How Lighting Affects Sports Photography?

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You can’t underestimate the importance of artistic composition, countering diverse lighting and shadow situations, and evaluating subject motion.

Sports[sports photography] require a different approach compared to taking a picture of the moon and a starry night. Even basketball, volleyball, baseball, hockey, and golf require distinct considerations.

In some lighting situations, such as with strong back-lighting, taking a group picture can be as challenging as capturing a game-winning goal. There are three main factors you need to be aware of.

The lens is used to frame the subject, and focus it on the sensor or film surface. The most important parameter of the lens is its aperture, which represents the amount of light transmission.

A wider aperture (f2.8, for example), provides better light transmission and is ideal for portraits, macro, and sports. The wide aperture also results in narrow depth of field – where the subject is in focus, but the background a distance away is blurred (called a bokeh quality).

On the other hand, a smaller aperture (f11 for example) reduces the light transmission but provides a wide depth of field for landscapes. Lenses also vary in optical density/sharpness. The shutter opens for a set period of time to allow light through to the sensor.

The shutter can stay open for a few seconds to capture the night sky, 1/30th of a second to capture a group picture, or as fast as 1/2000th of a second to capture a hockey puck in mid-flight.

The sensor (or film in the case of a film camera) is composed of light-sensitive structure. Naturally, given the right amount of light (either bright conditions or a relatively long shutter) the sensor is able to maximize exposure and image clarity, operating in ideal low sensitivity mode (e.g. ISO 200).

If limited light is available (either low light conditions or a very fast shutter to freeze motion) the sensor must operate at higher light sensitivity (e.g. ISO 800, ISO 3200) which extends away from ideal image clarity.

Larger area sensors provide richer dynamic range, greater detail, and cleaner results at all ISO sensitivities (and especially at higher ISO). A 10 megapixel SLR camera sensor typically covers an area several times larger than a typical 10 megapixel compact.

A large part of photography is the ability to react to complex lighting situations. A bright sunny day can be your best friend or your worst enemy.

An abundance of light allows your camera to expose a picture at a faster shutter speed and under ideal (low ISO) sensor conditions. However, sunlight can also lead to complex backlighting and/or mixed shadows.

Medium to Low light situations pose different challenges with less incoming light. In these cases, the camera sensor needs to operate under higher ISO conditions (being more sensitive to light). A powerful flash can serve as a picture-saving aid, even for high performance outdoor sports.

Understanding your camera’s operating conditions, the aperture light transmission of the lens, the shutter speed requirements to freeze your subject, and the sensor sensitivity ISO) characteristics is an important first step. Most cameras display the parameters it is using to take a picture, and it might be something worth to take notice of.

Photo Credit: Bgould Photo

Posted in: Performance Metrics

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