Help for Sports Photography

Any recommendations and/or tips on how to shoot at an indoor swimming pool (for waterpolo and swim meets)? What about an outdoor field at night (for soccer and football games)?

I shoot with a Canon EOS 90D. My go-to lens is a 18-135mm, but I also have a 70-200mm lens.

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Hey @camillemcfaul!

Yes! Indoor swimming pools can be tricky due to weird lighting as well as where you can access, but swimming is particularly hard to shoot because you have to catch those moments that happen in a fraction of a second above the water. Use the fastest frame rate you’ve got and I recommend setting a custom white balance. Most likely your 70-200 will be best for this. Plan to get wet, too! So bring a rag with you to quickly wipe down the sides of your camera in case of splashes, and maybe a lens wipe as well fir the front element.

And for soccer, it’s a little easier to shoot, but you’ll want to keep that high frame rate and long lens. The best thing you can do in soccer is to keep moving if you have the freedom to do so by the people in charge of the game. Talk to them beforehand to find out where you’re allowed to be (do this at the pool too, actually!) and then keep following the action. But also point your camera at the reactions of the spectators to tell a good overall story :slight_smile:

Use a fast shutter speed for both of these — at least 1/1000 is a good bet. You may be able to go down to 1/500 in the pool but any slower and you may experience unacceptable (and not pretty) blur. Have fun and experiment!!

For swimming check out Jeff Cable and Peter Miller (google search for their sites). For soccer and football at night, I am not sure how good the ISO response on the 90D is (for sensor noise/grain), but you will want to go as high as you can to get respectable shutter speeds(1/800 or faster would be a good spot to start) if your 70-200 is a 2.8 lens. Some motion blur is acceptable, but you usually want to stop action as much as possible and want to capture it at its peak. When shooting for the Grizz when I was at RMSP, I would be at ISO 3200 or higher when shooting inside at the field-house for basketball there on campus, but then 2500 at Boise for the tournament’s. And the sensor noise was very acceptable (Nikon D850 and D4/D5). There are a lot of variables in shooting outside at night sports. How are the lights ( brightness, type of lights, are they sodium or LED, the number of lights, how well do they light the field etc). I would go and just watch on game from the stands if available and ask yourself those questions and note them in a notebook for future reference. Good luck and hope this helps

Two things (other than blurred action or out-of-focus) that can ruin a sports shot is digital noise and poor white balance. Here’s a test you should run Camille (this is a good test for all photographers to do, to understand their exact camera better):

Digital Noise Threshold:
Set your camera on a table or better, on a tripod - in a somewhat darkish room. Like, your living room in the evening, for example.

Get a decent exposure at ISO 100 at f/4, 1/15th. Why these settings? It’s a good ‘range’ - in this test we will be moving our shutter speed and ISO around, thus, we need to pin our aperture on a specific value. In sports, as Sarah and David mentioned, you often will be using a higher shutter speed to stop the action, therefore you’ll end up with a wider aperture like f/4 or f/2.8 in that situation.

It should be dark enough for 1/15th at ISO 100. So, wait until it’s dark enough to get a decent exposure in that scene at those settings. Maybe set it up in the afternoon and if it reads over exposed, return every hour until it’s close to these settings above.

Then, up the ISO 100 to 200, keep the aperture at f/4 throughout all of these: and speed the shutter up by the same 1 stop. Keep upping the ISO by 1 stop increments until you run out of ISOs or shutter speeds. Make adjustments so that you can get a decent exposure in your ambient situation so that you can get to the real high ISOs on your camera.

It is 7 stops from 1/15th to 1/2000th.
Therefore, you’ll take 7 shots until you reach ISO 12,800 in that lighting situation.

The exposures should all be the same. But, look at the images at 100%. ISO 100, 200 and 400 likely will seem fine as far as ‘digital noise’ - but look carefully for the ISO where the image fidelity begins to fall apart and get noisy. If, for example, you begin to see offensive digital noise at ISO 3200, then you know: ISO 1600 is the top threshold for how high of an ISO you can go on your camera before it gets noisy. (1600, fine / 3200, noisy)

Then, you can use this information: go to that environment early on shoot day, and test that ISO. You know you can get as high as (in our example) ISO1600 - and at a wider aperture like f/4 or f/2.8, what shutter speed are you getting in that lighting? Is it fast enough to stop the action? If you end up at ISO1600 f/4 at 1/1000th or higher, you are probably in a good spot to shoot sports in that environment. If so, you’re good to go!
If you are overexposed at that f/stop, that means there’s enough illumination for you to lower your ISO from 1600, which is good!
If it’s asking for a higher ISO, then you have to choose how much digital noise you can handle going beyond ISO 1600 or you may need supplemental lighting, if that’s even allowed (unlikely). Depending on how bright the arena lights are, your results will vary.

White Balance:
Another helpful thing would be to bring a white balance card with you - a 3x5 index card, or grey card - and get 1 shot of that card in the same lighting. Soccer field? Place it on the ground or on a chair in that same arena lighting and get a capture of it. Pool? Place it on the edge of the pool and get a capture. Then use that file to do a custom eye-dropper white balance in LR or C1Pro or Photoshop - and apply that color balance to all the shots as a starting point when you go to edit them. It’s not imperative - you can white balance off a white poster or jersey just as well and have good results. But, a true neutral is a good starting point.

Have fun!

Addendum to the test:
Peek at the shadow areas of your files at 400% not 100%. 100% won’t be close enough to see the noise.