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Nighttime Sports Photography


I am a newbie and would appreciate some advice.


I have a T3i and I'm trying to take photos at a little league baseball game at nighttime. There are some overhead lights, but it's still fairly dark. I do have to use quite a bit of zoom since I'm not super close to the action. I've just been using the auto setting, but I'm finding that the photos are too dark to really see and they are blurred. I've also tried using the nighttime auto setting, but those photos turn out even worse. What settings should I use if I wanted to try shooting in manual?


Thanks for the advice!



First set your camera to ISO 6400. Then set your camera to Av mode and the widest available aperture (smallest f/number).


If that doesn't give you a fast enough shutter speed so everything isn't blurry. You can shoot in manual mode and RAW and push the photos further in post processing.


For now just try Av mode and ISO 6400.

Shooting sports in poor light is very challenging & to do it well requires lenses with low F numbers (which are expensive). To add to the advice already posted set your AF to AI Servo. That lets the AF track whatever you are following when the shutter button is half pressed.

"A skill is developed through constant practice with a passion to improve, not bought."

I would not shoot in Av. I would shoot in Tv (shutter priority). This means you set a fast enough shutter to stop motion blur and the camera will automatically open the aperture all the way. Try to find the slowest shutter that is fast enough because you are short on light so it is a tricky thing. See if 1/200th is fast enough to freeze motion. If not try a little faster and a little faster until you get it. 1/400th should do it for sure.

The high ISO settings you will have to use will be giving you grainy noisy shots with diminished detail. The shots might look ok on a small 4x6 print or viewed on a phone screen but it will look pretty bad on a big computer monitor. At least try to help the camera by getting as close to the action as you can because images of this sketchy image quality will get worse if you are cropping it post in to make the subject larger.

Canon 5d mk 4, Canon 6D, EF 70-200mm L f/2.8 IS mk2; EF 16-35 f/2.8 L mk. III; Sigma 35mm f/1.4 "Art" EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro; EF 85mm f/1.8; EF 1.4x extender mk. 3; EF 24-105 f/4 L; EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS; 3x Phottix Mitros+ speedlites

Why do so many people say "FER-tographer"? Do they take "fertographs"?


I disagree and Av is the correct setting.  Not Tv.  Light is the problem not shutter.  All you can do here is to max out the ISO to whatever the highest setting is you can find acceptable.  However either, AV or Tv is likely to max out the camera/lens combo.


Any camera, even the best most expensive camera made will reach its limits.  You may have found the T3i's limit.


A remedy that may help is faster lenses.  These are lenses that have small aperutre numbers ie f1.4, f2, f2.8 etc. 

However, this can be a very expensive experience.  There are some Sigma and Tamron (non-Canon) lenses that are fast and not quite as expensive.  Two very good examples are the 70-200mm f2.8 from either company.  And there is the holy grail in 70-200mm f2.8 lens, the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens.  This is the best lens made and has a price tag to confirm that fact.


If Av, high ISO and a f2.8 zoom lens doesn't correct the lack of light, you may have reached the equipments limit.  There is one more idea that may help, get closer.  This can help in several ways. not to mention cheaper and even faster lenses availble.

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

The camera will give you the max aperture if you are shooting in the dark with a fast shutter. No need to tell it that. Especially if your kit lens only goes to f/4.5 or f/5.6 or whatever.

What I would worry about is the camera not selecting a fast enough shutter.

I agree lenses are the real solution. Something with a f/2.8 or wider would really help.

Canon 5d mk 4, Canon 6D, EF 70-200mm L f/2.8 IS mk2; EF 16-35 f/2.8 L mk. III; Sigma 35mm f/1.4 "Art" EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro; EF 85mm f/1.8; EF 1.4x extender mk. 3; EF 24-105 f/4 L; EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS; 3x Phottix Mitros+ speedlites

Why do so many people say "FER-tographer"? Do they take "fertographs"?

The reason you want Av over Tv is the camera will aiways take a photo. If you had the shutter as priority, that may not be true. Although in these cases the difference and benefit is small. I will agree to that.
The real solution is more light. How the OP gets it is limited.

Also as I stated getting closer can really help. If there are a lot of light colored jerseys and they fill the scene bigger, it will make a difference, too.

All camera/lens reach their limit.
EOS 1DX and 1D Mk IV and several lenses!


There's a reason sports photographers spend ludicrous amounts of money on expensive lenses.  When you're shooting in bad lighting, there just aren't as many photons to capture... so you want to capture every possible bit of light and those expensive lenses capture more light.


High-end zooms can provide a low focal ratio (meaning a large aperture opening so it collects more light) at any focal length.  Consumer-grade zooms have a low focal ratio which "varies" throughout the zoom range.  They collect more light at short focal lengths (zoomed out) but less at long focal lengths (zoomed in.)


This means that with a lens such as the EF-S 55-250mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM, you'll mostly be using the longest possible focal length (250mm) and that means your lowest possible focal ratio (Av setting or "f-stop") is going to be f/5.6.


In comparison... a high-end lens such as the EF 300mm f/2.8L or EF 400mm f/2.8L collect FOUR times more light in the same amount of time.  They cost about $6k and 10k respectively.  I know what you're thinking... they're not within my budget either.  But collecting FOUR times more light is a really big deal when your livelihood depends on those shots.


Cranking the ISO up will be your best option.   You'll get more "noise" in the image, but you can reduce that using software (I particularly like the job that Noiseware Pro does (by Imagenomic). 


I would also advocate for using Av mode and set the lowest possible aperture value permitted by the lens (probably f/5.6, but some 3rd party zooms might restrict you to not going below f/6.3).  With a high ISO and the lowest-apertrue then the camera will always use the fastest shutter speed it can get away with using... wahtever that is.   


You will want to use "AI Servo" mode and put the camera into rapid (continuous) shooting (rather than single shot.).  Be warned that in "AI Servo" mode, the camera WILL take the shot whenever you fully press the shutter EVEN if it has not had enough time to lock focus.  So be carefully to half-press the shutter, get focus, and then start shooting.


There is one more important detail that hasn't been mentioned yet.... metering modes.


By default your camera is in "Evaluative" metering mode and you probably don't want to use that mode.  If you've got a dark background across the field, then there's a lot of "black" in the frame.  That blackness should be black in the final images... it's only the athletes that you want properly exposed.  But the camera doesn't know it's night.  It presumes there is something out there and that it simply does not have enough light.  As such... it'll use a LONGER exposure than necessary in an effort to collect enough light to bring up the brightness on the background.  This over-exposes your intended subjects AND it leaves the shutter open too long resulting in blurred shots from any movement.


Switch the camera to a better metering mode for this situation (this is exactly the sort of situation why your camera has optional metering modes.)  You could use "spot" metering... but that only meters at the center point in the frame and if that center point isn't exactly on your subject then you may get wonky metering.  If it is on your subject you'll get much better metering.  Another option is to use "center weighted" metering.  This technically uses the whole frame (like evaluative) except it massitvely tilts the favored exposure reading toward the meter readings off an area in roughly the center 1/4 to maybe 1/3 of the frame.  IMPORTANT:  Don't forget that you did this.  After the game, you may want to return it to the normal "evaluative" metering mode so that your daytime shots come out as expected the next time you use the camera.


Tim Campbell
5D III, 5D IV, 60Da


Thanks everyone for all of this awesome advice! I am going to try these things out tomorrow night. 😃

I disagree with the poster who said don't use Evaluative Metering. 


Canon's Evaluative Metering is very good.


It is also weighted to the active AF point. If you're just using the center AF point it is slightly better than center weighted AF, and if you are using Auto AF point selection in AIServo where it starts with the center AF point then 'handsoff' to other AF points it is much better.

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