Monday, January 26, 2009

Baby Steps Better

Thanks to all of you who were kind enough to post suggestions regarding my dismal attempt at low-light action photography on Saturday. Wow, did the quality of those pictures reek or what?!

After reading the comments, and googling, and you-tubing, and anything else I could think of to find some answers, I headed to Sunday's game with ..... well, if not CONFIDENCE, at least with a semi-formed planned to ..... in a nutshell .... not hopefully SUCK as much.

The comment about my shutter speed not being as fast as my flash sync speed was definitely the most technical and scientific-y and professional sounding. Unfortunately, I had no idea what it meant. But since that commenter's husband has come through with good advice for me in the past, I will definitely be checking into whatever the heck it means for the future.

Short run, though, I knew lighting was my biggest issue. Indoor gymnasiums (and auditoriums, for what it's worth) are just not lit well enough for cameras like mine. I mean, I've seen those amazing photos of Michael Jordan, all "Air-Bud-ish" for thirty feet before slam dunking the basketball .... but *I* sure don't know how to accomplish those sorts of photos.

Saturday's photos, most of which were total crap, were taken on Auto-mode. I knew to do better on Sunday, I was going to have to actually think a little about what I was doing.

First thing, since I can't use Sports mode in the gym with my telephoto lens (not enough light) I went in and changed my camera from one-shot to continuous shooting mode in the hopes I wouldn't have to "wait" on my camera to catch up between shots like I did on Saturday.

I read the suggestion about bumping up my ISO to make my camera less light-sensitive (or more light-sensitive ... I always get that confused) and the comment about changing my white balance to reflect the tungsten lighting in the gym.

So! On Sunday, the first thing I did was change my ISO from 400, where I normally leave it, to 800. Then I put my camera on shutter priority mode and set it at 500. Then I changed my white balance to "tungsten lighting". The boys were promptly turned blue, like little Oompa-Loompas:

Whoa! That didn't work so well! Right back to auto-white-balance we go.

The next shot I got was like this:

About this time I was thinking to myself that things were getting worse, not better, and maybe I should go back to auto mode and simply hope for the best. Then I noticed I had accidentally bumped myself back into AV mode and had it set on a very low number. Whew, that was a close one! I also thought the photos still seemed dark, so I changed the shutter speed to 250.

At this point, after going back to shutter speed priority mode, I decided to bite the bullet and attach my external flash. Like someone mentioned in the comments, I was a little hesitant to do this for fear it would be too distracting to the players. I mean, there you are, going up for the game winning layup, when POP!POP!POP!FLASH!FLASH!FLASH! right in your eyes .... not exactly unobtrusive, know what I mean?

But during warm-up, only one boy fell to the ground screaming "My eyes, my eyes!!!" and since there are ten boys on the team, I figured a 10% loss wasn't too bad a ratio, so I left the flash attached.

A few things I quickly figured out about using the external flash:

Sometimes, especially if the boys were very close, they were overexposed:

If I took the pictures too quickly, the flash couldn't keep up and they were underexposed:

I think this has something to do with the slave mode on my flash, but quite frankly, at this point my brain was about to explode from all the information I was trying to retain, so that lesson is going to have to wait for another day.

I also found it interesting that although I *know* my external flash doesn't reach clear to the other end of the gym, I did get this neat photo of the boys' shadows against the wall. Sort of makes them look like they are playing basketball in a cave, doesn't it?

I wound up getting quite a few photos with too much "noise" .... I assume that's from the 800 ISO. Overall they are ok, just not as clear as I would like:

Of course, the best lighting and equipment and subject matter in the world won't matter if you lack basic photography skills:

Like taking the photo when there is an arm in front of someone's face:

Or taking photos when there is no face at all:

Or even better, cutting someone's head off:

(what really stinks is that actually would have been a pretty good shot, had I not beheaded the poor kid!)

And sometimes --- not regularly, and not nearly as often as I would like, it seemed I was getting the hang of things and a shot or two would turn out .... not totally suckish:

And about the time warm up ended I started thinking, "yes, a little more practice and I might actually figure this bad boy out ....." then the other team forfeited and the game was canceled.

We all packed up and went home.
The end.


I figure if I continue to get baby-steps better each game, then maybe by the end of the season ---- their SENIOR YEAR OF COLLEGE ---- I will be able to produce reliably good photos.

In the meantime, I am considering purchasing a 50 mm "fast" lens for this sort of thing. I've got YEARS of gymnasium shots, evening games, and auditorium photos ahead of me ...... not quite sure how a wide-angle portrait lens can help me take better low-light action shots, but I've seen that recommendation on several sites. Hopefully the good folk at my local camera shop can help me out ..... otherwise, it's probably going to be more of me, blinding innocent 10-year olds with my flash.


Eternal Lizdom said...

I love love love the pic of "Basketball Head!!" Sometimes, mistakes make the BEST pictures!

Momto4 said...

i have issues everytime I try to take photos inside the gym and I am blaming it on the gym...not the fact that I guess I need to read my manuel and experiment with the different settings. It's the gyms fault...that's my story and I am sticking to it!

Anonymous said...

And this is why I love Photoshop...I too have all kinds of problems with inside pics...if you figure it out please share it :) Bridget from Canada

Anonymous said...

Dude! I'm, like, so totally impressed by your bravery in even attempting this!! (excuse my choice of verbage - I think I watched Juno one too many times on cable this weekend!)

Anonymous said...

The lens would help because it's FAST that 1.8 means it needs less light to preform.
Have you thought about shooting in RAW? You would have a lot more ability to adjust those underexposed or overexposed photos in photoshop then you do with a jpg.

Anonymous said...

It also helps if you shoot in RAW mode...and then use photoshop to make your adjustments. I only shoot in RAW, and then convert the ones I like to JPEG.

Terri said...

I like your blog's name! Life has lots of surprises, right?

Alisa said...

I am chuckling to myself because I have all sorts of camera woes- and my camera is not near as fancy as yours!
But my camera and I are becoming friends. And once I figure this one out, then I will move on up- Love your photos- will have to have a class from you!

Anonymous said...

Your pics look great!!!! I need some advice from you!!! :)