I was hired to be the photographer at Gymnastikkabalen. A gymnastic show organized by Gymnastikefterskolen Stevns and Sorø Gymnastikefterskole. During the afternoon there were several different types of shows; Team gymnastics, dance, parkour, power tumbling, acrobatics etc. A wide variety and a lot of challenges for a photographer. I have not photographed such an event before, but I anticipated some of the challenges as being;
- Generally bad lightning condition that changes with spot light, follow light and colored light.
- Ability to move around photographing from different angles.
- Subjects can move very fast
- From 2 up to 100+ participants on the floor
Gymnastikkabalen considering the challenges
I am a prime shooter. I think it makes my photographic life more simple – especially if you have the luxury of having two cameras where you can mount two different focal lengths. Usually this is a setup I would be perfectly comfortable with working within the photo journalistic like assignment – I used this setup for shooting weddings and has served me pretty well I think. But with the gymnastic show I was not sure of how much freedom of movement I would have, and how close I could get to the performances. So I rented at Fujinon Zoom lense just to be sure to have an extra flexibility but to be honest I didn’t use so much.
Getting technical – like really technical
So what are my settings shooting such an event as Gymnastikkabalen? Well… If you set the camera on automatic it would choose something like this: Shutter speed 1/60 – 1/100 – Aperture F/1.4 -ISO 3200-12800. Next second it could be ss 1/500 – Apterture F/1.4 and ISO 400 because of the spotlight hits the subjects. That is how “bad/unpredictable” the lightning conditions are. You could consider manually choosing white balance but, I actually just leave it on auto. The lightning condition changes so rapidly and mixes from LED and tungsten sources it’s difficult to choose one setting for all.
I manual focus 95% of my shots as autofocus can be a challenge in low light conditions. Depending on the type of show I sometimes choose drive mode of 3 or 8 pictures a second. And yes by doing this there are a lot of bad shots – that is just the way it is.
The problem is that the show involves rather a lot of movement and most of the times very fast movement. To be able to freeze the gymnasts in midair doing back and front flips, screws etc. a minimum shutter speed of 1/680 -1/1000 is preferable. Otherwise you get pronounce motion blur. Of course you can choose shooting with slow shutter speed and use that as an artistic choice. All up to you.
So I choose to shoot almost manual. I set the camera to autoISO within the range of ISO200-12.800. Depending on the show I set the shutter speed to 1/160-1/200 or 1/680-1/1000. I shoot with the lenses wide open – all the time.
If you are thinking: “Why don’t you just set your camera on the program shooting sport?”, I would say: “I just did!”
Is this a great solution? Well… There are some trade offs that you of course should be aware of, and that brings one to the basic understanding of how photos are exposed and how the shutter speed, aperture and ISO affect each other and what the artefacts are adjusting the different settings according to each other.
I am not going into details, but understanding the exposure triangle is essential as a photographer. You can either google it or try this simulator to get a rough sense of how the three settings influence each other. My advice would be really to spend some time understanding it. The next parts will make a lot more sense if you are familiar with the exposure triangle.
So trying to make this as simple as possible and just making a bullet list of how you could choose your camera settings.
- Shooting gymnast doing back flips at high speed in low lightning.
- Shoot at fast shutter speed (1/680-1/1000) because I want to freeze the movement.
- Fast shutter speed requires a lot of light in order to get a decent exposure of the image.
- Lightning is very low inside the venue so you compensate by adjusting the ISO (from low to high) and your aperture (low F number in order to let as much light in as possible) in order to get a decent exposure of your photo.
- High ISO has an artefact – it adds noise/grain to your image.
- Low F-number has an artefact – shallow depth of field.
- Is noise/grain and shallow depth of field a problem? It depends… I would say the low F-number is this case (when you are at distance is not a big issue). Noise and grain is often a personal and aesthetic preference/choice.
Discovery – cheating with technology
I like noise/grain in photos but I also like razor sharp images. And in the case of photographing Gymnastikkabalen I would have liked sharp clean images. But shooting in the above mentioned conditions were difficult and shooting at ISO 3200-12800 were almost unavoidable therefore a lot of noise/grain were in the photos. But… One way to slightly cheat your camera using technology is to deliberately underexpose your shots and raise the shadows in post processing. This will decrease the overall noise and raising the shadows in post processing software actually seems to add less noise than the camera/sensor does. Most cameras have an exposure compensation dial/option and I can only say that you could try to experiment with that and see if it is something you are able to take advantage of.
On dpreview.com they do have some technical articles where they pixel peep this subject whether you should shoot at high ISO or shoot at lower ISO and add exposure post proces. As I recall there is no clear conclusion.
Well… That was a long story about Gymnastikkabalen and the photographic challenges… slightly nerdy.. and slightly technical… Thanks for hanging on all the way to the end. Leave a comment or ask me if there is anything that was unclear.