Here are a few pictures from my daughter’s gymnastics meet this past November. It was her first official meet of the season so, of course, camera, and camcorder were in tow. I saddled my husband with videography duties while I stopped the action with my trusty Canon 5d.
I’m often asked what I use to take my sports photos and in the case of gymnastics, other than the need for a zoom lens that goes out to at least 200mm, I have a fast lens which means the lens’ aperture (opening) is a wide f/2.8 and takes in twice the amount of light than the next higher f-stop of f/4. Click here for a discourse on f-stop.
Here’s a handy visual comparison of f-stops and is purely illustrative. Each particular brand of lens will have different diameter measurements for each aperture. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
A Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom lens is the most I can afford and carry with my lens weighing a little over 3lbs by itself. Add the camera and it’ll put your arms and wrists through a workout when handheld. I should have brought my monopod at the least. But one thing I never do is bring a tripod to sporting events. It’s too cumbersome and renders me less mobile to follow the action.
Gymnasiums are notoriously dimly lit and typically illuminated with green-face-tinting fluorescent lights. On top of that, flash is strictly prohibited at the meets. Luckily, I was able to get quite close to the action and only had to do some minimal cropping for this picture. I bumped up my ISO setting to the max on my 5D which is ISO 3200. At f/5.6, I could only get a 1/60th shutter speed. That’s quick enough to partially stop her in mid-air but as you can see in the next picture…..
…. her back handspring is quite blurry. I would need at least 1/125th and better yet, 1/250th shutter speed to stop the action in this image.
With this picture of her on the beam, I had to compensate for the large amount of backlight coming in from the bank of windows at the far end of the gym. To do this, I let the camera evaluate the lighting conditions and then overexposed by +1.0 EV . The background is washed out but she is no longer a silhouette. This image was taken at f/4.0 at 1/250th and I still had to bump it up another +0.5 EV in Lightroom. At 1/250th shutter speed, the action is stopped in mid-air. She didn’t fall during this beam routine which earned her a “Stick it Duck”.
Another issue you will run into at ISO settings greater than 1600 is digital noise. It can be compared to film grain or static. Noise removal software takes care of this issue and I am able to bring out the crisp clear picture that I saw through the lens of my camera.
Taking action sports shots in low-lighting without flash can be accomplished with the right equipment: long zoom lens, wide aperture, and high ISO settings. Taking these shots are always fun for me and keeps my nerves in check when watching her routines. What will I be like when she moves up to higher levels?