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Nikon BTS Video: How to shoot sports in a challenging and low light situation

If you are an enthusiast or a beginner with your photography and interested in how to shoot sports in a challenging and low light situation, you need to check out Nikon’s newest Nikon BTS video discussing the fundamentals of shooting sports. This is my first of five videos that Nikon will be releasing in the near future. Other segments will discuss remote camera photography, portraits using speedlights and the Creative Lighting System (CLS), the effect of shutter speed to increase your creativity and even some underwater photography. Be sure to follow the Nikon Facebook page and subscribe to the Nikon YouTube channel.

In the first segment, I go over how to set up your camera and what I am looking for when I am going to shoot a game. The segment tackles shooting in low and challenging lighting conditions. The venue we were shooting in is the historic Hoosier Gym in Knightstown, Indiana where the movie Hoosiers was filmed. It is a great place packed with nostalgia and is virtually untouched from when the movie was shot there 20 years ago.

Advertising Photographer Andrew Hancock photographs newest Nikon BTS video discussing the fundamentals of shooting sportsThe challenges this venue presented for photography include low light and a mixture of light sources. While there are windows along the side of the gym, they had very low impact on the exposure of the floor. There was no direct light entering the gym from any of the windows and it amounted to a background glow. The challenge they did have was presenting a bright background and a reason for using manual exposure to properly lock on to the right exposure for the players on the floor. In a situation like this, if I were shooting in an automatic mode, the light meter would have a hard time battling the vast difference in exposure between the windows, the stands and the critical point of exposure – on the floor. The ambient light in the background also posed a challenge from a white balance standpoint as it contrasted with the sodium vapor lights hanging above the court.

Advertising Photographer Andrew Hancock photographs newest Nikon BTS video discussing the fundamentals of shooting sportsWhile I was using my standard sports camera and two professional lenses in this segment for demonstration, the Nikon D4s and the 24-70mm and the 70-200mm, the techniques apply to any Nikon camera you are using whether it be a DX or FX line of camera.

Dont be fooled by the overall brightness of the image you see. I was shooting at 4000 ISO, 5000 ISO and above. The scene appears well lit because you are fighting a bright background and having to account for the proper exposure of what you see on the court. To properly freeze action in a scenario like this you need to be at least 1/500 of a second and above. In a situation like this, you will find yourself pushing the ISO of your camera to get your proper exposure. The good news? The cameras can take it and you will get a usable picture.

The most important thing when it comes to photographing sports in low light today is the lens. The more light you can get to the sensor the better. That will allow you to still shoot at the necessary shutter speed but also keep your ISO as low as you can while still getting a proper exposure of the players on the court. For many, a professional f2.8 lens is out of reach. If that is the case, I suggest you also consider a prime lens like the 50mm f.18 lens. Those are very reasonably priced and is a great lens for a variety of situations. While you will have to pay more attention to your composition and shooting position as you wont be able to zoom, you will however be able to rest easy knowing you have enough light reaching the sensor to lower your ISO, reduce the noise and still make a crisp picture with the action properly frozen.

Advertising Photographer Andrew Hancock photographs newest Nikon BTS video discussing the fundamentals of shooting sportsWhen I started my first newspaper job in Indiana after graduating college. I was supplied with a Nikon D1H. I shot in gyms like this all over the state covering basketball as well as dimly lit midwestern high school football fields. I even shot two seasons of the Indianapolis Colts with that camera and a manual focus 300mm f2.8. It is incredible the advancements that have been made to cameras since then. Every Nikon camera on the market today vastly outperforms that old D1H. If you are interested in the specifics and unfamiliar with the camera, it was 2.7 megapixels and any ISO over 640 was noisy – far worse than 12,8000 on my D4s! 1600 ISO was an absolute mess on the D1H. However, we had to make it work. My job depended on it and my newspaper expected it. After all, it is what we had to work with at the time. For the AF lenses we did have (two of them), we only had 5 AF points to choose from, now all cameras have many focus points throughout the frame to choose from. Why do I tell you this, so you wont be afraid to push your camera to the higher ranges in order to properly freeze the action. Don’t let yourself be limited by the camera you have in your hands. Get to know the fundamentals and the settings on your camera and begin to push your creativity to make the best picture you possibly can!

I hope you enjoy each of the segments and find them helpful. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask and I will do my best to respond as quickly as I can.

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