Q&A: Indoor Sports Photography

I received this question from a friend of mine, and I thought I might as well share my answer with everyone:
“my camera is acting weird and not sure what is going on. i was at the logan rec center yesterday to take some pics of the kids playing jr jazz my camera acted like it wasn’t a fast enough speed for the action shots. i had to have it up to a 1600 iso and it was on a f5.6 and i had it on the continuous shots so it would do 3 shots at a time but my shutter speed i think was so slow i am not sure what has happened. when i put it on a 400 iso and take a pic it takes about 30 sec or 1 min for the picture to actually be seen in the little viewer.

My reply:

I’m so glad that you’re out making pictures even in this cold weather. Way to go finding a place to shoot despite the conditions.
Unfortunately, I think your camera is acting normally. Firstly, if you are in any mode other than manual in this case, your camera is under the impression that it’s working in a very dark place–which is right. Unless the place is very well lit, the gym is definitely darker than your camera is used to dealing with. The real problem, though is that the camera is looking at the whole scene and trying to make it nice and bright. So, it sees the dark bleachers as a major part of the picture and uses a slow shutter speed to try to brighten them up.

So, try shooting in Manual mode and when you make a picture, just look at the faces of the players to determine if your exposure is correct–and remember that dark skinned players should have dark skin in pictures.

However, even at your camera’s best it may not be enough. Your settings from above, ISO 1600 and f/5.6, are not enough to get an action freezing shutter speed.

I was just looking at pictures I made at a USU basketball game last year, and these are my settings (and remember that their lighting is considerably brighter than any private gym I’ve ever seen!) I was shooting at f/2.8, 1/640s, and ISO 2000. And let me tell you that 1/640th of a second is not fast enough to freeze action.

(If we want, we could get technical and compare my settings to yours to see just what your shutter speed would have to be to get the same exposure as mine. ISO 2000 is one third of a stop faster than 1600. f/2.8 is two full stops faster than f/5.6. So, that’s two and a third stops difference between your settings and mine; so what’s the shutter speed? 1/640 minus one third drops it to 1/500th; one stop less than that is 1/250 (one stop is equal to half as much light/aperture/speed/ISO); and one more stop drops the speed to 1/125 of a second. For me, I can barely hold still enough to make a portrait of a person holding still at that slow a shutter speed, let alone a kid playing basketball! And that’s if you were shooting under the bright lights at the USU court!)

Also, my pictures are pretty noisy from that game, and that shot with my D90, which has ISO capability as high as 3200. I think yours may be maxed out at 1600, right?

To sum up, normally I’d say that you can make your gear work to get pictures in just about any situation–except sports photography. It just comes down to having the right equipment in this case, and that means lenses with big apertures (at least f/2.8, and at least $1500–used!). Your cheapest lens that will give you the necessary speed for this kind of work is a 50mm f/1.8–but that doesn’t get your pictures very close to the action, so you’ll need to move your body closer to the subjects. This lens is only $100 for your Canon (same for Nikons) camera.
I hope this helps, T. Keep shooting!


Have a question about photography? Maybe a problem in a specific situation? Drop me an email and let’s get you set up!


Content is the most important part of having quality links to your website. With Area-Info.net, we provide a quality location to share your story and include links to your website to help you grow. If you would like to learn more, visit this page to see how you can use Area-Info.net to rank higher and quicker in search engines. Contact me directly at [email protected] with any questions, or to schedule speaking engagements.

You May Also Like

Leave a Reply