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Tips for How to Photograph Sporting Events at Night

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Shawn S. Lealos•updated: 6/30/2011

Night time sporting events can be a strange mix of sight and sound, but they are still a place where great photos are necessary. Here is a look at how to approach the unique situation of taking photographs at night of high intensity sports.

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    Game Time

    Sports photography is not the easiest type of on-site work you can do, and really draws elements from photojournalism and event documentation. Since a lot of sports take place at night, you can end up with a situation that is even more difficult to navigate because of the lack of available light. The movement of the players, the size of the venues, and the intensity of the crowds create a gunpowder of a situation, and having a sense of how you can make the environment work for you instead of being your enemy. Here are a few tips for photography when you are going after sporting events that take place at night.

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    Shutter Speed

    The exact nature of night sports photography tips depends on exactly what sport you are working with, and specifically how it plays with motion. The reality is that most photographers will want to actually capture the athletes in mid motion as if they were still, or at least with minimal motion blur so you can at least get a clear image. This is not going to be as much of an issue with team sports that have a lot of standing room or limit their excess of speed to the running of the players. You will still have to bring up the shutter speed in these situations, but it will be so minimal that you may not have to deal with much of an aperture change.

    This is not the case when you are considering photography tips for night indycar racing, boxing, or other sports that have incredibly fast motion that has to be captured. All of these need a shift to extremely high shutter speeds, above 1/500, and this is going to darken the image by quite a bit. If you open up the aperture you are going to alter the depth of field and you will have to change your overall positioning. This can be next to impossible at larger sporting events as the press is often regulated to a specific position, and it can even be dangerous to move out of designated areas. What you will need to deal with this is a lot of on site light, which is actually built right in at a lot of these facilities. What you need to really think about when you are piling through photography tips for night indycar racing or other speed based sports is that you will need to target moments on the track, or in the ring, that are directly under the lights that is given to see the action. This has an industrial character on the race track, and is also built right in to boxing and mixed-martial arts since it is primarily for television audiences. What you need to do is then try to maintain your position with a focus on where you see the highest f-stop reading from your light meter, and the only way to know this for sure is to test it ahead of time by getting into the areas before the event begins.

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    Using Distance

    Veteran's Stadium On most team based sporting events, but really anything with a professional size playing area with a lot of participants, you are not going to be able to keep a close image of the players and still be able to alternate between them realistically. What this does is creates a problem when you are trying to figure out the different night sports photography tips because the only way you are going to be able to get the proper range of imagery is by backing away from the action. This is the primary way that sports photographers and videographers have the ability to follow the action from one side of the facility to the other and takes a combination of height and distance.

    This is going to limit your ability to deal with the light and you will have to close off your aperture so that you get a more practical depth of field. What this means, primarily, is you are going to have to deal with the motion blur that comes along with a reasonably low shutter speed. Since you will have large scale lighting you should be able to get enough light to keep the shutter speed above 1/60, so there should be just enough motion blur to clearly indicate movement yet not enough to distort the image. You will really want to then use a telephoto lens above 80 mm.

    What this does is force you to make a choice between how you are going to approach your sports photography. You cannot choose to do close up images with motion clarity as well as have the freedom to catch all the action, so do not try to do both. When you are positioned with the larger array of sports reporters, mainly for television, make sure that you go for quantity rather than that one perfect portrait of an athlete.

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    Light Balance

    No matter what the sporting situation is, you will never be able to put in artificial lights, and though you may be able to use a flash it will not be Night Sky With Baseball significant enough to actually bounce off of the players. Anyone that has been to a night time sporting event will tell you that it is close to daylight, and that there are bright white lights that will be projecting all over the location. Once you do spot readings you will have an idea of where to set the f-stop, but what is most important to do is to make sure that you use a white balance in the area and to make sure you match it in your photo editing. The light that is there will be closer to a daylight 5600k balance than the tungsten, but it still should not match the auto white balance perfectly. Once you have a clear representation of the light you can always alter and change it evenly during post-production.

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    Veteran's Stadium

    Night's Sky With Baseball

    Source: Author's own experience.