Waitin’ and Hopin’

clock

Right now as I type I’m waiting and hoping that the gal from the Freecycle community is going to call soon, as she said she would, and come take the little beast finally out of our lives. Please call! Please call!

Not that I’m anxious or anything.

Indoor Action Photography 101

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Over the years, I’ve taken hundreds upon hundreds of sports photos in gyms, both with film and digital SLR cameras (single-lens reflex; the kind where you can change lenses). Indoor action photography brings out the Jekyll and Hyde in me—the cycling vapor lights and/or mix of tungsten and fluorescent lights make getting the proper white balance tricky (photos can look yellow, magenta, and all shades in between), and yet it’s so satisfying when I’m able to get good action photos that the other parents can’t (point and shoot cameras are virtually useless for action photography due to their slow shutter speeds and lag time). On the one hand, your keeper rate (percentage of good shots) can be abysmally low, because even at 1600 ISO (ISO is the light sensitivity of the image sensor) it can be hard to use a fast-enough shutter speed to stop the action, but on the other hand it does tend to separate the men from the boys, the women from the girls, the contenders from the pretenders.

I’m often asked for photo advice when I’m sitting on those hard bleachers, Nikon D300 in hand. The question I’m asked most often is: How can I get indoor action shots that aren’t blurry? My first question back is: What kind of camera are you using? If you have a standard point and shoot, you’ll usually have to be satisfied with getting photos where the players and/or coach are standing still—inbounds pass before the throw in, the huddle, standing at the free throw line before the shot, player with the volleyball in hand before the serve. Point and shoot cameras are great for most kinds of photography, just not for action pix.

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Any action photography, indoors or outdoors, requires a digital SLR (dSLR). Even on program mode, a dSLR can take the best sports shots. I recommend trying different dSLRs at a camera store (especially one with knowledgeable employees); one might fit your hand better than another. The two most-popular dSLR companies are Nikon and Canon, and both make wonderful cameras. I chose Nikon, because my friend Deanna let me use her then-new Nikon D70 during the summer of 2004, and I fell in love with it. I shot thousands of photos with it for a year and a half before moving up to the D200 in January of 2006 and then the D300 in January of 2008.

What I especially like about the D300 is that it handles the higher-ISO noise (digital grain) better than my previous dSLRs; 1600 is like 800 was in the D200. You still need to use noise-reduction software (I use the Noise Ninja plug-in in Photoshop) to make your photos look even cleaner, but they still look pretty good at 1600 (the two basketball photos of the #2 son above were taken with the D300 at 1600 ISO and cleaned up with Noise Ninja). And that’s a big plus with indoor sports.

Sometimes the parent questioning me has a dSLR in hand and is still getting blurry photos. My advice, first, is to be sure they understand they need to increase ISO indoors. In our middle school gym, which is fairly new, I can use anywhere from 800-1600 ISO in order to keep my shutter speed at 1/400-1/500. You need to use a fast shutter speed to stop the action. I never use flash while shooting action indoors—some referees don’t allow it, you can’t use it for burst mode because the flash won’t recycle fast enough, and you can get those monster red eyes that are almost impossible to fix in Photoshop.

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After we chat about ISO, I then look at their camera lens. Invariably, they’re using the kit lens (usually an 18-55mm zoom) that came with the camera. Those are good outdoor or indoor with a flash lenses, but they won’t do the job for indoor action photos. Why? Because they’re too slow! They don’t allow in enough light (aperture) for a fast-enough shutter speed to be used, even at 1600 ISO. I always recommend buying two prime (non-zoom) lenses: A 50mm (for a small gym) and an 85mm, both f/1.8 (very fast lenses). I almost always use my Nikon 85mm lens for indoor sports, and I usually get good results (mixed in, of course, with the ballheads and mystery defenders).

Oh, and practice, practice, practice! As the players improve during the season, so should the photographer!

Get ’er dones

I’m still working on the digital frame. I need to get either another SD card or another USB flash drive for it that I can load with photos. I did print out the extra photos for the border, but one needs to be reprinted after I fix the white balance. I’m also, of course, still working in the master bedroom that, hopefully, soon will be devoid of one large piece of furniture. While I go through the boxes, it always seems that there’s a selection of two movies to watch on the HD commercial-free channels: either one of the “Planet of the Apes” series or the original “Poseidon Adventure.” I’m going to know the dialogue to all of them by heart by the time I’m finished with the excavation!

As for other get ’ers, I need to stop at the post office to buy a postcard for #1 son to use to enter a contest; I’m hoping I can get that from the vending machine and won’t have to wait in line. I’ll help sell candy at the middle school (always a nerve-wracking, intense 15 minutes). There’s that darned photo archiving, which seems never-ending. And, finally, I can look forward to tofu and veggies at Pei-Wei tonight for dinner!

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3 responses to “Waitin’ and Hopin’

  1. Hi Susan,

    Great article and lots of useful tips here.

    I see that you have lots of experience with Noise Ninja. I develop Photoshop plugins and I’d like to ask if you could help me out with some input on the noise reduction plugin I’m developing. My plugin uses an object-based approach to noise reduction that should yield sharper edges and less color smearing compared to other plugins. I’d be interested in how you see it stacking up compared to other plugins like Noise Ninja.

    http://www.colormancer.com/noise-reduction/

    A watermarked demo is available from my website and I could also send you a non-watermarked copy if you’d like (just shoot me an email).

    If you could give me some input, that would be great. And if not, no worries. Thanks, and keep up the great work on your blog!

    • Glenn: Thanks for the kind words! I’m not a noise-reduction expert (I tend to use just one setting for everything), but I’d be glad to try your plugin and let you know what I think.

  2. Pingback: Looking Back at 2009, Part I « Random Snippets & Apertures

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