How to take good sports photos in poor light

Written by chris edwards
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How to take good sports photos in poor light
Shooting under stadium lights requires knowledge of lowlight sports photography. (projecteurs 9 image by Nathalie P from

Low-light photography can be difficult, and photographing, or shooting, sports in poor light presents challenges for both novice and professional photographers. The combination of low light and moving subjects pushes cameras and photographers to their limits. Combine those two elements while considering that using a flash near the action is not allowed at most sports event and you may wonder how to pull it off at all. While no magic formula exists to guarantee good sports photos in lowlight conditions, some tips will get you in the to speak.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera
  • Lens

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  1. 1

    Find the hot spots. Unless you photograph a professional sporting event, some areas on the field or court are brighter than others. These are hot spots. Know where they are and watch for action in these areas. A slight increase in light can mean a full stop or more of action-freezing shutter speed.

  2. 2

    Identify the lighting type. Low, or poor, light means some, although little, ambient light is available. Set the "white balance" to match the type of light that is present. If you are unsure, set your camera to "auto white balance."

  3. 3

    Set the ISO high, no lower than ISO 800. For most lowlight sports photography, you will shoot ISO 3200. Every doubling of ISO allows one more stop of shutter speed. If your camera selected a shutter speed of 1/250th of 1 second at ISO 800 for proper exposure, it would give you 1/500th of 1 second at ISO 1600 if all other elements and settings remained unchanged. Shutter speed is key for lowlight sports photography.

  4. 4

    Shoot in "aperture priority." Set your camera to "aperture priority" and select the largest (smallest number) f/stop available for your lens. The larger opening lets in more light than a smaller opening. This allows the camera to use a faster shutter speed. In aperture priority, your camera will meter the scene and select the shutter speed that results in a good exposure. The bigger the opening, the faster the shutter speed.

  5. 5

    Prefocus by anticipating the action. You can identify areas with a greater frequency of action gor most sports. Before the action takes place in a particular area, prefocus on that area. Some lenses and DSLR camera bodies have slower focus in lowlight situations. While following sports in low light, your camera and lens combination may not be able to focus quickly enough to capture the action. Prefocusing will let you capture a greater number of quality photos.

Tips and warnings

  • Use a monopod or tripod to steady the camera and to prevent blur.
  • Adjust exposure compensation down minus 1/3 to minus 2/3 to give a little more shutter speed. Then you can bring exposure up in photo editing software.
  • Newer DSLR cameras perform well at higher ISO settings. If you use an older DSLR or shoot above ISO 3200, you may want software to clean up the grain that results from shooting at higher ISO settings.
  • If you invest money in equipment for lowlight sports photography, quality lenses are far more important than the latest DSLR camera body.
  • Do not use a flash at a sporting event unless you receive permission from the officials, referees or umpires. Flashes can distract and thereby endanger the participants.

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