Tournament Shooting without Flash, a primer. -Bob Hubbard

Discussion in 'E-Zine Articles' started by Bob Hubbard, Apr 27, 2010.

  1. Bob Hubbard

    Bob Hubbard Darth Vindicatus Supporting Member

    Tournament Shooting without Flash, a primer.
    -Bob Hubbard


    Traditional thinking says to use flash to freeze action. But what do you do if the venue won't allow flash photography? Shooting in a low light situation is tricky, even for pros. Where our eyes may think things are well lit, the average karate school or gym just doesn't put out the level of light needed by most cameras to capture anything but a blurry, grainy mess. So, what do you do? This is where you're going to have to put away the pocket camera and reach for pro gear.

    This is where you need to know your camera well. Locking it on auto is not going to get you anything but amateur level shots, and often will trigger your flash, getting you in trouble and possibly ejected from the event.

    Taking good shots in low light is tricky, but it's not impossible. It's a matter of raising your ISO to 800, 1600 or possibly even 3200, combined with a wide aperture of 2.8, 2.0, 1.8 or even 1.4 and a shutter speed around 1/60-1/200. Optionally, you may wish to use a tripod for added stability. Lets look at each of these briefly.

    ISO when it comes to digital photography is a measure of light sensitivity. You trade light sensitivity for grain or noise in the image. While the final image doesn't really care how many MP you have, ISO does. Or rather, it cares how big those pixels are. A pocket camera's pixels tend to be a quarter of the size of a DSLR's. Bigger pixels = more light capturing ability + less noise. Play with the ISO starting with 800 until you find your optimum balance of noise to sensitivity.

    The aperture or Fstop determines how much light hits the sensor during a shot. For low light shooting, you want a lens that can do a 2.8 or wider for maximum light grabbing. Unfortunately, your standard kit lens just can't do this. Most manufacturers make a budget 50mm 1.8 or close lens, but if you want a zoom, you can expect to pay several hundred to a few thousand dollars. A trade off with a wide aperture is a shallow depth of field. Depth of field is how much of the image is in focus. A pocket camera is set to infinity, which is why most snapshots are all in focus, while pro shots focus on the subject and blur backgrounds. Experiment with your lens to see how sensitive it is. I've found that Canon lenses tend to be tighter than Nikon in this.

    Shutter Speed
    Shutter speed determines how much motion blur you'll get during a shot. Usually doing low-light shooting you'll keep the shutter open longer, times of 1/40 are common. However for action shots, you'll get significant blur at that speed. When using flash, you can set your speed at 1/200-1/500, but low light I suggest starting at 1/125 and working from there.

    A good starting base is ISO 1600, F2.8, 1/125. You should experiment with this, and fine tune it depending on your conditions and equipment.

    Using a tripod is also a good idea to help stabilize your shot and keep things sharp. Keep in mind however that if you are using a tripod with an image stabilizing lens or camera, it is a good idea to disable the IS function as it can cause more blur when used in conjunction with a tripod or monopod.

    I hope you've enjoyed this brief primer on low light shooting. Obviously, we've barely touched the surface here and could go into great depth on each part, but I hope this is enough to get you started. As with all photography, you need to practice, practice, practice to master the technique.

    Bob Hubbard is a professional photographer specializing in martial arts event, nature and portrait photography. He is also the CEO of SilverStar WebDesigns Inc, a web design and hosting company specializing in martial arts sites, as well as an administrator on the popular martial arts communities, and His martial arts photography can be found there as well as at his martial arts photography web site, He may be reached through these sites.
    Copyright © 2010 - Bob Hubbard - All Rights Reserved
    Permission is granted to reprint this article on websites, blogs and ezines provided all text, links and authors bio is left intact.

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