How to Photograph Action in Low Light

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How to Photograph Action in Low Light

 There are challenges photographing fast moving subjects in low light areas. Here are some techniques you can use to get those shots.

 Here is your situation; you have performers, (in this example the super dogs) moving rapidly around with spotlights on them.

 Before you start you need to set up a few things on your camera. Change your color temperature from daylight to tungsten, this will give you cleaner looking color, even the colored gelled lights will sparkle.

 Go for a high ISO; this is setting the sensitivity of your camera’s sensor for a low light level. For the Super Dog shots I used 1600 ISO.  Grain is becoming visible at that speed. It has become characteristic for shots like this though. Know the higher you go the more pronounced the grain becomes. This is really going to be dependent on the brightness of the spotlights hitting your performers.

 Grain can also be removed or reduced in postproduction.

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 Set your aperture, F-stop, as wide as you can go. With this lens I could get to F2.8. It will be more challenging with a stock lens opening of F4 or F5.6. Usually you will have to compensate by increasing the ISO.

 Go for a long lens, mine was a 200mm zoom.  This gets you right into the action. The images you see here are not cropped.

 Be bold, get as close to the action as you can. I was down on the floor in front of bleachers to get these shots. Be careful to stay out of any program support people or people moving around, if you become a problem or even noticeable someone with authority will ask you to move.

 Now you are set, here is how to get the shot.

 The big thing is anticipation. Knowing where the subjects are going to be. Singers don’t stray far from the mic. The dogs have obstacles to jump. You will find it easier to get the shot if the action is moving across from you rather than towards you.

 Pre focus.  With the dogs I focused on the bar. My camera focusing is fast so I set up the focus spot for the camera on the left third. Pre-focusing meant the camera had little movement to refocus when the dog came into the image. This was for the images where the dogs were leaping over the barrier, I wanted them over the barrier for my shot.

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 I could have put the focus on manual, focused on the bar then got the shot as the dog came up to the bar. It is easier for shots like the dog leaping across my focus plane. I just focused on the lower bars and when the super dog leapt into frame, I had the shot.

 Always pan. It is more fluid for you, the subject does just appear, it also helps freeze the motion because your camera is moving with the subject.

 For exposure, when the lights first come up, zoom in so your viewfinder is as filled with the bright area as possible, note the camera’s exposure. Switch to manual with those settings. Once the action starts, check your histogram to see how the subject exposure is doing. Do your fine-tuning of the exposure there. The floodlights are pretty consistent in their brightness on the subject in the key places.

 Know that a lot of your shots are going to be misses, the more you do this the better your anticipation of the subject in the spot will become. You will see an increase in good images.

 Have a blast with this; it should open up a whole new places to take your photography.

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1 Comment

  1. Great suggestions. It is comforting to know that even the pros get mostly misses. Thanks Mark. You really know your stuff.

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