Photo Tip - Freezing Motion for Low Light Action

As many of you may already know, not only do I enjoy creating images, I also enjoy discussing and teaching others about photography and I conduct face to face training sessions.  As a matter a fact, I have a group face to face session coming up very soon. If you are interested in participating, please reach out to me for more details. 

I have met many people that purchase a camera, with full manual controls,  that leave settings untouched and are forever stuck in auto mode.  There is nothing wrong with this if a camera is producing images with a look and feel that you like.  But more often that not, the images are not as good as you hoped they would be when you first made your purchase.  Then there are others that do their best to learn, either by watching videos or reading a book, but have limited success because the are not learning the basics first. Most times than not this group of people will hit a wall of discouragement, resulting in a camera that is not used as much as originally planned when it was purchased.  Of course, there are a rare few out there that pick up a camera and are "naturals", not because the were born with it but because they have grasped the 3 basic components of exposure: Shutter Speed, Aperture and ISO.

The truth is, anyone can shoot in manual mode and produce better images by learning the 3 basic basics of exposure. These 3 components are often referred to as the Exposure Triangle and have independent control over the amount of light your camera sees when you make a photo.  Shutter Speed controls the speed at which the shutter opens and closes; which controls the amount of light that reaches the sensor by limiting the amount of time it is open.  This has a direct affect on a the cameras ability to freeze or show motion (also know as motion blur).  The Aperture setting controls the aperture (opening) of the blades within a lens.  The higher the F-Number the smaller the aperture and the lower the F-Number the larger the aperture.  A wider aperture will allow more light in at a time, relative to the shutter speed, and also controls a Depth of Field (DOF) in the resulting image.  DOF is the distance of area that is in focus, measured from front to back or back to front.  A wider aperture will give you a shallower DOF and a narrower aperture will give you a deeper DOF.  Lastly, we have ISO, ISO controls the camera sensors sensitivity to light. The higher the ISO setting the more sensitive it is too light.  But something to keep in mind is this, the higher ISO you use the more digital noise you will introduce to your final image.  Because of the digital noise side effect higher ISO settings introduce, lower ISO settings are usually preferred, by most photographers, to help obtain the cleanest image possible.  Below is a diagram to help illustrate the Exposure Triangle.

When all 3 components of exposure are properly balance you will have a correct exposure.  To know if you have a correct exposure you will need to use a light meeter. Fortunately for us, all modern manual cameras have a built in light meeter that looks similar to the image below.  When your settings are correct you will see a meeter reading of "0" when pointing your camera at your subject.  If your meeter does not read "0" then you are either over or under exposing for your subject, and one of the 3 components will need to be adjusted to balance out the reading.

With all that behind us, the title of this blog post is "Freezing Motion for Low Light Action". Where is the low light tip in all of this you ask?  Well, for the tip to make sense you must first understand the 3 basics components of exposure; and now that you have a better understanding of exposure, here is today's Photo Tip.

When shooting low light action photos you must first ask yourself two questions:

1. What shutter speed to I need to freeze motion?

Different types of action call for different Shutter Speeds to freeze motion, the final Shutter Speed dialed in will be based on how fast the action is that you are trying to freeze.  The faster the action is the faster your Shutter Speed needs to be. For example, I know from experience, a youth softball game will need a minimum shutter speed of 1/500 of a second to freeze the action. If you are capturing action that is slower then your Shutter Speed setting can be set slower. Once you have decided what shutter speed you are going use you need to ask your self the following question.

2. What is more important to me, DOF or Low Digital Noise?

For me the answer is almost always Low Digital Noise.  So with that said, I will open my Aperture up as wide as possible, typically that would be f2.8 for me.  Although, not everyone has a lens like mine, so for you f3.5 or f5.6 may be the widest setting you have available.  By opening up the Aperture as much as possible, this will allow you to select the lowest possible ISO.  Unfortunately, at this point, I can not tell you what ISO setting to use.  Why? Simply because I don't know what gear you are using and settings will vary depending on the gear you have available to you.  But the answer is very simple: beging rolling your ISO up from its lowest setting, typically 100 on most camera, while pointing your camera at your subject.  Once your meeter reading reads "0" your camera is properly exposed.  Well... sort of.  Meters can sometimes be fooled by by your subject or scene behind your subject, but we will leave that topic for another day.  In the mean time make your first photo capture, if your photo is underexposed (too dark) roll the ISO up a little more, if it is overexposed (too bright) then roll it down.

And there you have it.  A simple photo tip to improve your Low Light Action Photos.  I leave you with some sample photos, captured at a night under low light conditions, at a Boys and Girls Club Youth Softball game.


Please reach out to me if you would like to learn more about how to use your camera and what all the other buttons do.  You can contact me directly via the contract page or via one of the social media outlets listed below.  Feedback on this, and other blog posts, is greatly appreciated, please take time to comment below. Let me know what your favorite type of blog posts are.

As always, thanks for stopping by.