Indoor sports photography : LUSENET : Canon EOS FAQ forum : One Thread

Where do I start?

I am an amateur photographter and I recently went to a Wizards basketball game at the MCI Center in D.C. Lighting wasn't great and I was probably toward the middle level of the arena. I have a Canon Elan IIE and was using a Sigma 170-500 lens with a Tamron 1.4x converter. I didn't use a flash as I thought it would not provide any use at my distance away from the court.

I went to the local camera shop to get advice on how to get some good shots. The owner suggested that I go to shutter priority mode, crank up the shutter speed and let the camera handle exposure. In addition, he recommended a fast film, so I got a few rolls of Fuji Press 800 (he said that local newspaper sports photographers used this film).

First problem. Lighting was such that auto-focusing didn't work most of the time. That might have related to my use of the 1.4x teleconverter. Manual focusing went OK, I just didn't have a lot of practice.

Second problem. Using shutter priority mode, I cranked the shutter speed up to 1/2000. I noticed that the camera didn't like the exposure as 5.6 continued to blink in the display panel. Upon further consultation of my camera manual, blinking is bad.

End result. Well, I shot 36 pictures and only 1 developed. Not all of the 36 pictures were shot on shutter priority mode, but most were. I used the fully automatic mode for a handful of pictures. I believe the 1 picture that developed was shot in fully automatic as the players are slightly blurred indicating that the shutter speed as slow, which would be consistent with that setting.

Help!!! I'm trying to experiment more and learn more about my camera and different shooting situations. I appreciate any advice that you all provide. Especially any advice on "pushing" the film, a concept I've just recently looked into.



-- Rob Patrick (, February 13, 2002


Option 1 - Go to your library, book store, photo store, etc. and buy, read and study 1 or 2 good books on basic photography.

Option 2 - While searching for good books start here:

You are asking for much more than can be accomodated in a forum like this.

-- Dick Tope (, February 13, 2002.

Dick --

I purchased the Sigma 170-500 after posting a question re: the same and you were a strong proponent of the lens. Thanks for all your advice. As for this question or dilemma. I don't know if this is the wrong forum.

As a more experienced photographer, it makes sense to me that some basic pointers could be mentioned.

Maybe the 1.4x teleconverter screwed everything up.

Maybe the exposure system in the Elan IIE isn't powerful enough to handle that situation.

Maybe shutter priority mode wasn't the best approach, perhaps pushing the film would have provided better results.


-- Rob (, February 13, 2002.


I wasn't trying to be cute or curt in my response. What you are asking for emcompasses quite a bit more than how to shoot the Wizards in a poorly lit arena. I really do think you need to educate yourself in the basics of photography. The link I provided is a good starting point.

In the specific situation you described you were faced with the following issues:

1) The Sigma 170-500 is a fairly slow lens (f6.3 @ 500mm) and is best suited for outdoor use with good light. An indoor arena requires a much faster lens and/or faster film (ISO 3200).

2) Using the 1.4 TC makes the effective aperture about f9 which would be way to slow for the lighting conditions you were shooting in. This is what the camera was telling you when the 5.6 was blinking in the view finder - not enought light getting through for the shutter speed you had selected.

3) The Elan II will only auto focus reliably with f5.6 lens or faster, with the TC attached you exceeded that and there was just not enough light for the AF to work as you found out.

You noticed that when you went to the automatic mode of the camera you got usable negatives but motion blur because the shutter speed was slowed down to let in the appropriate amount of light to expose the film.

Insofar as the Sigma 170-500 lens is concerned I still feel that it is good value for the money spend. It's just not the right tool for the job you were trying to do - kind of like trying to haul concrete with a pickup truck, you might get the job done but there are a lot better ways of doing it.

-- Dick Tope (, February 13, 2002.


You are actually trying to solve two problems at once--the lack of good light and the need to use fast shutter speeds so that the athletes' motion will not be blurry.

When you cranked up the shutter speed, you underexposed all your prints because the wide aperture needed to let in enough light wasn't available (blinking light: bad).

For what you are doing, and as a way of experimenting, try shooting at 125 or only slightly faster. You may get a little blur, but at least some of your shots will come out! Don't use the teleconverter because, if I am not mistaken, it will rob you of a stop--your widest aperture will be limited by the teleconverter. So in low light, don't use it.

Try using only the center focusing point (use the custom function to make it the default), as it is usually more accurate. Manually focusing with an AF Canon is virtually impossible.

And be sure to use partial metering, so that you are taking a reading from the players' skin--your camera can be fooled into underexposing by the bright arena lights. Partial metering limits the area that exposure meter will worry about and so won't be distracted by the bright lights. They will "burn out" in the prints, which usually is a cool effect (they will be bigger and brighter in the print, selectively overexposed).

While I am not really a sports photographer, I shot a boxing match last week in conditions similar to yours. I used black and white T- Max 3200 speed film, which is very grainy but fast and appropriate for boxing. I have an Elan 7 and used the 100/2.8 USM--again, not really a sports telephoto but it worked fine.

If I were shooting color, I would probably get that Fuji 800 you mentioned and push it if necessary, or I might just push Superia 400 to 1600, which I often do with good results.

Pushing is just changing the ISO setting on the camera to a higher number. Pushing 400 speed film to 1600 is shooting it at 2 stops faster (intentionally underexposing in order to optimize aperture or shutter speeds). You then write 1600 on the roll, so you'll remember. Take the film to a custom lab (the one-hour places usually don't push) and tell them you shot the 400 speed film at 1600. They will leave it in the developer for a longer time, to coax out the image you created. The result will be increased contrast and larger grain, but often the results are not noticeably different.

The only reason to push, really, is so that you can get the right combination of settings on the camera for what you are doing. In other words, there is no reason to push unless the desired aperture or shutter speed isn't otherwise available.

I really enjoy low-light photography, of which sports is only one example. Try some non-sports low-light shooting in order to figure out how it all works (partial or spot metering is really important). The next time you shoot the Wizards, you'll have a better handle on what you're doing and why you have chosen the particular settings.

Good luck!

-- Preston Merchant (, February 13, 2002.

1st problem: Of course AF won't work. AF does not work correctly with a lens slower than F5.6 on your Elan IIe. The lens you were attempting to use had an effective aperture in the region of F9, so there was no hope of the AF working effectively. This is why AF is cut out at these apertures when using Canon TCs on compatible lenses.

2nd problem: Exposure was out. Yes, it was, and this was a user error. 1/2000th at F9 is not a lot of light. Not much light at all in fact. I think that might be a reasonable exposure if you were shooting pictures of the sun maybe, but indoors????

I have just done a test with my 24-85. Set to 85mm, with a 60W lamp filling most of the frame, the camera in manual mode so that I could dial in my own exposure, and it required 1/350th at F8, approximately three stops more than you were giving your film. Sure, I have ISO 200 film in my camera, so you've gained two stops there, but I was pointing my camera DIRECTLY into a light. Pointing my camera around a few other places in my room (which is reasonably well lit), at F8 it required anything up to 3 seconds of exposure.

The answer to this is that there was no fault on the part of your equipment. The fault was on your part, due to inexperience. In order to do what you were attempting, I think a 400mm F2.8 and ISO1600 film might have been the order of the day.

In this situation, you might also want to use aperture priority. You can then force the fastest possible shutter speed for the lighting you have, by forcing the aperture to be as wide as possible the whole time.

-- Isaac Sibson (, February 13, 2002.

Here is a basic fact of life: you cannot shoot an indoor sporting event by existing light with a slow zoom lens and a teleconverter. It does not matter what film you use or what settings you use on the camera. You will get exactly what you got, nothing.

For basketball, use a shorter lens and get closer to the action. Use a flash if the light is too low. Never trust your camera to give you a good exposure without intelligent input--garbage in/garbage out.

For starters, take close-up meter readings of a grey card or a substitute at different areas of the court. That will determine if you have enough light to shoot without flash with the film and the lens you are using. Action requires 1/250 shutter speed minimum. If the meter tells you you can only shoot at 1/60 at your widest lens aperture, you will not be able to shoot action with the available light--use flash or try panning.

When I shot for newspapers, I often had to break every rule ever made in photography just to get a photograph in print the next day. Right now, however, you need to accept these rules as basic facts of life. After you learn the rules, you can find ways to break them.

-- Lee (, February 13, 2002.

i just want to point out a few things.

first, in order to get the fastest shutter speed possible you need to put the camera in apeture-value mode and set it for the widest possible apeture.

second, don't use a TC on a lens that is already slow as crap. autofocus won't work and max shutter speed will be slowed considerably. you probably need to get a lens of at least 2.8 for a pro arena and 1.4 for a badly lit one such as a high school gym (assuming you are not using flash)

third, for indoor sports shots w/o flash you need a very high-speed film. i suggest kodak supra 800 pushed to 3200.

-- Jeff Nakayama (, February 14, 2002.

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