconds at 6.3FPS.). Shoot a few test shots to calibrate WB before the match, then shoot JPEG, unless you've got the best timing in the world.

  • Nicky H

    February 11, 2009 05:09 am

    Thanks for the article! You're right, this is the time of year we need these reminders. :)

  • Peter Phun

    February 11, 2009 04:42 am

    Great article Christina! I do have one other suggestion. Even when light levels are low and you're shooting at wide open apertures, I recommend picking a spot where you get uncluttered backgrounds. Indoor arenas tend to have seating where the audiences are very close to the players, so backgrounds tend to be very cluttered.

    Here are some of my tips.
    http://peterphun.com/blog/2009/02/09/sports-photography-tips/

  • Tim Dempsey

    February 11, 2009 01:23 am

    Excellent summary of the issues facing the photographer in the often dingy, horribly lit indoor gym. I particularly like the guidance regarding looking for emotion. I often get so anxious about getting 'the shot,' that I lose sight of what I'm looking for, pun intended....

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