My Blurry Basketball Pictures


When the light levels are so horrendous that photographers describe those arenas as “dark as dungeons,” you may not have a choice but to “pan” with the action. ISO 1600 1/60 sec @ f5.6 80-200 zoom at 200 mm.

A few posts back, I mentioned blurry basketball pictures. As I think about it now, sometimes even with the most expensive equipment, all you can do is get by.

I dug through my personal pictures recently and I found some of my own. So Jane, you are not alone. Even professional photographers take bad pictures. They just don’t show anyone. Well, I’ve been showing them to my students. Embarrassing as they can be, I find it’s important. How else can I help them understand the thought process from  the 1st frame I shot to the final frame I chose?

I had a wonderful instructor, Charlie Brill,  in college. Real nice guy but he didn’t show too much of his own work. Actually come to think of it, I don’t remember seeing any.

Maybe early in his teaching career he showed his work but he got tired of talking about the same old pictures semester after semester. I”m speculating here.

I was able to get away shooting 1/125 sec @ f2.8 ISO 1600 on this picture of my son because they were relatively stationary. But notice where he was waving and moving his hands, they’re a nice blur.

In any case, so what and how did he teach? He used student’s work from previous semesters as I am doing now.

That approach worked in the film days and probably still does now. But with digital, there’s no reason not to show it “live.”

But back to the matter at hand… Poor light in a gymnasium comes in many forms.

Low light levels

Let’s just say, you’ve pushed your ISO to its maximum and the highest shutter speed you can get for a good exposure is 1/60 sec. So what are you to do?

In the picture above, I was getting a light reading of 1/125 sec at f2.8 ISO 1600. Mind you, I used my Canon 20D and a 80-200 f2.8 zoom.

The noise level is acceptable but I can’t picture the officials at the local YMCA allowing me to set up light stands and strobes to shoot these games.

Bottom line, that lighting is perfect for a Chess match, but not basketball.

Best best then, is shoot with my 50 mm f1.4 lens to stop action. Focus has to be right on and my exposure would be? 1/500 sec @ f1.4–equivalent exposure of 1/125 @ f2.8

Or try panning. Panning is okay some of the time but you really don’t want to overdo it. Then all your pictures will look the same. As a photographer, I cringe when someone thinks all my work looks the same. It implies I’m lazy.

Pulsing Lights

basketball_ballonheadAnother problem with gyms is the color temperature and the kind of lights.

Since most indoor arenas have to be lit by some form of electric light, color temperature determines your skin tones.

Shooting a lot used to be expensive in the old film days. But not anymore. With digital, it’s a question of whether you have enough memory cards. Or whether your camera can keep up with the action. Sometimes you luck out and capture an image that’s slightly different like the above.

If you have a camera that allows you to set a Custom White Balance, try this sometime. Change it from Automatic White Balance to Custom White Balance.

Hey, this post is about motion blur not color, sorry.

So there are actually lights which pulse at a regular interval.

If you happen to shoot at a shutter speed that is not in sync with the lights when they pulse brightest, you get some underexposure. That was the situation at Kent State’s arena, my alma mater. I hope that isn’t the case anymore.

So, don’t be shy… shoot a lot. You’re only going to increase your chances of getting something good.

And when the action goes to the other side, rest. It’s really pointless when your subjects are so small in the viewfinder.

Finally if you’re having a hard time wondering why the color looks weird and inconsistent even after you’ve done a Custom White Balance using the ExpoDisc Digital White Balance Filter, 77mm or the Color Right accessories, it’s not your fault.

It’s a sure bet that not all the light bulbs are changed at the same time, so they are different ages and will naturally give different color temperatures.