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Sports/Action at night under lights

edited February 20 Posted in » Nikon D5300 Forum
Can you help me with settings for taking photos of my boys playing lacrosse/football at night under stadium lights? I purchased the cheat
sheets, but don't see night sports settings. Thank you.

Comments

  • edited February 20
    The reason there are no night sports settings in the cheat sheets is, alas, that the slow lenses covered are not recommended for the job. This issue comes up rather often, and the short answer is that indoor and night time sports shooting is one of the most challenging tasks for photography, and even cameras that are quite competent to do many difficult things will be hard put to do that well.

    Since Moose is in the business of selling hints that produce good results with reasonable consistency, it would be inadvisable to include tasks that cannot be done reliably.

    I'm not in any business and my advice is worth exactly what you're paying for it, so I'll go ahead anyway.

    You may get some success by upping your ISO as high as you can stand it, using your lens at its widest aperture, and setting your AF to single point continuous servo. If your camera has a choice of dynamic area settings, and single point is difficult, choose the smallest dynamic area available and try that. If your player stands out fairly well from others, you can try 3D, but it may jump to the wrong player. Aim for a player's face or chest. Shoot Raw so you can compensate exposure. If subjects are fairly distant, and if much of your frame is dark, use the spot meter (which meters at your focus point) on the player. Practice panning to follow a subject. Try to keep shutter speed high enough to prevent blur - 1/250 or better. You may have to do some experimenting on what ISO level you can tolerate, as noise can get pretty annoying at the highest settings. Still, a sharp noisy shot is worth more than a blurry quiet one, so try it out.

    Since you'll be focusing on a single point, make sure you know where that point is. The center point is usually the most accurate. Use the [OK] button on the back to keep it centered, as it's easy to move by accident.

    If you have difficulty following a player, widen your shot a little. Although it's always best to get what you want right off, don't be afraid to crop later if you have to. The lens may focus a little better or faster when it's wider, too.

    With a slow lens you will miss a lot of shots, and your results will often be noisy from the high ISO required. Focus will be iffy and it will be hard to stop motion.

    Set your camera to multi exposure mode, but don't overdo it. If you're shooting Raw the buffer will fill fairly quickly and then you'll have to wait, or the rate will slow way down. Take a few shots then stop. Don't just "spray and pray." Try to anticipate what will happen, and try to nail focus.

    Exposure priority is a matter of taste, but I would probably put it in shutter priority mode at something around 1/250 or faster. Use Auto ISO only after you've done some pre-game experimenting to determine what your maximum should be, and then set the max in the menu to that, so it does not go higher.

    "Chimp" your shots briefly at first to see if you're getting your subjects sharp enough. If not, up the shutter speed.

    If your camera offers focus and release priority, set it to "release" priority in AFC, so that you will get a shot even if the focus is not 100 percent every time. Often the camera will lose focus confirmation but the subject will still be there. Some of the lower level telephoto zooms, though their image quality is OK, are slow to focus. Don't be surprised if they miss often. The 55-300mm DX, for example, focuses at about half the speed of the more expensive 70-300mm. And a slow lens will almost always focus more slowly than a fast one in poor light anyway.

    If you shoot in Raw mode, and if you gain some experience in bringing up dark and underexposed shadows in post production, you might be able to improve your results by purposely underexposing by a couple of stops to allow increased shutter speed. Some cameras will introduce more noise than you can tolerate, and work better if you max out the ISO. Some will produce equal or similar noise levels from post production brightening as they do from higher ISO. You need to experiment with that, but you might be able to make a critical difference in shutter speed by underexposing. This works only in Raw mode, when it works at all. Different cameras behave differently. This usually works with a D7200, sometimes with a D7100 and a D5500, never with a D3200.

    Most of all, don't be surprised if you get a rather low percentage of keepers. You're doing well if you get any at all. Sports shooting indoors and in the dark is a difficult task.
  • Thank you so much for the response! I will try your suggestions. I'm planning on purchasing a 2.8 lens over the next few months. Thanks again.
  • edited February 20
    Hi @WENDYJ,
    As usual @BRUTO has given you an excellent slice of his encyclopedic knowledge, so my small contribution may seem twee.
    Bruto mentioned panning which is a very useful skill to learn, but consider for a moment where professional photographers position themselves at sport events. They are very rarely on the sidelines, but at one end or the other behind the goal-line. There are very good reasons for this. Firstly the areas in front of the goal-lines are where most of the interesting action takes place and secondly, it is far easier to freeze the action of someone running towards you than someone running horizontally across your line of vision.
    Regards,
    PBked
  • Hi @wendyj, I second everything @bruto and @pbked said. Excellent advice guys! You're invaluable.
  • edited February 27
    Hello there - I have been searching my manual on how to change the auto focus sensor in the viewfinder to use only the center sensor, and I can't locate it. My camera is a Nikon 5300. Can you help me?
    Thank you.
  • edited February 27
    You can get the focus mode and focus area either in the menu or from the [i] screen. Not all modes and areas are available in all modes. To get the full set you must be in P, S, A or M modes. The green "auto" mode defaults to Auto Area, which does not allow you to choose a subject.

    If you're following sports, you should likely choose AFC for continuous focus, and Single point if you can pan or track your subject. If you find you're losing focus lock on your subject, try Dynamic Area at 9 points, and increase as needed to 21 or 39 if you have trouble hitting a moving subject.

    Make sure to keep an eye on where the focus point is, as the control has no lock on it, and it's easy to move. Use the [OK] button to recenter it.

    If you can't find it in the manual, make sure you get the full manual in PDF form, either from the CD that came with the camera, or from the Nikon site. The printed manual is abridged and may not include what you need.
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