Taking  pictures “under the lights” at night at my son’s baseball game was a difficult task to say the least…  However, I was able to get some pretty good pictures (I think)!  I really had to adjust my thinking though – I had become so spoiled shooting my children’s games during the day with so much light that I was able to shoot in Aperture Priority (Av) mode and still freeze the action of him sliding, swinging, and running in baseball, and Morgan kicking and chasing the soccer ball.  I knew this would be much harder for a night-time game because of the lack of light.  So for my son’s under the lights game (the very dim lights), I knew I would need to shoot in Shutter Priority (Tv) mode.  Now this is not my favorite mode – I never seem to know what to set the shutter speed on.  It’s a little foreign to me, but I guess the only way to learn is to try…right?

I had my trusty Canon 5D-Mark III with me (I rarely leave home without it), and my Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8L lens attached.  I was ready for action!  And low light…  I learned several things from this experience.  The first is that my 5D-Mark III can take a very good picture even with very little light and a very  high ISO setting.  It does show a bit more noise in the picture if you blow it up, but it’s not as bad as I thought it might be.  Most of the pictures I print are for my Mom anyway – – I’m certain that she’s not going to complain that the framed picture I give her of her grandson pitching at his baseball game or her granddaughter scoring a goal in soccer is too grainy!  And if she does, well…I wish her luck taking her own pictures!  🙂

Here's my little pitcher. Shot this at 1/1250 with an f-stop of 2.8. The focal length was 80mm, and the ISO was set at 12,800.

Here’s my little pitcher. Shot this at 1/1250 with an f-stop of 2.8. The focal length was 80mm, and the ISO was set at 12,800.  And I also tweaked a few things in Lightroom just to smooth out the noise.

Although I’m pretty sure the noise does not bother my Mom, or my friends on Facebook, but the noise does bother me.  It’s very easy to smooth the photo out in Lightroom, but I prefer a more natural looking picture.  I think too much noise reduction makes a picture look fake.  That’s just for me though…

One trick I’ve learned that works for me is to “trick” out the pictures that turn out grainy or noisy.  In Lightroom, there are all sorts of options to make people think you meant for the picture to look grainy.  In fact, there are many presets that take a perfectly good picture and add noise to it!  What?  That seems so crazy to me, but to each his own.  That’s how I save the pictures I deem noisy and not worth printing.

Here is an example of a "tricked" out picture. It was so grainy that I decided to mess around with it and make the noise seem intentional!

Here is an example of a “tricked” out picture. It was so grainy that I decided to mess around with it and make the noise seem intentional!

Shooting in Aperture priority (Av) is much easier for me for some reason.  I guess it’s because I shoot in that mode almost ALL the time!  So I wanted to compare a daytime picture shot in Aperture (Av) mode to a night time picture shot in Shutter (Tv) mode.  That’s really not a fair comparison, because shooting in any mode at night is very difficult (at least for me).  But…I wanted you to see why I prefer day time games when I can shoot Aperture priority.  Look at the picture below…  To my eye, there is no comparison between this one and the first picture.  The picture below is crisp and clear without any noise at all.  I could blow this up and it would still look as clear as it does now.  The pictures above look good to me, but if I were to blow them up to print out, they would look too noisy to my picky eye.

Here is another shot of Zach pitching. In this picture, the settings were 1/1000 with an f stop of 2.8 and the auto ISO was at 100.

Here is another shot of Zach pitching (during a day time game). In this picture, the settings were 1/1000 with an f stop of 2.8 and the auto ISO was at 100.

A week after I took the under the lights shots at Zach’s baseball game, my daughter, Morgan had an under the lights soccer game!  I was so excited to see if I could compare the two.  Would one set of pictures turn out better, or would they both be equally as bad??  At Morgan’s game, kick off time was at 7:00.  Not quite as late as Zach’s 8:00 start, and in fact, when her game was starting, the sun was just setting.  Our field was running East/West, so the western setting sun was casting a beautiful glow onto the field.  There was enough light that the soccer lights had not even started coming on yet.  I was thrilled for my pictures I was planning to take, but I was disappointed, because I really wanted some more “under the lights” pictures practice for this blog post.

Look at the beautiful sunlight streaming in as the sun is setting. I love the glow it casts on the field and the kids faces!

Look at the beautiful sunlight streaming in as the sun is setting. I love the glow it casts on the field and the kids faces!  I did not have to do any editing on this picture!!  Amazing…

I got some wonderful pictures while the sun was setting.  The picture above was shot at 1/800 with an f-stop of 3.2 and an ISO setting of 250.  All of the pictures I took during this time had very little noise.  The beautiful light did not last long though.  As you can see in the picture below, once the sun set, I had to change the settings of my camera, and the noise was back.  Part of the problem could have been that the soccer lights were not nearly as bright as the baseball lights had been the week before.  In fact, only 1/2 of them came on.  Ugh!  But I’m not one to shy away from a challenge, so I continued to shoot pictures.  Not many of them turned out well enough for me to send to relatives or brag about on Facebook.  Most of them looked like the picture below – kind of faded and grainy.  I’m sure I could trick them out in Lightroom, but I decided it would be better to show you what I actually got in the terrible light!

Shooting under the lights with the Canon 5D-Mark III with the 70-200 zoom lens

Here she is – the sun is almost set, and the soccer lights were warming up. The ISO is so high (16,000) that the picture is grainy.

As I said before…give me a day time game over a night time game always!!  The pictures are much brighter and little to no noise.  I love a good day time picture!  Look at the picture below…  See how clear and bright it is?  There is very little editing done on my day time pictures at all.  You can see the kids clearly, no noise so I can print it out or zoom in, and isn’t it cool to see the shadows trailing behind them?  As long as I’m not trying to get my kids to pose in the day time sunlight and look at me and smile with their eyes open, all works out.

Crisp, clear, and bright. I love a good day-time picture.

Look at my little soccer star go in this crisp, clear, and bright action shot. I love a good day-time picture because of the lighting.  Especially when they are playing sports!

So what lesson did I learn from all of this?  Well, to start with, I learned that I prefer taking sports pictures during the day when I have ample light.  I also prefer to be able to shoot in Aperture priority mode.  I also learned that I need a lot more practice before I start hiring myself out to people to shoot pictures of their kids playing sports at night!  But in the day time, I think I get pretty good shots most of the time.  For now, I’ll print out the pictures I shoot during the daytime, and I’ll keep practicing taking good pictures under the lights at night!

If you’d like to read more about Aperture Priority and Shutter Speed Priority, I found a great article on the Picture Correct website that you might enjoy.  I like it when I find articles that explain things in a way that I understand – this article did just that!

I’d love to see some of your pictures. And if you have an answer for me, or any good tips, send them my way.  Always looking for ways to improve my shots.  Keep taking those pictures!  Until next time…