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Night Football Shooting-Need some help please


Hi Everyone. I just purchased a Canon T6i and have a Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM Lens. I have to shoot my son's football game this Friday night, which will be under stadium lights.  I'm by no means a photographer, just a mom who likes to take lots of pictures. I try to learn as I go along. I would really appreciate any advice on settings I should be using to get some decent photos. I will be on field taking photos but I am not quite sure about what settings I should be using on this camera.  Any help/advice would be greatly appreciated.  


“What's the point of using Av mode if you're going to set the lens to its widest aperture? I say use Tv mode to protect against getting too slow a shutter speed. You need at least 1/200, and at that speed at night on a high school field, the camera will almost certainly have to set the aperture to f/4 anyway.”


A similar argument could be against using Tv mode.  If you want 1/200 shutter with an f/4 aperture, I have little doubt the ISO will want to be 3200 to 6400 once the sun is completely gone.  I think Safety Shift is enabled by default, so it will kick in for either Av or Tv.  


In other words, making adjustments to exposure settings may not make a whole lot of sense once Safety Shift kicks in, whic it will.  If I were using Tv or Av, I would disable Safety Shift, and probably dial in -1 Ev of compensation so I could keep my shutter speed up. 


If I want a fixed aperture and control of the minimum shutter speed, to me that mean M mode and manual setting ISO or using ISO Auto.  The available light will be decreasing as the evening progresses, which means constant adjustments will need to be made to ISO and probably shutter speed.  Set ISO to Auto, and now the only setting you need to change is shutter speed.   If ISO goes too high, slow down the shutter speed.  It is a very simple approach to a complex problem.


The argument against using M mode has been you cannot use AEC.  Av mode is good for controlling strobes, and it allows you to dial in AEC if you want when you are not using strobes.  While the T6i probably does not offer AEC in manual, the more recent mid-range and professional DSLRs do offer AEC in M mode.  The trick is you have to use ISO Auto to enable AEC in M mode.


When it comes to manually setting ISO, some Rebels only allow you to adjust ISO in full stops.  The only want to set ISO in 1/3 stop increments is to use AEC, or set ISO to Auto.  The camera can automatically set ISO in 1/3 stops, but some of the low end Rebels only allow setting ISO in full stop increments.

"The right mouse button is your friend."


"What's the point of using Av mode if you're going to set the lens to its widest aperture?"


The reason to use Av is because the lens is usually the limiting factor. You set aperture and that's it. You'er done. One setting.  SS is not as limiting and generally will have more room basically because it has the camera behind it.  Now you may argue it will go so slow that the photo will be blurry and that is true but the result is you got a photo. If the camera runs out if aperture it will not fire at all.

This Mom needs to keep the situation simple as she starts this journey.  As she becomes more familiar with the camera and settings then we can suggest more advanced settings. My starting suggestions will get her a photo!


The only thing that will happen if all these advanced things are thrown at her, the more confused and overwhelmed she will be. You have to walk before you run.

EOS 1DX and 1D Mk IV and several lenses!

@ebiggs1 wrote:


"What's the point of using Av mode if you're going to set the lens to its widest aperture?"


The reason to use Av is because the lens is usually the limiting factor. You set aperture and that's it. You'er done. One setting.  SS is not as limiting and generally will have more room basically because it has the camera behind it.  Now you may argue it will go so slow that the photo will be blurry and that is true but the result is you got a photo. If the camera runs out if aperture it will not fire at all.


Huh?? I don't believe any of the Canon DSLRs I've owned (XTi, 50D, 7D, 5D3, 5D4) have behaved that way. In Tv mode if there's not enough light, the camera will just choose the widest aperture available and let the chips fall where they may. The only time it will refuse to fire is if it can't achieve focus. I'm too busy (or lazy) to look it up just now, so I confess myself a jackass if I'm wrong. But I don't think I am.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania USA

"If the camera runs out if aperture it will not fire at all."


Of course I meant to offer, "If the camera runs out if aperture auto focus ability it will not fire at all."  My eye teeth got in front of my fingers and I couldn't see what I was typing!  I may have run out of auto focus!!!!  The fact remains that in this case Av is the best option. The main most limiting factor is not fast enough glass.  Which, BTW, is the same for most of us that shoot sports in the evening or under the lights.

EOS 1DX and 1D Mk IV and several lenses!

"What's the point of using Av mode if you're going to set the lens to its widest aperture?"



This is not just me but most all the pros I ever talked with use Av for sports, well football anyway.

A common setting for example is ...........

Av set at f2.8

Auto ISO 

WB auto



High speed continuous

jpg file format, yeah they don't use Raw


The OP needs to start simple.  About Raw file format, it gives a greater latitude of adjustment and she likely doesn't have a deadline to meet.




EOS 1DX and 1D Mk IV and several lenses!

Learning to shoot football and shooting football at night are two practices with a big learning curve.  Since you are on the field, I assume you know the coaches and AD so ask if you can practice your football photography at some practices.  That will help you practice your play following skills without the added complexity of difficult lighting AND the players will love some of the photos you capture because you will have set up and lighting conditions that will never occur during an actual game.  This practice won't make a huge difference but it will definitely help if you are new to football photography AND you will start to learn some of the typical plays and moves of that specific team which will help you during the actual game. 


It may also help your play avoidance skills 🙂   I always make sure that I know what is behind me so that I can clear out QUICKLY while still staying in place as long as possible to capture as much of a play as I can safely.  IF you cover a game with grass sidelines, consider wearing cleats if the field has recently seen heavy rain because you may be surprised at how poor the footing is on wet muddy grass.  One game I covered last year required the athletic trainer to tape up two officials who slipped and fell on the sidelines.


High school stadium lighting frankly sucks at most locations so try to get some good images during warmup and early in the game when you may still have some natural light to help supplement.  I shoot most of the game with a 300 2.8 on one body and a 70-200 2.8 on the other and most of the time they are set wide open. I developed different preference than many and shoot almost exclusively in manual mode.  Depending upon the field lighting, I like to fix ISO changing it as full darkness sets but some fields have very uneven lighting and I use auto ISO for those.  When there is reasonable light variance across the field, you can shoot fixed ISO and correct in post with your RAW files.  I reduce shutter speed as required to get a decent balance between sharpness reduced by noise and sharpness reduced by blur.  I have played a lot with different servo AF setups and I find my best hit rate is with a single point but that is going to vary by camera and person so experiment and see what works best for you and your equipment.


Because I do take a variety of photos during a game, I don't lock the control wheels for shutter speed and aperture but I do make sure to check the helpful information in the viewfinder.  You don't want to find after the fact that you accidentally shot an entire quarter with shutter speed set to max because you put a finger on the wrong control.  Some people like to lock the controls to prevent this but I like to be able to change quickly without unlocking.


As Ernie stated, location is critical and choose different places during the game to get an array of shots. You will get entirely different looks from behind versus down field of the offensive line and no matter where you are, sometimes you will just be in the wrong location to get a great shot.  Like the athletes, don't dwell on a missed opportunity because there are many photo ops during a game and if you are thinking about a missed one you will miss several more.


I will spend some time on the "opposing" sideline to get some shots and I will take a few with narrower aperture and reduced shutter speed to get a couple of the team with the crowd in focus behind it.  You will quickly develop a sense of staying out of the way and officials have zero patience for a non-participant who gets into their space and they do have to move quickly to follow the play.  Reviewing images during the game is something you should only do rarely and very quickly because you can easily become a hazard the second you stop paying attention.  


Football photography is a lot of fun once you get past the initial part of the learning curve but again I can't stress safety for you and the players enough.  Plays develop very quickly even away from the key part of the play.  You may be well downfield of the running back but a leading blocker many yards ahead may send a defender flying your direction as he clears the route.  It has been a LONG time since I played high school football and I have no desire to get tackled!  


Take plenty of photos of the warmup and throughout the game, review them in post and learn what worked and what didn't, and a few games in you will be amazed at how much progress you have made.  I shot soccer for years but first shot high school football last year and it took a couple of games to figure out what worked best for me.


And on edit, if you are shooting for the team be sure to get plenty of shots of the supporting cast on the field and not just the leaping catch or the killer tackle.  That catch wouldn't have happened without the offensive line giving the QB an opportunity and that touchdown saving tackle was likely set up by another defender.  Football is a team sport and all of the players deserve their moment in the sun (or in this case the dim stadium lighting).


A few from the first game I shot this season, it is really nice to have high school football starting again and I am looking forward to a game tonight!









EOS 1DX M3, 1DX M2, 1DX, 5DS R, M6 Mark II, 1D M2, EOS 650 (film), many lenses, XF400 video

WOW--phenomenal shots!!! Thanks for sharing.  It is rainy here in Jersey so I am hoping for the best tonight. I know the game well--my Senior has been playing since he was 5, missing only last year. I have been shooting for the team for a few years on just a basic Canon Rebel 3i in daylight only. So, this year, my son being on Varsity, we have only Friday NIGHT games. So, I invested in a Rebel 6i and a Canon EF70-200mm 1:4L for the night shots. I know--I should have spent the extra $600 and got the 1.4 lens, but it's only one season of nighttime and it wasn't in the budget. 


So, here in Jersey the game starts at 7:00 p.m., sunset is 7:21 and from there it progressively gets darker. We have a turf field, which is good due to the rain we are having today and the lighting on the field is actually really great. Unfortunately, the team doesn't practice at night for me to try to shoot them during practice. But, I am sure tonight will be a disaster in trying to get the camera settings right, but I will learn. I have gotten so much great advice on here and I thank all of you. I will be sure to share my photos tomorrow. Thanks so much.  

Thanks and good luck tonight (both you and your son!)


Good field lighting definitely helps.  Try setting your camera to Av mode with the lens wide open (F4), set the ISO to 6400, and see what it gives you for shutter speed. To me, 1/500 is about the slowest usable for action sports like football and soccer but higher is much better.  If the camera selected shutter speed is slower than 1/500 then bump your ISO up.  OR if the lighting is unusually good for a high school field and ISO 6,400 results in 1/1000 or better then decrease ISO but that won't happen unless the lighting is really good. 


Also experiment a little tonight shooting with the camera set to manual aperture and shutter control with ISO set to auto.  With the aperture wide open @ F4, try a few shots at 1/500, 1/640, 1/800, and 1/1,000 (if there is enough light to get a standard exposure within your camera's ISO range) and decide once you process them what settings give you the best overall results of shutter speed and ISO noise.  In general, significant noise can be reasonably addressed in post but motion blur cannot and so when necessary bias towards higher shutter speed and higher ISO when necessary.


The second photo in my games shots above was shot at 1/800 ISO 16,000 and the third was at 1/640 ISO 8,000.  Last year the team played an afternoon game at Memorial Stadium in Champaign and it was so nice to be able to shoot at high shutter speed and native ISO but that doesn't happen often with HS football.  My daughter also really enjoyed that game because it was her first time to see her HS team play in Memorial stadium and I got a sidelines pass for her also.



EOS 1DX M3, 1DX M2, 1DX, 5DS R, M6 Mark II, 1D M2, EOS 650 (film), many lenses, XF400 video

Update--that was a tough one. Pictures were not great, to say the least. I was working with pouring rain and wind that was coming sideways. I took your advice and put the camera on AV, auto ISO. Many of the pictures were blurry and dark. I used Lightroom to to lighten some of them up, but I was unable to touch up the blurry pictures. So, of the 500 or so pictures I took, I was able to maybe salvage 150 of them.  I tried to attach a few to this reply, but am getting an error that my file is too big. I wish I could share. 

OK, yeah, those didn't come out the best.  Did you set the camera as I suggested?


"Set your Rebel T6i to Av mode. Use Raw file format, not jpg. Set your Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM Lens to AF. Fix the aperture to f4 in the T6i, maybe f5.6 if there is enough light.  The T6i will select the fastest SS possible to get  a proper exposure. The ISO needs to be quite high I will guess, so let's start with ISO 1600. If that works well try ISO 800, if not try 3200.  You can set the WB to average it doesn't matter with Raw as you will set it on post edit. Set the focus point in the T6i to just the center point.  Turn all the others off.  Use One Shot."


"I took your advice and put the camera on AV, auto ISO"  I would have preferred you fix the ISO to 1600 for starters and adjust is if needed.  Also did you use One Shot and just the center focus point?  You need to get these basic settings down first.  Don't try the advanced stuff until you gain more experience. I urge you to do this first and ignor all the other advice until you become more experienced. Get some good properly exposed and sharp photos first.  More action shots will come and you can switch to Ai-servo for example and other settings later but not now.  Keep it simple.

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