Shooting rugby matches at night

Discussion in 'Sports' started by sheryl_bury_michals, Aug 24, 2015.

  1. Our rugby time is switching to night games this fall (after over 40 years of having matches predominately during daytime), with many games not starting until 7 pm. Even though it's an outdoor field that would be lit, it still isn't enough to get great shots unlike shooting in daylight hours, which I've done for the past 20 years, so this is a new routine for me.
    I use a Canon 7D, and for lenses, I have a Canon 70-200/2.8 which works at night, but not long enough for the distance of a rugby pitch. I also have the 100-400 as well, which is great for distance but not fast enough at night. I have rented the 400/2.8 on occasion, which I like a lot, but find it cumbersome weight-wise to lug around, even with a good monopod (Currently I have a strained deltoid, so lugging heavy things like the 400/2.8 is not advisable at this point). I don't want to use a converter on the 70-200 as I feel it would slow things down a bit (unless someone can tell me otherwise).
    I do have a 580 EX flash but I just don't think it will cut it really - is there a better flash out there that gives out more light. I read something about a device called a Better Beamer - has anyone used that for sports?
    What ends up happening with the night games I've shot in the past is that I end up doing a lot-of post-processing as the pics are too yellow in tone, so always balancing that out, which is not that big of a deal but time consuming.
    Any advice would be most appreciated, as our first night match is Sep. 4th.

  2. You've got the right lens in the 70-200 2.8, at least for things it will reach. I sympathize about the weight, but not sure that you have any choice but to use the 400 2.8. Maybe a 300 2.8 if that's long enough? The thing is that if it's anything like shooting night games at American football, you need every ounce of f-stop you can get.

    Next step beyond fast lenses is cranking your ISO up as high as your camera can go and still produce clean images. 1600 for sure and 3200 if it can.

    Almost 40 years ago I used to shoot night football with a huge Honeywell Strobonar "potato masher" flash (one with a handle and it attached to the side of the camera, not a hotshoe mount). It would give me f/4 at 100 feet with 400 speed Tri-X. The problem was that the field was lit to about f/4 at 1/125, and 1/125 was the top sync speed on my camera. That meant that sometimes I got a good clear flash picture but sometimes I got ghosting, where both the flash and the ambient were producing an image. I tried push processing and shooting without flash, but the results were extremely contrasty.

    If you want to try flash, go to and poke around until you find a post he did a year or two ago about shooting night football at his daughter's high school. The field was poorly lit so he found a way to do it with a speedlight. One issue he had to content with that you might encounter is that some people object to flash at night games. There is debate over whether those objections are well founded or not, but something to be aware of.
  3. Perhaps the 7D II is better suited for low light shots, at least that's what I understood from one of the reviews.
  4. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    I’ve had a wide look at the Rugby and also the Rugby 7’s images that you’ve made.
    I think these are reasonable options for your consideration. None is exclusive of another, but some are dependent upon other factors which I have detailed:
    1. Pump the ISO and use the EF 100 to 400 F/4.5~5.5 L USM. Do not underexpose. Be happy with a bit of noise. Learn (or use if you already know) good PP techniques for the 7D at high ISO.

    Rationale – from the analysis of your images it occurs to me that you use the 100 to 400 quite often, I guess basically ‘all the time’. A lot will depend on how well lit is the Field, and I don’t think that it will TV Telecast Lighting, but do think that you might be able to squeeze something around F/5.6 @ 1/400~1/800 @ ISO3200. What light you do have will be a major determining factor for choosing this option.

    I would be happy pumping a 7D to ISO3200. However, I would not be keen on using Av Priority and I mention that as it occurs to me, that you do. If the Field Lights are relatively evenly placed, I suggest you make a Light Meter Reading to evaluate a good exposure for the skin tones and set the ISO to match Av = F/5.6 and Tv ≈ 1/400s~1/800s and use Manual Camera Mode.

    The issue regarding the yellow cast might be somewhat attributed to the Cycling (frequency) of the electricity phases: to some extent this can be addressed by shooting a burst of three shots and choosing the best and also Manually Setting the Camera’s White Balance. I’d use either ‘Tungsten’ or ‘K° = 3400’ – not ‘AWB’.

    If you are using the raw file, there is an argument that Manual Set White Balance is irrelevant, but I disagree with that view, because what setting a Manual White Balance does achieve, is a consistent ‘opening point’ for your raw file from which you can customize some standard WB changes during the conversion, because if the Electricity Phasing is the cause of the Colour Cast in some of the images it is my experience that the cast is quiet consistent in hue and saturation so once you get the WB tweak correct for one it is done for all of the series of shots: on the other hand if you’ve set AWB the camera will make all sorts of choices for you and in the batch of shots you can waste quite a lot of time adjusting individually to make each of the shots appear that they were all from the same game.

    Most importantly if you use this option do NOT underexpose.

    2. Use two cameras, with the 100 to 400 on the 7D and the 70 to 200 on the second (assumed not as good High ISO capacity). And run the sideline.

    Rationale - The 100 to 400 on 7D at about ISO 3200 is the same rationale as option (1).
    The 70 to 200/2.8 (or 24 to 70/2.8 if you still have it) on another camera at ISO 800 to 1600 - similar rationale to option (1).
    3. Use the 7D and the EF 70 to 200F/2.8 and crop in Post Production, when necessary.

    Rationale – from the investigation of your images it occurs to me that you can (and do) run the sideline. With a lighter rig then you should be able to get to a good camera viewpoint more often and more quickly than lugging the 100 to 400 (assumed you probably use this lens on a pod anyway which probably slows you down a bit more?)

    The extra two stops of lens speed on the 70 to 200 means that you can shoot two stops lower ISO for the same Shutter Speed – AND – if you consciously frame a little wider than you otherwise would, you can crib a little DoF when shooting at F/2.8.

    The fact that you can shoot at two stops lower ISO means that cropping, even severely, might be a very viable option.
    4. Rent the 400/2.8. Use two cameras. Get yourself into a good static camera viewpoint for each half and be content with the shots that come your way.

    Rationale – using two lenses (and two cameras) at F/2.8 (a 400/2.8 and a 70 to 200/2.8) from a static Camera Position is pretty standard fare for big games. Though you’re a ‘one off’ photographer (as opposed to a ‘pool’ of photographers) you will still be able to get a good selection of shots from the one camera viewpoint.

    If I had the run of the field and if I chose this option, then I would be looking at the 20 metre region on the sideline from the Dead Ball Line to 10 metres in front of the Try Line where my team would score. I would choose the side of of the field which had my team’s stronger Three-quarter Line and Winger and where the Fullback would be likely to support in attack – i.e. the side where a try is more likely to be scored. For the second half I would just change ends. The logic being, that you will always have the faces of your team in the frame of the shot when your team is attacking and also defending- but you will be at the action end for the Tries.

    It’s not that difficult to move up and back through that 20 metre range and I’d take a ground sheet and leave the second camera (and 70 to 200) on the ground sheet near the Dead Ball Line.

    5. Rent a 300/2.8 (as already suggested).

    Rationale – arguably if you can run the sideline you could use only the 300/2.8 and crop in Post when needed and stand off for the play as it gets close: that sort of implies taking a more central sideline position because 300mm on a 7D would be too close to shoot a Try on your side of the field if you were situated on the Try Line but OK to shoot a Try scored on the other side of the field, so perhaps consider a 300/2.8 and running only up and down your team's attacking half of the Sidle Line on your team’s LESS dominate attacking side of the Field. I don’t immediately see any advantage in renting the 300/2.8 and to use that lens in tandem with a 70 to 200 on a second camera, you’d be better having the reach of the 400/2.8 in this situation.
    6. Rent another camera with better High ISO. Use the 100 to 400 or use the 100 to 400 AND the 70 to 200.

    Rationale – as per options (1) & (2), except you have two 'better' High ISO cameras
    7. I would NOT consider the Better Beamer or other “beam” attachments to use on your 580.

    Rationale - those attachments expect to achieve (advertise) about 2 Stops ‘more reach’. Let’s nut that out to understand if it is going to be of any advantage to you. Let’s assume that you do get ‘2 Stops advantage’ and that you are using the 100 to 400 lens and are pulling something like: F/5.6 @ 1/500sec @ ISO3200 and those parameters suit the exposure for the Ambient Light. (Note that Flash ‘beamers’ usually require the Zoom Head of the Flash to be at about the Focal Length of a “Standard Lens”).

    In case you don’t know:GN (Guide Number) of your 580 Flash is usually quoted for ISO100 and varies with where the ZOOM HEAD is set. For your 580, the GN/ft(ISO100) @ FL 50mm = 138

    In case you don’t know, there is simple arithmetic required for using the GN to get FMWD (Flash Maximum Working Distance):
    a). the GN (Guide Number) divided by the APERTURE equals the Flash MAXIMUM WORKING DISTANCE of the Flash (Note this is a rough indicative, usually the MWD of a Flash is, in reality, a bit shorter.)
    b). each time you increase the ISO by 1 STOP the GN increase by a factor of ROOT 2. (so each time you increase the ISO by 2 STOPS the GN doubles).

    So, for your 580, the GN/ft(ISO100) @ FL 50mm = 138, which means in theory using F/5.6 you can adequately expose a Subject 24ft away. (i.e. 138/5.6 = 24)

    At ISO3200 . . . GN/ft(ISO3200) @ FL 50mm = 780, which means in theory using F/5.6 you can adequately expose a Subject 140ft away.

    Adding the ‘2 Stops Advantage’ of a ‘beamer’ (i.e. pretending that you are using F/2.8 and not F/5.6), which means in theory using F/5.6 you can adequately expose a Subject 280ft away.

    That on the face of it, seems really a good idea, in theory. It seems that you could frame the front row of a packed Scum that is 280 ft away, or frame tightly on Ruck at that distance and get a good flash exposure – however that’s firstly assuming that the ‘2 Stops Advantage’ is actually there – and also NOT yet taking into account the X-Sync that you have to which you have to drop the Tv. (This consideration of X-Sync Speed is also previously mentioned by Craig).

    The X-Sync on a 7D is 1/250s, so you are now pulling F/5.6 @ 1/250s @ ISO3200 and the bummer is -the AMBIENT EXPOSURE is only ONE STOP under the FLASH EXPOSURE, which means SUBJECT MOTION BLUR will be captured.

    Obviously, there is a rationale to drop the ISO to attain a greater difference between the Flash and Ambient Exposures, but with each two stops drop in your ISO you will HALVE the Maximum Working Distance of the Flash. Let’s assume a difference of FIVE STOPS between the Flash and the Ambient will alleviate all the Subject Motion Blur (take me on trust that it will in nearly all circumstances) So to get the Ambient Exposure FIVE STOPS under the Flash Exposure, you will have to drop the ISO to about ISO 200 – and in which case you will effectively have quartered the FMWD – so you can use your 'beamer' effectively to about 70ft.

    But (there are more considerations), the FLASH now is the KEY EXPOSURE and is dominate by Five Stops over the AMBIENT EXPOSURE, so the ‘ambient’ playing field and background becomes more of a ‘black hole’ as you drop the ISO.

    Also consider if Flash (from on the sideline and beamed (i.e. ‘concentrated’) is allowed to be used by your Union during play. It is not allowed by any Union that I know of here, for night-time Rugby Union, Rugby League or Field Hockey (and Soccer too)
    My bottom line (i.e. "if I were you what I would do") - I would FIRSTLY consider what are the USES of the pictures - for taking these for the love of the team and for in-line viewing on the webpage and for a prints to 7x5 - then, even in tough light, probably you'll get away with the 7D the 100 to 400 and be able to pull around F/5.6 at 1/400s @ ISO3200 most of the time - and if there is enough light to even scrape through to do that then that's what I would do - you probably won't get the range of images that you are used to in daylight, but that's life.

    Considering your medical comment, I'd consider renting another camera, (like the 7D MkII as previously mentioned) with better High ISO capacity, rather than renting a 400/2.8 Prime.
    Realistically, for Rugby, a 400/2.8 Prime is only of a real benefit is you are one of a Pool of Photographers or if you are shooting solo using a 400/2.8 in concert with another camera and the 70 to 200 or three cameras and a you have a 300/2.8 on the third camera.
  5. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    "I don't want to use a converter on the 70-200 as I feel it would slow things down a bit (unless someone can tell me otherwise)."​
    Oops - I missed this question. I can tell you otherwise.
    That's a viable option.
    Though I think that the Zoom Compass, 100 to 400/5.6 is better than 140 to 400/5.6 - AND - there's a bit of wobble created by the Extender EF which is noticeable (annoying for me) if my 70 to 200 is mounted, by its Tripod Ring, on a Monopod.
    Also, assuming you do not have one of the very first 100 to 400 lenses manufactured, then at 320mm to 400mm (at F/5.6) your 100 to 400 will have a tad better IQ.
    Also, it depends what 70 to 200 Lens and Extender you have - the EF 70 to 200 F/2.8 L IS MkII with the x2.0 Extender EF MkIII is the best combination, followed by the EF 70 to 200 F/2.8 L USM and then the EF 70 to 200F/2.8 L IS USM.
    It's a close call between using a (good) extender and using the 100 to 400 - I only use my 70 to 200/2.8 plus my 2.0MkII to save carrying a 400/2.8 - if I had a late model 100 to 400, (which I don't) I would use that lens: that's what suggest you do, its just simpler.

  6. A million thanks to all - just one more question - I'm thinking about a second body, as my ol' 40D is in need of an upgrade - i don't know whether to get another 7D full-frame or a 70D crop frame. I do need to get a new body since it looks like I'll be using both lenses.
    what works for you all and why?
  7. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    i don't know whether to get another 7D full-frame or a 70D crop frame.

    Doesn't make sense: was that a typo and do you mean 6D full-frame or a 70D crop frame?

    what works for you all and why?​
    Dual format kit works for me. APS-C and 135 Format Cameras. There are many comments I have made, which you will find in my posting history on this topic, but, in a nutshell, in 2004 our studio made a transition from Film to Digital and at that time my strategy was that a Dual Format Kit would minimized the number of Lenses that we had to buy.
    It wasn't until after we made our initial purchases of a 20D and a 5D that I realized the full potential of such an arrangement - for example, for a Social Event carrying only two cameras and two zooms, those being a 16 to 35/2.8 and 70 to 200/2.8 (providing an effective FoV equivalent to FL 16mm to 320mm and those all at F/2.8 with a small gap between 56mm and 70mm)
    Alternatively, carrying only two cameras and two very fast primes (35 and 85), providing equivalent 35; 56; 85; and 136.

    For Field Sport, when on the sideline, and excluding my using a 400/2.8, I am comfortable with using APS-C and 135 Format Cameras and two zoom lenses: 70 to 200 and an Extender and a 24 to 70. Typically I would have the 70 to 200 (plus extender) on the APS-C and the 24 to 70 on the 135 Format and occasionally swapping.
    However, note that I use my 5D Series cameras essentially for Portraiture and some "landscape" stuff. But if your photography output is very narrow and confined to sports (mainly Rugby), then it would probably be better for you to consider getting by with your 40D for the time being: which is doable - (I have worked a 20D at ISO "H" and produced acceptable 5x7 prints and more than acceptable web images for sporting clubs' webpages) - and saving for a 7D MkII (or what might replace it).
  8. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    "our first night match is Sep. 4th."​
    How did you go?

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