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|| News Item: Posted 2000-12-20

Quick and Dirty Lighting With the Nikon D1
By Doug Duran, The Valley Times

Photo by Doug Duran/CCN

Photo by Doug Duran/CCN
I'm one of many photographers who work the night shift at the Contra Costa Newspapers, where I have worked for the past ten years and shoot multitudes of high school sports assignments. I have to admit the biggest key to shooting good prep sports is enjoying what you're doing. You don't have to understand the details of basketball, volleyball, soccer or football - you just need to have a good attitude.

I do enjoy shooting professional and college sports but nothing makes you shoot better at professional games then shooting in dimly lit high school gyms and fields.

As of January 1, 2000 all twenty staff photographers at the Contra Costa Newspapers went digital with the Nikon D1 camera. The transition was surprisingly easy for me. In addition to each photographer receiving two Nikon D1's, we each also received Macintosh G3 PowerBooks with Ricochet wireless modems.

Photo by Doug Duran/CCN

Photo by Doug Duran/CCN
How good can it get? Shoot the game, walk to your warm car and send your photos. The night shift just got a lot better. All I need now is for the mom's working the snack shack to give me free food along with the rosters for both teams. Ah, prep sports paradise.

One of the benefits of the digital camera is the increased focal length of the lenses. For example, the 80-200 f2.8 lens converts in to something like a 110-310 f2.8, making it ideal for shooting high school football. You have a pretty good range from the center of the field to the sidelines. Also, the low light sensitivity of the D1 camera is significantly better then shooting film. But I do not recommend shooting anything over 800ASA with the D1. In my opinion the resolution quality at 1600ASA is poor.

All of the football fields and basketball gyms in the area I cover are dimly lit. Our sports section has a big focus on local high school sports, with color prep photos running on the sports section front and inside pages. There is no option but to use a flash. However, I don't like the look of blasting the subject with the flash on full power. I prefer another method.

Photo by Doug Duran/CCN

Photo by Doug Duran/CCN
The way in which I shoot high school sports has not changed much from film to digital. It's still quick and dirty but it works and has great results. With my flash on the manual setting, I dial the power down to 1/16 power.

I do not use the TTL setting dialed down one or two stops. For some reason I have had little success with this method. I set my ASA at 800 and shutter speed at 250 or 200 (depending on what cave I'm shooting in) with the aperture at f2.8. What I'm trying to do is fill flash or fill in the gaps of the ambient light.

With the flash dialed down to 1/16 power the recycling time is instantaneous allowing you to shoot a burst of shots. Also, because the flash gives just a small kiss of light players, referees and coaches don't mind you using a flash. Shooting high school sports in this way is by no means perfect, but it is quick and efficient.

Since "red eye" is bound to happen when shooting with a flash on camera, I use Photoshop to reduce or eliminate it completely. I lasso the red part of the eye and desaturate the red channel in the Saturation window. I then use the Levels or Curves windows to darken the area that was once red. As for the shadows cast by the flash, most of the time the shadows are not that bad and with a little dodging they are hard to see.

To eliminate the shadows even more, try putting your flash on a Bogen Super Clamp and clamp it to something high over your head. It helps drop the shadows back behind the player(s).

Photo by Doug Duran/CCN

Photo by Doug Duran/CCN
Another suggestion is to stick your flash on an extended monopod and find some kid in the stands who wants to make a couple of bucks to stand behind you and hold the monopod. When shooting basketball, I not only shoot from under the basket but I have started shooting from center court while sitting in front of the bleachers. The reason I have changed my shooting position is because the lighting is often more even when shooting from center court.

There is less chance of getting a shadow from your flash on the walls of the gym. It's a look you have to get used to, but I have gotten some nice photos from that angle. I haven't found a better way to light high school sports. It's the best you can do with on-camera flash.

The players are well lit and the small amount of light the flash puts out is just enough to match the ambient light, making it look more natural. If you're like me and don't have the time to set up lights before a high school basketball game, try this method of lighting the next prep sports assignment you shoot.

(Doug Duran is a staff photographer at the Valley Times in Pleasanton, CA. His e-mail address is:

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