One of the most challenging things I have had to deal with is capturing fast action in low lights. It makes some photographers cringe...and others hate their gear. Well before you toss your tools on Ebay...let's consider a few things that may be making life difficult for you. Here is a list of 5 pointers that can help you take better action shots and impress the soccer mom next to you.
1) When shooting sports you need certain gear. The truth is slow glass in dark areas just won't cut it. When I say slow glass I mean any lens that doesn't open up to at least to F/2.8. If you have a lens that is dancing around F/4.5 - 6 things are going to be blurry and dark. And then if you try to make up for it by boosting your ISO...you may introduce more grain into a blurry photo. That said lenses that open to an aperture of F/2.8 or larger cost more money than one may have in his or her budget. I am not usually one to tell people to go out and buy more gear...but if you intend on shooting basketball, hockey or indoor soccer...you are going to need to pony up a little money to make this happen.
Now in addition to aperture size you need the best lens length that fits your sport (action) and shooting style. For instance...I find that a 24-70mm is a great range to cover indoor basketball...but not nearly enough to cover indoor soccer. For that I ideally like a 300mm but I do not have a few thousand dollars in my pocket to make that dream come true. So I settle for a 70-200 F/2.8 and my needs are satisfied.
2) When dealing with action (especially predictable action)...use a monopod. This changed my shooting dramatically. Not only does it help stabilize your shooting it also helps give your arm a break instead of having to hold your camera at ready position constantly. The larger lenses weigh a lot...you will be thankful you have a monopod to give your arm the break it needs between shots. I recommend leaving the tripod at home. They are hard to get around and sometimes you are forced to shoot in cramped little press areas where you really only have room for a monopod.
3) Next to aperture you need to insure that you are using the correct shutter speed. Unfortunately when you are shooting in low light...a fast shutter speed doesn't allow enough time to get in a lot of light. That said if you shoot too slow say in the 1/160th of a second or slower realm, you are going to have ghosting and blurring issues. When I shoot professional sports I try to shoot in the area of 1/320th of a second or even sometimes up to 1/500th. With youth you can sometimes get away with 1/200th of a second. At these speeds you can freeze action and get the shot you really want.
4) When shooting with fast shutter speeds in low light you will need to bump up your ISO. If you need to learn how to do this, consult your manual or any number of online forums - all cameras do it a little differently. A higher ISO allows you to pull more detail out of your image. However there is a downside to this. In addition to pulling out more detail it also pulls out more visual noise. So if you go too high your photos start looking like you are shooting Minecraft characters. Some cameras are more forgiving than others when it comes to ISO readings. My 7000 does a great job but anything over ISO 1000 and it starts to get noisy. That said my Nikon D610 has been used as high as 4,000 ISO and only minimal noise has been present.
5) Play around: Try different shutter speeds and different ISO settings until things start looking right to you. This takes some getting used to but once you do, you will be taken photos you will be proud to show off.
6) Okay so here is a bonus one for you...I am in the giving mood. Try not to use an attached flash. When you use an attached flash it sprays light out everywhere, causes red eye and color loss. It also annoys athletes. With the correct aperture paired with a good ISO and speed settings, you will be able to keep the flash off the camera and perhaps set it up remotely...but that is for a later posting.
I hope this helped - be sure to drop on our facebook page other tips and tricks that you would like to read about.