Sports Photography Question
(Pine Ridge, Florida)
I have a Sony A55. What are the best settings to use for outdoor/evening sports photography under tungsten lighting?
When I use the sports mode it is blurry in that light. I have the basic Sony lens and 2 Sony zoom lenses. (55-200mm) and (75-300mm).
The key to getting good sports action photos outdoors at night or even inside in gym is to keep your shutter speed high enough to motion blur both from camera shake and from the fast paced action on the field or court.
The issue you are facing whether it is at night game outdoor under tungsten lighting or in a gym is less than ideal lighting conditions. Without enough light it is difficult to keep your shutter speed high enough to get really good photos unless you have a fast F2.8 lens which tends to be expensive.
Both the lenses you have are variable aperture zoom lenses which mean that as you zoom the lens the largest aperture decreases meaning that you need more light to properly expose the image. For example the 55-200mm lens has a variable aperture range of F4.0 to F5.6. This means when fully zoomed in your largest aperture will be limited to f5.6. This limits the fastest shutter speed you can use to properly expose an image. For best results in difficult lighting situations you will benefit greatly from investing in a fixed aperture lens such as 70-200mm F2.8 lens. That will help your camera to be able to capture images at a higher shutter speed and is better suited for outdoor sports photography.
As for the best camera settings to use with your existing lenses or even a fixed f2.8 lens, you will be better off not using the Sports Mode and instead switching to either your aperture priority or shutter priority modes. The reason for this is that in the sports priority mode the ISO setting is limited to the automatic limits of the camera which is normally not the entire ISO range the camera has.
I would recommend that you use aperture priority mode for shooting nighttime sports under tungsten lighting. You should set your aperture to the smallest number (largest opening) your lens has, which in your case is f4/f5.6. Next increase your ISO setting until you can regularly get a shutter speed of 1/500 second or faster. Depending on the lighting this might require your ISO to be from 1600 to 6400. Adjust your ISO settings to keep your ISO as low as possible while maintaining a shutter speed high enough to avoid motion blur. Depending on the sport and the light you will need a shutter speed at least 1/320 to 1/500 of second or faster. Adjusting your settings will allow you to find the best combination of aperture, ISO and shutter speed to get the best possible picture given your camera and lens combination. Too slow of a shutter speed and you will get motion blur and too high of an ISO and you will get too much digital noise and a poor quality image.
Because you will be shooting at higher ISO speeds, digital noise can become an issue. You will likely need to get a good software program designed to cleanup digital noise in high ISO images. There are a number of these programs available and they are really needed when shooting photos at a higher ISO setting. The better programs do a very good job of “cleaning up” the digital noise in a high ISO image and result in acceptable quality images taken in what is often less than ideal lighting situations.
I hope this helps you understand how to adjust your settings to help you capture better nighttime, outdoor sports photos. Taking action sports photos under those outdoor lighting conditions is a challenging task with anything less than the highest dollar professional lenses and cameras. The Sony A55 is a great camera but like other Sony translucent mirror cameras is more prone to digital noise at higher ISO settings so it is important that you experiment with your settings to get the best possible photo under the conditions you are faced with.
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