Indoor Fast Action- New flash or lens?

Discussion in 'Sports' started by stephanie_giorgianni, Jul 30, 2012.

  1. I will be doing the photography for an amateur mma fight in September and I need advice. I'm wondering if I should get a different lens or a different flash because I had a lot of problems with capturing clean, crisp images when it was a high action shot (punches, kicks, etc.) Obviously it was indoors so I was dealing with low quality lighting and I had never shot an event like this, especially fast action indoors. I tried shutter priority and raised the ISO but I'm not sure what else I could have done to stop the action and get the great shots you see of a fighter landing a punch, etc.
    I'm shooting with a Nikon D90. I have two lenses, a 18-105mm Nikkor 3.5-5.6G and a 70-300mm Nikkor 4.5-5.6G. And then I have a SB-600 Nikon Speedlight.
    Any suggestions?
    You can view my pictures from that event here... (Please be nice with your comments. :) I had never done an event like this so it was a learning experience for me. I'm not happy with the pictures from that event so I'm trying to do a better job this next time so I'd really appreciate constructive criticism.)
  2. I'd suggest an f1.8 lens - either the 85 mm or 50 mm - something a little faster and both can be budget friendly.
    Next suggestion would be a newer body - D7000 - better high ISO properties.
    Last suggestion - would be a new flash - actually a studio speed light and a pair of pocket wizards.
  3. David,
    Thanks for such a quick response! And for your advice too! I'm definitely going to look into the suggestions you've made. I doubt at this point I can move up on my camera body, although I'd like to and hope to sometime this fall, but I know I won't be able to before this event. But I will seriously look into what you mentioned in regards to the flash and lesns. I do have a couple questions though if you don't mind? As far as the lens...if I got with a 50mm or 85mm, my only concern is this will limit me on getting close up shots, etc. I'll be on a platform about the cage so I won't be able to move around for closer shots. I'll have to stay in the same spot no matter where the fights are at so I'm just curious if I'll feel stuck with the focal length?
    And on the flash you mentioned...I'm new in that realm....usually I shoot outdoors in natural light and really don't ever use flash so that event was a first for me. What do you mean by studio speedlight and pocket wizards? (Sorry if that's a dumb question. lol)
  4. One of the moderation team, Jeff Spirer, is an extremely good fight photographer. It takes a real specialist (with good access) to get pro-quality images at such events. Hopefully, he'll see this thread and, if needed, chime in with some pro-level suggestions.
    That being said, if you want top-notch photos, photography is based on light, and the highest ISO capable body, wide aperture lenses, and the word's best AF system will never improve the existing light, which, at these venues, can often be both bad for photography (eg, eye and face shadows, uneven coverage, fighters at the same brightness as the audience, etc.) and often too weak to fully stop action. That's why you received the recommendation for studio type flashes.
    People on are incredibly generous with their time, but with respect to your question, "What do you mean by studio speedlight and pocket wizards?", instead of asking people here to spend their valuable time composing and typing out the answers to such utterly straightforward questions, 5 seconds with Google would have completely answered both questions for you, and the folks here could instead spend their time helping you with more advanced / specific questions.
    Tom M
  5. With respect to specific improvements to your images, I tweaked one of your images in PS to give a suggestion of what one might be able to achieve with lighting that emphasizes the fighters, tighter cropping, and a wider aperture lens to blur the background. Obviously, these effects will be vastly better if done in hardware, not after-the-fact, in software.
    First, your original...
  6. Just to be clear, using PS, I could only simulate one aspect of "better lighting" -- ie, a darker background. Real "better lighting" (ie, done with real lights, not software) has the potential to make your pix look like Jeff's.
  7. I shoot swimming in large arenas indoors. There are places where the light is so bad and the contrast so high with backlight that I set my Canon flash set on high speed sync, ISO 16 or 3200 on a 7D and the shutter speed at 1/1000. I get usable pictures that are sharp. I do not like to use f1.8 because of shallow DOF. I find 2.8 to be better. High speed sync works well at high ISOs even with some distance.
  8. This was taken in near darkness at ISO 6400, 1/800 f5.6, flash high speed sync. He was about twenty feet above me on a jump. The picture would have been very dark without the flash as what light there was was backlight. I didn't fix the red eye.
  9. Todd Mann- Thank you for your help, tweaks and recommendation of Jeff Spirer. I actually came across his posts and work last night and I'm in awe! He is a true artist and hopefully some day I'll be able to produce works like his. I also see what you mean in the comparison of my pictures that you definitely gives it a more dramatic feel, which I like.
    As far as my question regarding flashes...I'm sorry for taking up anyone's time. I had no intention of offending or bothering anyone. I understand and I'll be sure to google the suggestions given to me next time instead.
    Dick Arnold- Thank you for sharing.
  10. Hi Stephanie - I'm sorry if I might have come across as a curmudgeon w.r.t. basic photographic terminology, but the learning process is so much faster if the questions are about issues that aren't covered in a million other places on the web.
    For example, although someone recommended studio flashes, there is a very good chance you might not be allowed to use flash, so a great, more advanced question might have been something like, "Yeah, I know that radio synched remote strobes are the way to go, but this venue won't let me use flash. What should I do?". Another good question might be something like, "I'm trying to shoot wide open with fast glass, but the autofocus on my Nikon d90,000 with a 20-600 f2 lens won't keep up. I'm using the super-servo 99 point mode. Is there a better AF mode to use?".
    Anyway, you get the idea.
    Best regards,
    Tom M
  11. Also, although you might not want to upgrade your equipment just for this one event, let me add that your d90 is a couple of generations old, and the high ISO performance of cameras have improved greatly since the d90.
    In addition, your zoom lenses all have very small apertures when zoomed out to maximum telephoto.
    Without flash, the 1st issue will limit your ability to use really fast shutter speeds and get sharp subjects. The 2nd will also limit your ability to use high shutter speeds, but it will also limit your ability to isolate your subjects from the background, say, compared to pro f/2.8 zooms, which many pros covering action use, even when remote controlled flashes are allowed.
    Tom M
  12. Tom- Not a problem. I understand. I think you just figured I was more intelligent and new more correct terminology. :) In regards to flash, this is an amateur event and the promoter has no problem with flash. I shot with flash some last time, but considering the lenses I was working with and, as you have mentioned, my outdated camera body, it wasn't much use.
    As far as upgrading my equipment, it's not that I don't want to...believe me if I could I would. The problem is, I'm not paid for this event. I do it as a favor to the promoter and the only pay I get is if the fighters decide to buy any of my photos from the event. And when you consider it's an amateur fight and most fighters are broke, I don't make much. :) So with that said, I don't really make enough to cover getting new equipment, however I do think your suggestion of upgrading should definitely be considered because it wouldn't go unused and would give me better shots to sell.
    If I could somehow scrap up the money to upgrade, do you have a specific recommendation on the proper camera body for low light, fast action? Possibly the d700 or d3? They are obviously pricey, but if I can work out the money, I'd rather get a better body now then regret it later.
    Thanks so much for all your help!
  13. Hi Stephanie - Unfortunately, I'm the wrong guy to ask about lighting a fight venue (for photography) because I've never photographed a fight in my life. You really need someone who can tell you how and where photographers are usually allowed to set up flash units in such a way that they produce good lighting of the subjects as well will be acceptable to the organizers, coaches, fighters, refs, and audience (eg, doesn't blind anyone and doesn't block anyone's view).
    Take the following with a grain of salt, but if it were me (ie, someone who has never shot a fight in his life), with a low equipment budget, and for a relatively informal shoot like this, at minimum, I'd try to suspend one remotely triggered flash high above the fighters (for rim and hair lighting), a fast-recycling studio strobe with a big softbox off to my left or right (where it doesn't block the view of the audience) as the main light, and maybe an on-camera shoe mount dialed way down for a touch of fill. As your budget and experience permits, you could build up a system from there. Don't forget, for this sort of photography, where the distances and geometry are relatively constant, you don't need fancy, remotely adjustable power flash units. Old fashioned (ie, cheap) manually adjustable flash units will be perfectly acceptable.
    When flash is permitted, a high ISO body isn't as essential as it is when you are stuck using only available light. However, a high ISO body is still useful even in flash photography because it allows your flashes to recycle faster, and they don't need to pump out as much light, so there is less danger of blinding people.
    If flash is permitted at the venue you usually work at, and you are going to be doing this regularly, you might want to consider investing in lighting before you upgrade your body. In fact, I would probably recommend that you even upgrade your lenses before upgrading your body.
    However, if you are considering a good high ISO body, you can't go wrong with the d700. I own two of them and love them. They do everything I ask, and have never failed me in in any way. For fight photography, I just don't see any need for the much high resolution (and higher price) of the d800. With respect to having a body with a higher frame rate than a d700, I don't see a burning need for that, either. Don't forget, decades of stunning fight pix were shot using Speed and Crown Graphics, and they had a maximum frame rate of only about one photo every minute or two ;-0 .
    Gotta run. I hope this has give you some food for thought. Hopefully Jeff or someone else with real fight photography experience will step in and give you some real answers. ;-).
    Tom M
  14. Hi Stephanie. I can appreciate where you're coming from, equipment-wise; I would say you just need to shoot what you can with what you've got. That aside, I agree with the first poster, if the opportunity ever arises.
    In the meantime, here's my take on your photos. What I dislike most is the weird yellowish or greenish skin tones, as well as the odd crossing shadows and racoon eyes. These are all due to the existing light, probably some sort of metal-vapor lamps with odd-ball spectral makeup. The only solution, to me, is that you have to use your own flash unit to overpower this (or at least minimize its effect).
    You have a hot-shoe flash (the SB-600), so I suggest putting it to use. When it's in the hot-shoe, your camera should be able to control the flash power (I presume this is true - I don't know my way around modern Nikons). I would try out two different methods, then see how they look. The first one is to use the flash as a "fill," where it mainly supplies some extra light, to "fill in" the heavier shadows. A good starting point would be to set "flash exposure compensation" to about -1 stop. (Colors might look weird - the fill won't match ambient - unless you "gel" the flash, with a colored filter gel, to match ambient. This is a more advanced technique.)
    The second method is to simply let your flash overpower the ambient light. Then your flash wipes out the weird effects of the existing light. To do this, probably use "flash exposure compensation" = 0, combined with underexposing the ambient light by about a stop (try "exposure compensation" about -1). Personally, I would use manual exposure for the ambient light, but whatever works is fine.
  15. Bill,
    Thank you for your reply. Yea, I'm leaning towards getting a new lens (50mm) for now and waiting on the rest. I would love to upgrade my equipment, but I'd rather do so when it's not such a stretch.
    In regards to my photos, thank you for your input. I agree, I don't like the discoloration of the skin and shadows. Although this is all due to the lighting situations in the gym, I'm sure to some extent I could counteract all that in Photoshop. I'm just still learning my way around it. :) I'm still pretty new to the digital world. I was one of those photographers stuck in the film era and really didn't want to make the switch so I'm still learning.
    The problem with using my flash is that I have to shoot with a faster shutter speed than it will allow. When using the flash it automatically readjusts the shutter to 200 no matter what I set it at, which is too low for the lighting in the gym. :-/ So I'm not sure of the way around that.
    I appreciate your tips and suggestions. I'm going to see if I can get into the space before the next fight and play around with the lighting ahead of time. I guess there's never an exact science to these kinds of things. Each location is different.
    Thanks again for replying!
  16. Hi Stephanie,
    I suggest you use a flash bracket such as the Manfrotto 233B Camera Mount Flash Bracket ( Getting the light to come from above will likely look a little more natural. (I'm assuming you're standing at the same floor level as the fighters.) Separating it from the camera body will reduce red-eye considerably. The Manfrotto bracket is heavy but inexpensive and gives you more extension than most. You can use a monopod to support the weight.
    If you want to get just a hair more sophisticated, add a second flash mounted on the monopod stem below the camera, set at lower power than the main flash. You can use any cheapo flash and set it manually. This will help reduce any shadows caused by the primary flash. Looks geeky, but it will improve your shots. I shoot Canon, so don't know exactly how to do this with Nikon equipment, but I'm certain it's possible.
    Do practice with the set-up in advance so you're comfortable with it. Learning to use flash well has a significant learning curve but is well worth it for what you're trying to shoot. It will be a lot cheaper than buying big glass and new high ISO bodies (although those are all good too!).
    The two-flash set-up is probably less desirable than the three light arrangement suggested earlier, but it is totally portable and can be done without radio triggers.
  17. The problem with using my flash is that I have to shoot with a faster shutter speed than it will allow. When using the flash it automatically readjusts the shutter to 200 no matter what I set it at, which is too low for the lighting in the gym. :-/ So I'm not sure of the way around that.​
    Hi again, I just saw that this thread is still active. Regarding 1/200 shutter, personally, I'd be fine shooting at that speed with a flash boost. Granted, there might be a lot of blur in some shots, but I dunno. You might have to be more selective what you shoot, trying to catch peak of action (where motion momentarily halts as something changes direction).
    But it looks like you have another option - what is often called high speed sync. I did a search on Nikons, and it looks like your combination, D-90 camera with SB-600 flash DOES support high-speed sync. At least per this guy:
    Basically, if this capability has been built in to a flash unit, the flash has the ability to fire normally (POW!), OR a series of rapid low power flashes (pow,pow,pow,pow!) which appear to be a continuous light while the shutter "slit" crosses the sensor. In essence, you can use any shutter speed you desire with your flash. The downside is that effective flash power is reduced.
    Let me say this more clearly, if you want to use your hot-shoe flash AND use a fast shutter speed (say 1/1,000 second), you should be able to do this. After enabling the high speed sync option which your system allegedly has.
    Now that I know you may be using fast shutter speeds (I consider even the 1/200 pretty fast), you should be aware of possible problems with the ambient light. I'll just tell you how to check for this, rather than bore you with explanations. Using your highest shutter speed, take 5 or 6 shots of a white or gray card, filling the frame. If you see that color changes between shots, or that frames change color in the middle, this is because your shutter is too fast for the lighting. If color changes occur, you won't like the fix - slow down your shutter. The next best alternative is to use enough flash power to swamp out these color fluctuations.
    One last note, on your ability to fix color/lighting problems in Photoshop, I think this is an uphill battle. Look even at the example Tom Mann did - notice how their bodies have a greenish tinge where he lightened the shadow areas. This is reflected light from the green mat. A simple fill flash would have swamped out most of this effect. I can't emphasize enough the benefit of pushing some of your own well-behaved light onto this scene.
  18. Tom,
    Thank you for writing. I'm actually on a very small platform above the cage so even closer to those awful gym lights. :) Which also presents a problem using any kind of flash bracket since it will make it even heavier and I'll be shooting for about 4 hours. The platform I'm on is probably 5 to 6 feet off the ground and only small enough for me to stand on so I don't think I'll be able to use a monopod to support the weight either. :-/ I do plan on heading over to the facility I'll be shooting in ahead of time to see what the lighting is like. It's a new location I've never been in so I guess that could be a good thing or a bad thing. ;)

    Yea, I'm fine shooting at that speed, but as you said...there's a lot of blur in some shots because it's such fast action. And I'm one of those photographers that hates blur. There are times it works perfectly for a shot, but it has to be just the right shot. Trying to catch at the peak of action is the trick more than anything...which makes it hard since this is only my second fight to shoot. Although I watch mma fights on tv all the time, I'm still new to capturing it at the right moment.
    As far as the high speed sync...I've looked into that. I've seen different posts that you can do it, but I've tried everything and it doesn't give me that option so I'm not sure if it's the combination of the d90 and sb-600 or what.
    I did buy a 50mm 1.8 AF-S lens. I'm not sure how happy I'll be with it since I'm not used to shooting with prime lenses, but we'll see. If it helps with the lighting issue, then I guess I'll make it work. :)
  19. Hi, you'll probably be surprised how well 1/200 shutter with flash added will do (use the second method I previously described). Remember that the very-fast flash does most of the motion-freeze, with blur coming only from the ambient light portion of the exposure.
    The faster lens won't do anything for QUALITY of the lighting (your old location was horrible for ambient), but you may be surprised how much easier it is catch the action with the extra brightness through the viewfinder.
    If you try to go without flash, here's something you should be aware of: many types of gym-style lights fluctuate during the AC power cyle, and this may cause color problems for you. Here's a way to check for it: pick your shutter speed (perhaps 1/500 to 1/1000 with your new lens?), then shoot about 5 or 6 shots of a white card (or paper). If you see that color changes between shots, or a color shift part way across the card, the same thing will happen on your fight shots. The ideal cure is to use a longer shutter speed. But the preferable method for you would probably be ... use flash.
    Regarding the high speed sync, I have no experience with Nikons, so can't answer this directly. However, on general principals, there might be a certain power-up sequence, or perhaps it only works in certain shooting modes. Or, perhaps a firmware upgrade is necessary in the camera.
    ps; I don't know if you found this part in the D90 manual, but page 195 says this (these are in the custom setting section):
    e5: Auto FP
    Selecting On for this option (available in only P, S, A, and M modes) enables Auto FP High-Speed Sync with optional flash units that support the Nikon Creative Lighting System (CLS). Auto FP allows the flash to be used at shutter speeds 1/200 sā€“1/4000 s. Choose to enable fill flash when taking portraits under bright light or when taking photographs at large apertures. Auto FP High-Speed Sync is not available when using the built-in flash. The default setting is Off.​
  20. Bill- WOW, you don't know how many times I've looked through that manual and tried everything I could to get the high-sync to work and I read your post and was able to do it immediately! Go figure! That'll help a lot! Although I'd love to go without flash, since it's not prohibited, I figured I'll go ahead and use it. With the lighting and my situation, it'll give me the best quality and prevent that awful motion blur I hate. I'm not sure if I'm the only one who does enjoy the blur in fighting shots, but it's a pet peeve I can't seem to shake. :)
    Thanks so much for all the tips...especially the ac power cycle. I never knew that.
    I think with the high sync figured out and the news lens, I'll be good to go. Obviously, I'd love to upgrade my camera, but that'll have to wait. Here's hoping I can sell some photos of the fight! ;) Thanks again!!!
  21. Cool. Good Luck!

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