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Night shooting

New Zealand 5, New Zealand Invitational XI 0
North Harbour Stadium, Auckland, January 26 2016

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I had permission to photograph the second leg of the Football Ferns’ Olympic qualification tie vs Papua New Guinea on Tuesday night. If you keep up with the news you’ll be aware that New Zealand’s esteemed opponents pulled out of the tie at the last minute, after the Ferns had defeated them 7-1 in the first leg. So in place of the Auckland game, New Zealand Football hastily arranged an exhibition match against an ‘Invitational XI’ – which was roughly the same side that I watched the Ferns play in camp earlier in the week.

This presented me with an opportunity.

Shooting football games at night has always been my biggest Achilles heel in football photography, and from talking to the pros I meet around the sidelines it seems I’m not alone. Whether you are an amateur like me (with $2,000 worth of gear) or somebody who does it to put food on your table (lugging around $20-40,000 worth of gear), shooting in low light is a generally tricky endeavour.

After some online research, coupled with the incredibly un-male thing to do that is, ummmm, reading the instruction manual… I thought I would use this game to experiment a bit. So I lived a little dangerously. I moved the dial on my trustee little Sony A77 off ‘Scene Selection – Sports’ and onto some of those scary looking single letters to see what could possibly go wrong…

The football gods even obliged with a miserable old night that was not only dark but drizzly too! A perfect cocktail of challenging conditions…

As I understand it, the main problem photographers face when shooting under floodlights is that things in motion generally require a fast shutter speed. In low light situations, fast shutter speeds are the pathway to post-modern minimalist motifs of eternal darkness. Slowing down the shutter speed to compensate for poor light (which is what ‘sports mode’ does automatically) is the pathway to moltissimo motion blur.

What can you do about this?

Well, according to Professor Google, the two main settings the pros set their dials to are ‘A’ and ‘S’.

A is for aperture – it allows you to continually adjust your aperture setting as you shoot, which in turn controls your depth of field. The higher your aperture setting the more of your shot should be in focus. The lower your setting the more blurry your foreground and background should be – thus focusing attention on your subject. Learning this was a revelation to me! Maybe it will help me shoot better action scenes in daylight, but on Tuesday night I quickly found that it wasn’t helping at all. In fact, it was making matters worse…

So that brought me around to the one that seems more obviously helpful in low light – S which is for shutter speed! This setting allows you to toggle through different shutter speeds as you shoot. On this setting I could scroll around and find, at each different point as the natural light disappeared completely and artificial light took over, the fastest possible shutter speed without compromising the camera’s ability to , you know, take a photo of something other than a big black shadow. I felt like this helped.

There are two other tricks that seem to be suggested a lot in relation to this.

For starters, I have been told many times that one of the things you can and should do when shooting football under lights is bump up your ISO setting – this is what governs the camera’s sensitivity to light. This might help on a $20,000 camera body but on my little entry level DSLR I’ve always found that it tends to achieve little apart from way too much noise (graininess) for my comfort. Of course I realise I might be being a little unfair blaming my Sony, which I love like the son I never had. The problem could of course lie with the loser holding it…

The other thing the internet told me to play with was ‘White Balance’. This is supposed to remove unrealistic colour casts from photos, making them appear more properly colour balanced. The settings I had to choose from had names like daylight, shade, cloudy, incandescent, warm, cool, dry… Unfortunately none of them said ‘North Harbour Stadium dodgy floodlights’… The other option was ‘custom’ which scared the living crap out of me so I backed the truck up from that fast and tried a couple of the pre-set settings. Not sure they made any positive difference though…

Those were all the things I found to try.

You can see the fruits of my endeavours in the gallery below. For comparison, here are a few night games I shot last year under similar lighting:

https://in-the-back-of-the.net/2015/06/21/europe-rules-ok/

https://in-the-back-of-the.net/2015/06/12/rounds-of-16/

https://in-the-back-of-the.net/2015/06/03/obituary/

And here’s one that was in the wet to boot…

https://in-the-back-of-the.net/2014/06/17/a-dark-and-scorey-night/

And here are Photosport’s shots from Tuesday night, so you can see how the pros do it:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10153278356747021.1073741855.143192582020&type=3&uploaded=37

What do you think? Were mine any better than usual? And do you have any tips for shooting football under floodlights that you feel like sharing? I’d love to both hear them, and perhaps I could try them out and report back in a later post…

Categories: Football Ferns

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Enzo Giordani

A grassroots football enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent club on earth - A.S. Roma. More info (including e-mail address) can be found here: https://in-the-back-of-the.net/about/

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