Home How-To Tip Of The Week How To Get Great Shots In Stadiums And Arenas - 9/1/08
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Sunday, August 31, 2008

How To Get Great Shots In Stadiums And Arenas - 9/1/08

Say no to flash and yes to ambient light

This Article Features Photo Zoom

tip of the weekWhenever I watch a sporting event or a concert on TV-anything that shows an arena packed full of people-I'm constantly amazed at the incessant sparkle of camera flashes from all over the stadium. And all I can think of is one thing: those shots aren't going to turn out.

See, a camera flash is designed to illuminate a subject 10- or 20- or maybe even 30-feet from the camera. With point-and-shoots, 50-feet is really the outer limits of a flash's functionality. So when the camera fires the flash in fully automatic mode, it's assuming that it will provide enough illumination to expose the subject correctly. The camera is basically turning off the ambient meter and is only paying attention to the flash. The problem is simple: it can't tell that you're trying to take a picture of a well-lit subject on a stage or field hundreds of feet away, so it underexposes the ambient light, counting on the flash to illuminate the subject. And as everyone who's ever attempted this picture knows, it just doesn't work.

So how do you make that photo in the arena or stadium or school gymnasium more effective? Simple: turn off the flash. Keep your camera in Auto or Program mode, but spin through the mode dial until you get to a no-flash option-usually indicated by a lightning bolt within the universal symbol for no, the red circle and slash. The camera then starts to get some idea of what you're doing, effectively thinking ‘Oh, okay. I still need to make a good exposure here but I can't use the flash. I guess I'd better meter that ambient light and expose for it.' Voila: those rock stars or athletes, or happy graduates are now rendered in a much better light.

Turning off the flash for great ambient exposures works all the time too-not just in crowded stadiums. If you're in a well-light room for example, and you want to make sure the background far behind the subject remains well lit, turn off the flash so the camera can expose solely for the ambience. (Again, with the flash on auto, it exposes correctly for the strobe-lit subject, ignoring the ambient exposure, and producing a dark if not downright indecipherable background.)

When you've conquered the difference in control for ambient and flash subjects, then you can start balancing the two. The point-and-shoot's "night mode" does a great job of this for you, delivering a fill flash to expose the subject and a longer shutter speed exposure to simultaneously showcase the ambience. It's really a great way to grasp the power in that little point-and-shoot, no matter the subject or the lighting.


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