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12-07-2010, 05:34 AM   #1
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taking fast shutter speed pictures with low light

I've just bought a Pentax K-x as my first dSLR camera (came with a 18-55mm lens) and I'm stuck on how to capture fast-moving shots at night time. An example of a picture I'm trying to achieve is below:

Obviously I wouldn't able to take pictures this close up due to the zoom of my lens (this isn't the issue). From what I can gather though, the shutter speed needs to be extremely fast (like 1/1200). However, the low light would make my pictures nearly pitch black. Would I need to buy another lens with a larger aperture (eg. 50mm f/1.4) to achieve results similar to the pic above?

12-07-2010, 08:45 AM   #2
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You will have a big challenge if you have not enough light. Professional teams at a big stadium will have pretty bright lights, but matching daylight... not sure about that. Your kit lens I recall is F3.5 to F5.6 and at 55mm it will be a difficult. If you get a constant aperture zoom at f2.8, you may have more to play with. Factor a high ISO of 800 or more. That's my 2-cents.
12-07-2010, 09:19 AM   #3
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A 50mm f/1.4 lens will be 4 stops faster than the DA18-15mm at 55mm (which has a maximum aperture of f/5.6). You can see the same difference between your lens wide open and at f/22, or between ISO 100 and 1600. If that gain in speed is sufficient, the f/1.4 lens will help. It may not be enough, though.

My understanding is that sports photographers in arenas frequently have very high power flashes mounted around the stadium. Which means that the photo you shared may not have been taken with available light, which is what you are after.

Nighttime sports photography is quite a challenge, even with an excellent camera like you have. My recommendation is to start with daylight sports photography--which is challenging on its own--and once you've reached a level that you're happy with there start moving into darker situations. I don't want to discourage you; rather, I don't want you to set your goal too high, fail, and give up on the entire project. It can be done, but realize that the photo you posted as an example was probably taken by a professional who has worked for years on learning how to achieve that kind of result.
12-07-2010, 09:27 AM   #4
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In the old days they called high ISO (ASA) film higher speed for a reason, those rules have not changed.

For action, you want to stick to ISO 800 or 1600. ISO 400 only if you have a LOT of light, but remember that shutter speed = sharpness, and noise is not nearly as objectionable as a blurry figure. It's often best to err on the side of caution when you don't have much time to capture a moment.

Your kit lens is going to post another problem, it's not very fast either. If you want to get your feet wet with fast glass, you could seek out a 50mm 1.7 lens, and for action I would suggest that autofocus would be worth investing in. It's not really long enough for sports photography though, so you might want to save up for something longer. The perfect lens would be the DA* 50-135 but that thing is expensive! I believe Tokina makes some rather affordable fast-normal zooms.

Now you can't shoot these things wide open because nothing will be in focus if you are dealing with a running subject, so ANY lens at 2.8 will work for you. That's the sweet spot IMHO between DOF and speed for most subjects (you really only want to go wider for portraiture... or in extreme circumstances like indoor concerts etc.).

For now, your kit lens will work. Just use high ISO. In the long term, you are going to want to buy some primes or zooms that are at least f2.8. But before you blow your money, it's a good idea to figure out what focal lengths you like to shoot at.

12-07-2010, 10:42 AM   #5
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It's easy to run out of available light for that type of photo. Shutter speed needs to be fast, and lenses only open to f2.8 or whatever, even if you have a lot of money for one. High ISO has made some "impossible" photos possible today. It may even be cheaper to invest in a camera that takes great shots at ISO 25600 than a 70-200mm f2.8 zoom.

One trick that you can use to add a little to your margins is this: shoot RAW at a high ISO, and underexpose by two or three stops to gain shutter speed. Then in processing, brighten the picture back to normal levels. How this works depends on your exact camera and software used. Experiment to determine the best settings on camera and software. Some cameras already do something like this technique to get the highest "extended" ISO, so try the highest ISO setting you have and the second-highest too, to see which works better. For software, the actual technique for getting back to normal brightness can give different results. In Adobe Camera RAW, I use the Exposure slider to add stops and that works OK. You have to shoot in RAW because that gives you much more detail in the shadows to boost later. You also might need noise reduction software. The last resort for battling noise is to convert to black and white.
12-07-2010, 11:22 AM   #6
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Sports are tough, Shoot 800 iso or 400 only in bright daylight. as big and fast a lens as you can afford (ideally an 80-200 f2.8 for the speed and flexibility, though you'll find most shots like the one above were probably shot on something much larger (it's not unusual to see Canon for a reason at these things they have specialized in that part of the market for a long while) Witness their 400mm f2.8 something pentax has no equal for (but is a very common lens at pro sports events despite the $8000 or so cost)
Sigma makes a 70-200 f2.8 non stabilized lens for Pentax for 1100 or an OS stabilized hsm version for 2000 (Canadian price) either of these would be an ideal starting point and the lower price model does crop up used on a regular basis the other is too new for that.

It can be done with less expensive gear but it takes a lot of practice. In high school in the 70's I shot football using tri-x at 400 iso (pushed to 800 on overcast days) my best camera towards the end ( a nikon F) had a max speed of 1/1000 and I had a Bulk back for 250 shots and 200mm f4.0. Only by predicting the play and pre-focusing zone and shooting using my motor drive could i come close to getting the sports illustrated type shot (i really only had one that really mad it with a guy a foot off the ground reaching up and snagging a pass with one hand. Hockey was even tougher due to the lower light levels. Modern cameras shoot much faster but the AF doesn't always keep up so expect less keepers than carefully composed settings

For the interim until you can swing that lens watch for a replacement for your kit lens from tamron or Sigma they both have affordable 2.8 zooms that are either 16-50 or 24-70/75 that would be good kit for you. Fortunately the Kx is very good in low light so you can compensate buy shooting at higher iso and using a good denoise program like topaz (you could probably get away with 3200 iso as long as you aren't thinking big prints) in addition to that 1/500 to 1/1000 os a second will stop most action. 1/2000th is nice but until recently that didn't exist, it didn't stop people from getting award winning shots (for that matter really fast big lenses are a reletively recent thing at the prices they are. historically they were quite a bit more expensive (and the early zooms really weren't that great either)
12-07-2010, 11:27 AM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by JonPB Quote

My understanding is that sports photographers in arenas frequently have very high power flashes mounted around the stadium. Which means that the photo you shared may not have been taken with available light, which is what you are after.

Forgot this is also true particularly at Big International events Like world Cup Soccer. Remember the guy shooting this probably spent the past 15+ years reaching this level and is using 10's of thousands in gear that is very specialized

the suggestion to start daylight is a good one. starting at the high school sports level also slows the action down a little so you can work on technique
12-07-2010, 04:24 PM   #8
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A good Fast Fifty isn't really good for field nor arena sports. The action is usually too far away. A longer lens would be better. Alas, long fast lenses get EXPENSIVE, especially with autofocus. I am pretty cheap. My longer AF lenses tend to be slow. If you can handle manual focus, a used Vivitar Series 1 70-210/3.5 can be had for around US$50; an autofocus f/2.8 of similar range will cost at least 10x more. And your Kx's high-ISO performance already gives you more boost than that 1/2 f-stop difference.

There are tricks for shooting action events without superfast lenses and banks of flashes. Prefocus where you expect the action to be, and/or where the light is best. Use Catch-In-Focus to let the shutter trip automatically when a subject comes into focus. Shoot continuous while focus-following. Pray.

12-07-2010, 04:54 PM   #9
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I think the first thing you need to do is go to the event that you want to shoot in the future. Use your kit lens on AV (set iso at 1600) and record the aperture, iso and shutter speed. And then you can mathematically figure out how much faster the lens needs to be. It might not be possible to get 1/1200s without going to an alternate setup. low light and action is a tough combo.
12-07-2010, 05:05 PM   #10
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Yes this is about as demanding as it gets, and is best suited to 10,000+ dollar Nikon rigs. (Why Nikon? Well they have the fastest-focusing super telephoto f2.8 lenses).

No one actually needs it though unless they are a paid sports photographer.

Last edited by paperbag846; 12-07-2010 at 07:18 PM.
12-07-2010, 06:50 PM   #11
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Thanks a lot everyone. Makes a very interesting read.

I'm gonna just take some everyday photos for the time being and read some books on SLR photography.
12-07-2010, 06:55 PM   #12
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Aperture, shutter and ISO work together to provide the correct exposure. You will need to adjust at least two if your want a particular setting for the third one. In many cases you will not have the correct settings available. Such is photographic life.

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