Nikon D300s Backlighting and High Contrast Football Shoot

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by kpataky, Nov 2, 2011.

  1. I have been using Nikon digital cameras since 2004 for outdoor action sports. I am currently shooting football in bright sunlight, and I have noticed that when I photograph a subject and I am more than 20 degrees off from the direction of the sunlight, the cameras (D300, D300s, D700, D3s) all have a problem dealing with the high contrast between the sunlit areas of the subject and the shadowed areas. Are there any settings anyone can share to help improve the results? When I use the active D lighting options in the camera, I notice an improvement, but I also notice a degradation in the speed of the shutter. Also, when shooting action sports with these cameras and the subject is back lit, I can't seem to get as sharp of an image. Any tips on dealing with these high contrast situations would be appreciated.
  2. Kevin... I shoot a lot of field sports, and in bright sunlight, I almost always expose 1/3 (sometimes 2/3) under. I look for the blinking highlights on the uniforms, and dial down until I don't get the blinkies. Shadows get deeper this way, but I'm ok with that. The action is not in shadow. Having said that, in football, players faces are pretty much always in shadow due to the helmet.
    I don't use active D lighting... if I need to bring out shadow details, I want to control it myself, rather than have it automated incamera.
  3. "but I also notice a degradation in the speed of the shutter" - seems like you do not control the exposure and picture taking process yourself.
    In this case you would be better off with cameras that have automated scene modes for most ocassions, like sport mode in D7000. Cameras like D300, D700, D3S do not have those automated scene modes, and it is expected that the photographer knows much more.
  4. IME, D-lighting does less than you can do by using the curves tool in PS or GIMP. Also, shooting raw will give you more post-processing options to tame high contrast.
    Here's a quick before/after comparison of what the curves tool can do to brighten up a backlit scene and reduce contrast. The saturation was increased slightly as well to compensate for the tone-curve adjustment.
  5. Frank, you misunderstood. What I am saying is using Active D Lighting, the frames per second performance degrades. I don't want scene modes, I shoot all my outdoor sports manually. It just seems like these cameras candle handle this sort of contrast properly without a lot of post editing.
  6. .....And here's the GIMP curves setting used.
    BTW, the D700 has one of the best dynamic ranges available. If it can't tame the contrast, then nothing else will!
  7. If you shoot in RAW, then you can salvage more of the shots. Active D lighting doesn't do anything that you can't replicate if you do your own processing. The D700 and D3s are the cat's meow when it comes to dynamic range (but the D300 is no slouch itself), so if they aren't doing it for you, then you're doing something wrong.
    Photography literally translates to "painting with light." So, no light means that there's no paint. Of course if something is in shadow, it won't have the detail of something that has sunlight hitting it. You also are likely underexposing, consider changing the meter to centerweighted or spot. This is counter to Ron's advice, but it's for opposite situations. His excellent advice is for situations where you're getting blown highlights from overexposure, which you don't want with bright subjects. If you're taking a picture of a backlit player, you need to overexpose to get the detail in the shadows out.
    What shooting modes are you in? Do you watch your histogram at all? From your post, it seems that despite your long stint as a photographer, you haven't spent much time learning the basics of photography. Many people assume that if they get better cameras, then they will take better photos, but the converse is usually true, since the more advanced camera has settings that just get in a beginner's way. Try picking up a simpler camera like the D90, and see if your photography improves. Take some photo classes too.
  8. I know how to edit these images in Photoshop. The fact is I take 1500 pictures per football game and choose up to 400 of them for resale so I'd prefer to get it right in the camera.
  9. Ariel, you are quite wrong, I know all aspects of photography, and this seems to be a limitation of these cameras. I have seen better output from far lesser retail cameras in these scenarios. As I said, I shoot manually and rely heavily on the histogram.
  10. What I am looking for here is people's input into Modifying Picture Controls as it seems the default settings of the D300/s can't handle the contrast depicted in this scenario. I don't need classes and I don't need a cheaper camera and I don't need scene slection buttons. I already know how to use the cameras I have. Page 156 of the D300s manual talks about how to alter the default Contrast settings. Has anyone played around with this?
  11. Kevin, if you know all that and have rejected all the advice offered here, then I suggest you're now on your own. Why not just try the contrast adjustment settings mentioned in the manual instead of posting here?
  12. Maybe Rodeo Joe because I am looking for people's input as to what they have done so I can try it. I am sure I am not the only one in this situation. I have seen the results of other professional photographers standing right next to me on the sidelines - and they are using Canon with the default Contrast settings and they perform much better. I have seen mothers with point and shoot cameras even coming out better. Again, I am talking about when the sunlight is like at a 30 degree angle or more off the subject and part of the subject is in the shadows.
  13. Kevin - how about if you post a sample or two that shows the problem you are talking about.
  14. Well, unless Canon have made a quantum leap in the contrast ability of their cameras since the 5D - I can say for a fact that my D700 outperforms the 5D by a country mile in being able to handle high contrast situations. And 1500 shots per game? Perhaps less would be more? Or why not just frame grab from an HD video?
  15. Rodeo Joe, 1500 shots encompasses 1 hour of pregame, 4 quarters or more of football, plus Cheer at halftime. I shoot the whole game, weed out 11-1200 images to come up with the best 300 or so. And why add such comments that don't contribute anything other than for us to see what kind of person you are? This forum is used by many to contribute positively to a community. Why act like this?
    Ron, I will post an unedited original when I get home, but try to picture a ball carrier wearing lets say a white jersey is running towards the left goal line at he's at mid field at the 50 and you are standing on the near sideline at the 40 (on the left side of the 50). The sun is coming in from the 30 yard line (30 yards to your right) and its setting. The front on the ball carrier is black as his his face. If he's carrying the ball in his right hand, you can't see it because its also in the shadows. If there is a tackler coming in from the other side, the shadow cast from the ball carrier lands on him so he's black too. Whatever is receiving direct sunlight in this scenario is exposed perfectly and the colors are vibrant, but everything in the shadows are black. D lighting helps with the subject but it makes the background look unnatural.
  16. DxO Labs testing shows the D700, D300s, D3s, and Canon 1Ds Mark III and 1D Mark IV as all having 12 stops of dynamic range. There are some cameras with higher DR, including several Nikons (D3x, D5100, D7000) but no other Canons and certainly no small sensor P & S cameras. How are you evaluating this big difference in DR? Do you shoot RAW? How you have your camera set up makes a big difference if you're shooting JPEGs.
  17. Not shooting RAW. Need to get it right in the camera in JPEG or it would take forever to edit a game's worth of pictures.
  18. Not shooting RAW. Need to get it right in the camera in JPEG or it would take forever to edit a game's worth of pictures.​
    Suggest you shoot a FEW RAW images of the kind that give you problems. Develop these in LR and create presets for each of (say) three possible situations. Then shoot the next game in RAW, select images and batch-process them. 'Get it right in camera' is a myth, especially if you are shooting fast-moving action with changing light. You could try switching presets in camera, but it's a lot easier in front of a computer.
  19. Kevin... try Photomechanic. It was meant for this. You can shoot raw, with no time penalty. I do it all the time.
  20. Coincidentally, I recently answered a similar question at bottom of here
    For back lighting, I like to give an extra stop or so above metered reading and keep it in manual. It should give you a nice result even if you don't bring out more shadow highlight in post process. Though frankly, I usually try to be on the side that I can shoot back lighting as I find it to give nicer resulting photos and avoiding the harsh, flat frontal lit scene, for high contrast scene such as front lighting on a sunny day that I can't avoid when following downs, I sometimes like to dial down 1/3-2/3 stop from metered, also in manual mode. Having said that, there are occasions that I'd leave meter in matrix and shutter priority when the action goes back and forth between brightly lit and dark shadow area. I would sacrify some highlight detail to make sure shadow area is well exposed, especially that there are many African American players in the game.
  21. Depending on your subject distance, fill flash might be enough to bring the shadows up to a reasonable level. If you can set a flash at -2 it isn't going to do anything to the highlights but will definitely light up any shadows that are within range. (better beamer is an option if distances are far and you're using telephoto.)
  22. Kevin... I just shot a game tonight, and during halftime I did a quick test. I pointed the camera (D3s) at the clock (digital, precision to seconds) and let the frames rip for 3 seconds. I did it twice... once with D-lighting set to NL, and once to off. In both cases, I got 8 consecutive frames of the clock showing the same exact time before the clock advanced to the next second -- which means 8 frames per second. I know there are a lot of factors that do impact the max frame rate, but I proved to my own satisfaction that d-lighting is not one of them.
  23. Ron that's interesting because I have even read Nikon's own admission that when using Active D lighting the camera can do no better than 4 or 5 frames per second. "Activating D-lighting cuts the size of the buffer in JPEG capture, thus reducing the frames per second rate."
  24. Kevin,
    maybe creating and running some actions/scripts (low/normal/strong curves to lift up the shadows) in Photoshop could speed-up high-volume processing to a reasonable level.
    I too have trouble with harsh light and prefer the curves-tool in PS over D-Lighting at least for backlighting. Lowering the contrast-settings is an option but will give you very flat pictures in backlighting.
    I don't look at the histogram but set my cameras to „blinking highlights" and don't care if parts of the background or trikots are over-exposed, as long as the skin-tones are not washed-out.
    Fill flash is in my opinion not practicable for most outdoor-sports.
  25. Kevin... the buffer point would be interesting, but I only shoot in raw. I can't think of a reason to shoot JPGS. I've heard your argument before that raw files take longer, but with photomechanic, raw files run at the same speed as jpegs.
  26. Ron, if you are shooting in RAW, then even if you have Active Dlighting turned on, it isn't doing anything in-camera that would slow the camera down. Active D-lighting brightens the shadows in jpeg, which takes processing power and cuts down on the fps. In RAW, it will just mark the file, so that Capture NX will know to apply it to the photo upon import, but it doesn't actually affect the RAW image in any way when shooting. If you shoot in JPEG, you will see the framerate go down.
    I do agree with you that the OP should use Photomechanic, or some other program. I haven't used that, only heard of it (supposedly, it's pretty much what all the media outlets use, from newspapers to Sports Illustrated), but I use Lightroom, and I don't think that using RAW slows down the workflow in any way.
    Kevin, if other people are using a full range of cameras, from full pro cameras to point and shoots, and their pictures all look better than yours, then you have some setting messed up on your D300, or you're using the camera incorrectly. It's as simple as that. If you gave me Lance Armstrong's all-out race bike, I wouldn't be any faster on a course. If you gave me an F1 car, I would be slower around a racetrack than if you gave me a Ford Focus. If you give someone that doesn't understand photography inside and out a D300, their pictures suffer compared to a camera that takes care of the settings for them. Rent a D90 or D7000, and set it to sports mode. See if that fixes your problem. As mentioned already, the D700 and D3 have the best dynamic range of any camera that you've likely ever come across in your life, so if the images you take look messed up because of high-contrast scenes, yet people are getting the shot with point and shoots, sorry buddy, but it's you, not the camera.
    I also agree that 1,500 shots sounds like you're a "spray and pray" shooter, especially if you're only keeping 300 of them. Even with fast action, my keeper rate was never 20% when I worked for a newspaper. It sounds like you're rather relying on the camera to do the work for you. My roommate did freelance, and then moved to Michigan to work for a paper. He had a D300, and his scenes looked nothing short of spectacular. I have friends with D3's, and their photos look even better. I really think that you have a camera with too many settings and not enough automation; it's getting in your way.
    Thomas, flash isn't usually allowed at sports events.
  27. Kevin, I suggest shooting all manual and playing with your settings. Take the contrast all the way down. Maybe reduce saturation a little too. You can add contrast later, but you probably won't want to, since bright sun-light causes scenes to be very high-contrast. Don't forget to bump up the contrast on cloudy days.
    I also suggest staying away from the extremes of the camera (or lens). Taking things to extremes usually makes your images suffer (because of blur or some other issue).
    I myself to not subscribe to the idea that 1,500 photos in 2 hours is too many. That is only 12 photos per minute. You can do more than that. I would be shooting more than 1,000 photos per hour at an action-filled game. How else could you cover it properly? I would also be shooting RAW with 16 GB 600x Lexar Pro cards.
    Good luck!
  28. BTW, I've been accused of spray and pray myself, but I still don't subscribe to that sort of attitude. Those same photographers often miss shots that I get. There have been shoots I've done with models, where I shot 2,000 photos in 2 hours. Shooting sports I would be shooting much faster. A half-dozen 16 GB CF cards should hold enough photos. You will be able to shoot RAW if you use fast cards. Yes, they are expensive, but you can buy two at a time and they cost less:
    Processing more photos takes your computer more time, but it won't take YOU much more time. Copying the cards onto an external hard drive doesn't take much longer (especially not with fast cards). You import all the photos at once, so you can go have dinner, while that is happening. What difference does it really make whether it takes 15 minutes or 45 minutes? You're doing something else anyway. Looking through an extra 1,000 photos takes about a half-hour of time. Big deal, so it takes you 1 more hour total of your own time to do what you need to do. Yes, your hard drives will fill up faster, but with 3 TB drives costing about $150 now, you don't need to worry about that. Yes, your computer will work an extra two or three hours each time you process images from a game. Isn't selling two more prints for a profit of $20 each worth that? An extra hour or two of your own time for $40 isn't bad either. I think people who don't want to shoot a lot are just lazy.
    Remember . . . 12 photos per minute is only two series of six frames each. It would be easy to shoot three or four series like that in one minute, when the action is happening. I've seen high-end pro photographers do that, and I've seen photographers shoot one or two shots here and there. I'd continue to take the fast shooting approach, if I were you.
    People, Canon didn't just make the new 1Dx for amateurs. They make that thing for high-end pro shooters . . . and it shoots 12 frames per second (up to 14). They did that for good reason.
  29. Ariel you are very arrogant, and obviously don't know anything about shooting a football game. Spray and pray - that's funny. I have seen those people and I am not one of them. I follow the ball when its moving, and when its not I take candid or formation shots. I pay attention, and know the game so I move to where I need to be based on the down and distance and I get the action shots that tell the story of the game. I am very good at what I do. I have two D3S cameras, a D300, a D300s. I use the D300s during the day to keep the clicks off my D3S cameras that I use for sports primarily at dusk, indoors, when its heavily cloudy or at night with field lighting. I know how to use these cameras so your comments like "you have a camera with too many settings and not enough automation; it's getting in your way" and "sounds like you're rather relying on the camera to do the work for you" make you sound like an idiot. How about not commenting further in this thread until you have something useful to contribute? The ASS-umptions you make as the "know it all" about my skills or ability or knowledge are laughable.
  30. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    I also agree that 1,500 shots sounds like you're a "spray and pray" shooter, especially if you're only keeping 300 of them. Even with fast action, my keeper rate was never 20%​
    Then you are much better than the Sports Illustrated photographers. They average about 1/2% keepers. Maybe you need to go work for them.
  31. Jeff maybe someday. Never say never. There are many different types of Sports Photography. There is editorial, there is for art and then there is for resale. I agree, when shooting editorially for newspapers or periodicals, I'll shoot a whole game and come up with 8-10 keepers. When shooting for resale, however, I try to have my galleries tell the story of the game from my perspective. I try to include as many players, coaches, referees, fans, cheerleaders, etc. as there were all there too.
  32. Also, when shooting action sports with these cameras and the subject is back lit, I can't seem to get as sharp of an image.​
    Just one question to this, do you have any filters on your lens(es) ? This is an often ovelooked hinderance in backlit situations...
  33. Kevin, I breezed over many of the posts when I saw they were slipping off topic so this may have been covered.
    I've messed a bit with the picture control setting in all my cameras that support it, that includes D90, D7000 & D700.
    I find that I can manage some of what you're encountering ie; the contrast and such. I haven't messed with brightness to recover shadows so I can't offer anything there. I think it's well worth the time to mess with it a bit and see if you can make the picture control work for you. Start form an existing picture control and with D Lighting off in the camera, you can adjust contrast, brightness as well as sharpness.
    I have the maximum number of picture controls installed in my camera that the system allows. On the memory card installed in the camera, I have a folder with others I can add when I want that kind of affect. It's simply deleting one and adding another.
    Here's a PN post that talks about picture controls and how to get them on the camera. It deals primarily with obtaining particular film affects but really helps with the basics of setting up and managing PC's.
    As someone mentioned earlier, messing with the curves adjustment can bring out some of what you want. If you copy the PC's mentioned in the thred and move them to your computer, you can open the PC's in View NX picture control utility and see what the curve looks like.
    Also, if you shoot a few of your sports images in raw, then open them in View NX, you'll be able to open them in the PC utility, make your own curves adjustments and save those adjustments as your own PC which you'll be able to load up to your camera (s).
    If this is all a blurrrr or I missed something, shoot me an email via PN and I'll share anything I know.
  34. No filters.
  35. You should realize JPG is OK in good light but does not work well for harsh light. The dynamic range of JPG is limited to about the viewing range of displays, around 8 stops. All the DR of the cameras reported by DxOMark is not available to you if you shoot JPG. The shadows are recorded poorly in JPG so if you lift them in post the result is not good. There is a lot more dynamic range captured by the sensor in these cameras that is stored in NEF. So lifting shadows from NEF works much better. I guess the batch raw conversion approach suggested above should be useful for you. If you don't like ADL and don't like shooting NEF... just give this up for now, your only option is to wait for new faster cameras that will handle harsh light better.
    You must also realize that if the scene has say 10 stops of DR but the display has 8 stops (or print even less) there is no way the result can look "natural" eventhough the whole DR is captured in the NEF. You'd need a 10 stop display for this. Until they show up, you can either use the default processing that either sinks the shadows or blows the highlights, or use the "HDR" approach which compresses the DR by lifting the shadows and squeezing the rest.
    ADL is one form of mild HDR processing. You can try the fill-light of ADR/LR3, or "Lightning" in DxO OP (there is more to this than just the "curve"). You can also try raw conversion of Picasa - it is not generally good with raw but its raw converter automatically normalizes the exposure and lifts shadows a bit in case of harsh light, then you can quickly apply more fill-light to what it produces. I will not suggest proper HDR programs because they are obviously not what you'd like to use. Processing harsh light in fact always pretty heavy-handed processing so expect to spend some time before you find the look you like the most. ADL has only one slider; proper HDR programs give you much more control and a choice of different algorithms.
  36. I personally feel there was a lot of good direction in this post. I shoot football in the North East with fewer really tough days as say in the south. I almost always shoot -.3-.7 stop or more in general with a d300s. I know I'll take some heat for the next comment... I used the D7000 for a few weeks and found it nearly useless in the type of environement you are shooting. Many shots were blown out even with what would appear to be proper settings. I don't use matrix, and prefer spot for football. Post editing is much faster/easier for me with a slight underexposure with these sensors. I generally shoot 500 shots in a game and retain about 125. D lighting does not seem to work well for me. Post / pregame gets some fill light by preferance on slower/closer stuff. I've used a d90, d700, d7000 and both d300 & 300s. I'd never use the d7000 again and would prefer the 300s and 700 to a d90 any day. It can't hold a candle to either of these. Hope some of this might help. Good luck.

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