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Canon 7D Indoor gymnastics photography (complete beginner)


Hi, I've been the owner of a Rebel T1i for 10 years now, bought used. It stopped working and I just picked up a 7D used for almost nothing. My Tamron 28-75 f2.8, bought specifically for gymnastics meets, is what typically lives on my camera.

I tried to take a class when I got the first DSLR but a weekend was not anywhere near enough time to learn and practice and I reverted to auto for basically everything. I used the sports setting heavily for gymnastics and taekwondo. 

There is no sports auto on this puppy, and while I really want to actually learn to use it, I'd also like it to work for me *now.* Like I am fully willing to learn what the most likely useful setting is, or what the sports setting on the canon rebel uses, and go with it until I learn. 

I wasn't going to post this question, but I saw how helpful you had been to so many asking similar questions on this forum, I thought I'd gve it a shot. This is definitely more camera than I have any business owning, but the 8 fps has me Heart.


Also, does anyone know a good online course for DSLR beginners? Once that moves slow with a lot of reinforcement or repitition? Thank you so much. 



That looks nice but probably not in the budget for a while! My other concern would be that gymnastics meets are typically in large venues and it's often that I can't get within 200 feet of several events. Sometimes even with the lens I have can't get close enough. It was a class recommendation I was after. 🙂

Hi. I shot my two gymnast daughters for a combined 12 years (one earned a full scholarship for it). In fact, it was them that got me into DSLRs and, funny enough, the first body I purchased was your 7D. Like you, the fps had me enamored. Personally, I'm a football guy (former college player and high school coach) so gymnastics was so new to me. FWIW, here are some of my observations/learning from that time. 


1) RAW. Always. 


2) I cared way more about the pictures being too grainy than *anyone* else -- especially my daugthers and other parents to whom I would give pictures. I was so focused on this for so long and nobody really cared but me! Push the ISO up and you'll be glad you did. A perfectly timed shot with a little grain (easily removed in LightRoom for me) is 1000x better than a blurry shot without some grain. And, again, what I considered "too grainy" -- nobody else cared about. I regularly shot at 6400 with the 7D. 


3) For floor, beam and bars, you can "time" the shots in such a way that don't require as much shutter speed as you might think. The reality is, if you catch the jump at its apex, they're barely moving -- and, that was my dream for so long. Catching the perfect extensions. After a few years, it became quite easy to time it. As you know, for better or worse, you start to know the routines by heart. Vault... that's just a mass of unmitigated motion the whole time! 🙂 


4) Turns out my daugthers cared more about what they called "the pretty shots" than the action shots. I'd work so hard to get these perfectly-timed images of them in mid air and their face often looked like a fighter pilot pulling 4 G's. Not flattering to them. They really only wanted one or two of those per season, and even then, they would often pay for the professional shots (more on that later). What they LOVED was the poses that show their "attitude" and posture and such. These, of course, occur on floor and beam and that's where they wanted most of their shots. Vault is rarely flattering due to the violent force showing in their face, and bars can be the same way. But you can get incredible floor and beam poses and facial expressions. 


5) Another thing they love is candid shots with the other gymnasts. A high-five. A consoling hug. Laughting around the chalk pit. Them watching another gymnast compete and cheering her on. Hugging a coach after sticking a landing. Those are the ones they LOVED and I kinda ignored that for years because I was hung up on the perfect jump. Great thing about these shots is you're not fighting the dreadful gym lighting for high shutter speeds. You can just shoot normal at 1/80 or whatever. These are the shots they look back on most fondly. 


6) We were in Texas the bulk of the time, and if your state is like Texas, the meets are generally huge and the odds of you getting to stand where you need to for those perfect shots... well... about zero. There's always gonna be someone walking in your way. A coach. A fan. 3000 other gymnasts who look just like your daugther to your camera's auto-focus tracking. It's a nightmare. The photographer on the floor paid for by the meet can be half as good as you, but will get so many better shots due to the angles. This used to annoy me to no end, then I just caved in and realized that 90% of the time, that shot is going to be framed better than I could do, and given gymnastics already siphons my cash, what's another $20 or whatever for the one pic. I started focusing way more on shots (4) and (5) above in the latter years. Note: You can photoshop out unwanted artifacts, and I did that on occasion. But in the end, I just didn't enjoy that part as much as shooting the shots I knew they'd love. 


7) Finally, for their "wall shots" they kept in their bedroom, that usually came from a private shoot. You've seen them, I'm sure. Really nice lighting, using chalk as an effect, etc. Again, in for a penny, in for a pound. Seemed worth it every couple of years for their "keeper" shots. 


😎 If you do want to keep focusing (pun intended) on the fast action shots, work on single-point AF tracking of your subject. The canon tracking system in later models is really good, but I also got very capable with my 7D. It's a feel thing that just takes a lot of practice, and once you know the routine, even better, because you know when the jumps are coming. That's a "skill" I definitely developed with practice. The better I got, the fewer images I needed to capture. I used to just spray-and-pray, but got way better at selective shots over time. But learning to track my subject just took a lot of repetition. I like to read a ton on specs and techniques, but you have to just keep practicing along with it. 


Anyway... more than is probably useful, and of course just my take, but hopefully there's a nugget or two in there you can use! Best of luck. And don't blink... it'll be gone before you know it! 




Billy......I would call you a photographer. Smiley Happy  It takes some forever and some never to understand what you have.

EOS 1DX and 1D Mk IV and less lenses then before!

Thank you so much for your detailed reply Billy. Yes, we are in Texas. I am trying to practice hitting the apex of skills, I do feel it is easier with this camera than my old one. But what I want this season, my ultimate goal, is a very nice picture of her back handspring on beam. I am starting to think that for things like beam, where they stay on a plane that is pretty equidistant from me, that I should use manual focus. Tracking is definitely a challenge, it is so easy for the tiny square to slip off the intended subject. 

I always pay for meet photos, it's my kryptonite.

"That looks nice but probably not in the budget for a while!"


I hear ya man but I must say your Tamron is not the sharpest lens.  You will run into its limits quickly. A lens like the SIgma 35mm f1.4 is not only two stops faster it has way, way better IQ.

EOS 1DX and 1D Mk IV and less lenses then before!

@ebiggs1 wrote:

"That looks nice but probably not in the budget for a while!"


I hear ya man but I must say your Tamron is not the sharpest lens.  You will run into its limits quickly. A lens like the SIgma 35mm f1.4 is not only two stops faster is has way, way better IQ.

Took me a year or so way back then, but I saved until I could buy a 70-200 f/2 L. Was a serious game changer that I never regretted. Over a decade later, my oldest daughter now uses it (I upgraded to the v2 a while back) and LOVES it. I don't know anything about non-canon lenses but lots of people on here do. What I can tell you is that the upgraded lens was every bit as game-changing for me as the camera body. Keep saving and when you're able, you'll love the upgrade! 

If I reach a point where I have learned my camera and the only thing limiting the quality of my pictures is my lens, I will start to save up for a nicer one, but I have a loooong way to go before that is an issue. I don't know about the quality of non-canon lenses in general, but I did a lot of research before buying this one and the consensus on every review, blog, and article I read was that the Tamron was the equal of the equivalent Canon, so I went for it. 

Photoshop can do a lot to improve your photos. But when working with JPEGS you'll find that most editing makes global changes in your images. That is, increasing brightness to get more detail out of shadow areas may result in losing details in highlights and mid-tones. Or making a color adjustments to make the sky more blue may also have an unwanted effect on skin tones.


RAW files allow you to do your editing with a lot more finesse. You can tone down blown highlights with little or no effect on mid-tones and shadows. You can color correct skin tones without making the sky turn purple. And if the white balance of a shot doesn't look right you can correct it so easily after the fact that it's almost embarrassing.

Here's a sample of what surprises you can sometimes find in your RAW images. This was done a few years ago when I was using a trial version of DxO OpticsPro. But you could expect to get the same results with Lightroom or Canon's FREE DPP4 software.




I knew there was somebody inside the car, though you couldn't see him in the RAW image as shot. As I made some adjustments to lighten up the darker shadows I was a bit stunned to see that there also was another parrot inside the car with the driver. And I was able to make both of then visible in the background without over brightening or washing-out the colors in the rest of the photo.


(Edit, In The Interest Of Full Disclosure) I originally posted these photos from work where my monitor isn't as finely tuned as my monitor at home is. Viewing this at home with more brightness and less contrast you can make out the man's face somewhat but the parrot is indistinguishable. YMMV: That is Your Monitor May Vary. Robot Embarassed



I look forward to shooting with and attempting to edit RAW photos. I think I will try to get some tonight while my son is a taekwondo. Speaking of which, the floor is yellow and blue rubber matting, which often casts a weird color, especially on their white uniforms. What can I do to combat that? (This is a random cell pic, just to give the idea.) 


The lighting may contribute a little, but the biggest effect is reflection from the floor.


In RAW you would use the white balance tool and select the white uniform.


It can be done also in JPEG but as discussed, JPEGs are less forgiving.





John Hoffman
Conway, NH

1D X Mark III, M200, Many lenses, Pixma PRO-100, Pixma TR8620a, Lr Classic
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