Taekwondo Photography Tips

I had an opportunity to photograph a local Taekwondo sparring event last weekend and I decided to share some of the photographs from the event, along with some photography tips and lessons learned. I have been involved in Taekwondo since I was 12 and while I spent many years taking part in this beautiful and highly energetic (and sometimes even brutal) sport, I never had a chance to photograph it. While I have been suffering from pneumonia during the last 2 weeks, I could not skip a Taekwondo sparring with some of the best athletes in Colorado. I got my daily doze of antibiotics, then quickly made a plan and took off.

Taekwondo (1)

I am not a sports photographer and I never really shot an indoors sports event before. However, before planning on what to take with me, I decided to visit the location early and evaluate the lighting conditions. As I expected, the place was very poorly lit, with no large windows and only indoors fluorescent lights to barely illuminate the rings. To make matters worse, Taekwondo sparring is a very high-speed event that requires fast shutter speeds to get any decent results without blurring motion. And lastly, autofocus speed for any indoors sports is critically important, since athletes move incredibly fast and it can be tough to keep the action in focus. After determining where I would shoot from with a good clearance, I decided to grab my Nikon D3s, along with the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II lens to get fast and accurate results, with the zoom versatility. I have used this combo before for outdoor sports at a close range and I knew that it would not disappoint. I wanted to capture full body shots of athletes and the action would take place between 5-10 meters away from me, so the 70-200mm range on full-frame was perfect for both kids and adults.

Taekwondo (2)

I first thought about just shooting in available light at high ISO sensitivities (above ISO 3200) to boost my shutter speed to an acceptable level in order to freeze motion. However, after spending a little time at the gym, I realized that I might have to shoot at even higher ISO levels that are beyond my comfort zone. The last thing I wanted was to come back with a bunch of noisy and blurry images. So I made a decision to use flash.

Taekwondo (3)

When there is very little or no light, sometimes you have no choice but to create it. And flash can be a very powerful tool to save you in those situations, especially because of its unique ability to freeze motion at slower shutter speeds. The plan was to illuminate the subjects with a single large light (a softbox) that is powerful enough to spread over the ring area, sort of creating a large bright window inside the gym. I was not planning on setting up anything complex with multiple lights, because it would be a disaster to try to manage those lights without someone keeping an eye on them. Two sides of the ring had a lot of traffic, with both athletes and spectators constantly moving in and out. There were some scoring monitors set up on tables on one side and it seemed to be the area that I could more or less control. So I decided to set up my gear right next to those tables, in between two rings.

Taekwondo (4)

Once I marked my location, I then had to think about what to use – Nikon SB-900 speedlight or a much more powerful studio-grade light. Unless you use one of those triflash brackets that can hold three speedlights, a single speedlight is just not powerful enough to illuminate a large area, especially when it is inside a softbox. Plus, fast recycle times and consistency of flash output are also very important, since I could be shooting action quickly, frame after frame. Speedlights just cannot deliver that kind of demanding output. It was a no-brainer that I had to use a powerful light, so I left the speedlights at home and grabbed my Elinchrom Ranger RX kit with a large portable battery, along with a 39″ softbox. The setup is expensive, but it is worth every penny when you need the power and consistency of flash.

Taekwondo (5)

After I arrived on location, assembling and setting up the light took me less than 5 minutes. I set the camera to manual mode (for consistency of shots), then set ISO to 800 (wanted to have noise-free images) and my shutter speed to 1/250 of a second (maximum shutter speed, given the max sync speed limit of 1/250). I typically use PocketWizard Plus II units with the big lights, because I can mix them with speedlights and other lights when necessary. The maximum sync speed limit of 1/250 was just not cutting it for me and I was getting a trail of blur when athletes kicked fast, so I decided to increase the shutter speed to 1/320 (1/3 of a stop increase) to push the limits. When you exceed the sync speed limit, the bottom of the image comes out darker, because the shutter is too fast for the flash. I looked at a couple of images and realized that only the bottom 10-15% of the image was getting darker. While not very pleasant, I knew that I could use Lightroom’s Graduated Neutral Density filter to fix the problem. So I permanently set my shutter speed to 1/320 and shot the entire event with the same settings. I adjusted the power on the Elinchrom unit to fit my camera settings, and once I got good exposure, I never touched it till the end of the event. Every once in a while I had to either increase or decrease ISO on the camera, but I did not touch the power output of the flash, which worked out beautifully. Most of the shots were properly exposed, although white balance was a nightmare, with all the yellow from the fluorescent lights and all the white from the flash. I adjusted my white balance for the flash and I had to ignore the ambient light, because I did not have any gels to play with. The softbox was set up above my head at around 2 meters, pointing down at about a 30% angle. I shot mostly right under the softbox and sometimes moved around the ring to get a different perspective.

Taekwondo (6)

As for the lens, I shot the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II wide open at f/2.8 and almost never changed my aperture. I decided to shoot wide open, because I needed to isolate subjects from the background a little and bring as much light as possible into the lens.

Taekwondo (7)

Lessons learned:

  1. Flash for indoors event photography can be very effective, even if you can only use one light.
  2. White balance can be painful to deal with once you start mixing different types of light.
  3. Shoot in manual mode and manual flash power for consistency of shots.
  4. Use a fast f/2 – f/2.8 zoom lens for fast and accurate AF. The Nikon 70-200mm is ideal, but you could also use the older 80-200mm. If you will be shooting close to the ring area, anything shorter in focal length is too wide and anything longer is too long. You will most likely shoot between 70mm and 120mm, sometimes zooming in to 200mm to get some headshots.
  5. Newer PocketWizard units like FlexTT5 that can handle hypersync are definitely preferred over the older ones that are limited to 1/250 sync speeds.
  6. Ideally, you should be shooting at 1/500 to completely freeze all motion. If I had high speed sync available, I would have shot at 1/500 and increased my ISO to 1600 instead of increasing the power on the flash. If I left my camera settings the same and increased the flash power, it would have resulted in a much darker background.
  7. Continuous mode with a single focus point selection (not dynamic AF) close to the center seem to give the best results in terms of AF accuracy and speed. I picked my subjects that I would pre-focus on and moved the AF focus point to where he/she was, typically aiming at the hip, between the colored chest protector and white uniform. I nailed focus in almost all shots with these settings and only missed focus on 5-6 images (out of ~250+ images).
  8. When athletes are too close to the light source (happened a few times that day), the images will get blown out a little, so be ready to either quickly stop down the lens, or you can decrease the exposure in post-processing later (as long as the highlights are not completely blown out).

Taekwondo (8)

Taekwondo (9)

Comments

  1. 1
    ) Scott
    February 15, 2012 at 3:57 am

    Useful and informative article, thanks Nasim. For the benefit of those of us that do not have FX equipment, can you suggest what lens you would possibly have used in the same situation had you been shooting DX rather than FX.

    • February 15, 2012 at 10:44 pm

      Scott, if I could get the same 70-200mm lens, I would gladly shoot it on DX as well. If I had a limited budget, I would opt for the older, but still very good Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8.

  2. 2
    ) Bob
    February 15, 2012 at 4:08 am

    Nasim,
    Hope you are feeling better soon. Pneumonia is hard on the body! After first thought of “great action shots”, was regarding the impact of the flash on these athletes eyes! I imagined someone being temporarily blinded by the flash and then getting taken out by a roundhouse kick! :)
    Was this a concern of you, the athletes or their coaches?
    Bob

    • February 15, 2012 at 10:45 pm

      Bob, coaches definitely did not want bare flash firing. I told them that the light would be diffused and that it would be set up at a higher level to have the least amount of distraction on athletes. Nobody complained about my flash that day and while people did get knocked out, it was definitely not because of me :)

      • February 22, 2014 at 12:36 pm

        I’ve shot the 70-200mm at my kids TKD tournaments without any flashes. The instructors and judges would never have allowed it. I was fortunate to have good enough lighting and I’m ok at shooting at higher ISO.

  3. 3
    ) Andy
    February 15, 2012 at 4:37 am

    “… and I knew that it would disappoint.”

    *not* disappoint, I assume :-)

  4. 4
    ) Kevin
    February 15, 2012 at 5:34 am

    Thanks for the specifics of your shoot. I shoot highschool basketball under similar gymnasium conditions. It’s always a struggle when the gym is poorly lit. Your “added light” looks stunning with that lens. But I’m wondering how you were able to use flash without distracting the athletes? If I used flash courtside, I’d be asked to leave by the officials (similar to a concert shoot). It’s considered too distracting. The only flash allowed at these matches are from the folks in the stands. What did the officials or the athletes think of the “flash-effect” on their peformance?

    • February 15, 2012 at 10:52 pm

      Kevin, I was told beforehand not to use flash on athletes, which is understandable, giving that they actually risk their lives in the ring. I told the coaches that I would set it at a higher level and diffuse it with a softbox, which is not the same as firing a strong flash from a tiny device.

      Nobody complained about my flash, not the athletes or coaches that day. People were actually thanking me for doing it, because I got some good shots for them.

      I think if you do something similar in a court, you should have no problem (just make sure to set up the light higher than athletes and put your softbox in a location that would not distract the players).

      • 62
        ) Kevin Walters
        February 20, 2012 at 6:42 am

        Thanks for the response Nasim, and thanks for the “heads-up” on Lightroom 3 sale price. I snuck in just under the wire.

      • 68
        ) Arthur
        March 2, 2012 at 11:16 am

        Thanks, that was bugging me too!

  5. 5
    ) William
    February 15, 2012 at 6:02 am

    Get well Nasim and thanks for the beautiful shots , i love this sport,my daughter has been doing teakwondo for manyyears now,,
    Regards
    William

    • February 15, 2012 at 10:52 pm

      Thank you William! Does your daughter compete on a state/national level?

      • 48
        ) William
        February 16, 2012 at 8:26 am

        In the past she was Dutch champion in her weight class, she now trains only recreationally since she was a very busy job as a nurse.
        Regards

        William

  6. 6
    ) Andy
    February 15, 2012 at 6:17 am

    Thanks, this is a very nice article. I would certainly welcome more “report” articles like this.

    • February 15, 2012 at 10:53 pm

      Thank you Andy, will definitely do more of these!

  7. 7
    ) Ed
    February 15, 2012 at 6:41 am

    I used to practice Taekwondo and reached blue belt level but injury forced me to stop.
    Believe it or not I was sparring last night in my dream. One guy had strong right side kick so i was ducking my way our of it.

    Preparation and setup can be more important than shooting itself.
    Thanks for sharing your tips.

    • February 15, 2012 at 10:54 pm

      Ed, that’s too bad you got the injury…unfortunately it happens in most sports. I have been lucky so far with injuries, but I was knocked out a few times when I was younger. That only motivated me to do more for some reason!

  8. 8
    ) Eric Duminil
    February 15, 2012 at 6:42 am

    Thanks for the interesting article.
    I love 100% of your landscape pictures, but I must admit I’m not that impressed by the results of this particular post.
    The pictures look kinda underexposed and flat. The white kimonos should be white or almost white.
    Also, why do you use a softbox? I mean, for an edgy and brutal martial art, it shouldn’t be a problem to use hard lights. With some kind of diagonal cross-lighting, it could be possible to rim light the fighters and separate them from the background. Depending on the composition, you could let the shadows fall outside of the frame.
    Without a softbox, it becomes possible to use bare speedlights at relatively low power levels (especially at f/2.8 ISO 3200) to get short recycling times.
    I wouldn’t use high frame rates anyway to avoid disturbing the fighters.
    If you’ve got enough power to spare, you could go to high speed sync and really define the shapes.
    Looking forward to getting blown away by your next pictures!

    Best regards,
    Eric

    • February 15, 2012 at 10:48 am

      Eric, thank you for your feedback (always need it!). The images were pretty much straight out of the camera. The only thing I did was use an ND filter on some of the shots in Lightroom to brighten up the darkened bottom of the frame. Lola edited the images a little bit for me, so should look better now (hopefully).

      As for why I used a softbox, I forgot to write about it in the article, but bare flash was not allowed. Coaches were very strict about it, which is why you don’t see other photographers in any of the shots. Cannot fire bare flash on athletes when they are fighting, no matter how bad the pictures turn out. If you look at Taekwondo shots from the Olympics, you will see that photographers only use available light, which they have plenty to work with. Not in my case, as I have already said, I would have come back with a bunch of unusable, noisy and blurry images. Another thing about bare flash, is that you have to aim it and possibly even snoot it not to spill on the ring area. Athletes were constantly on the move and use of a snoot would require me to have an assistant that would track the athletes with it, not something I had the luxury of having. And yes, high speed sync would have helped, but I was limited to 1/250 of flash power.

      Please remember that this is a local low-key Taekwondo tournament and I did not plan on producing anything stunning for commercial work. As for uniforms, some uniforms were just dirty and yellowish in color (come on, these guys fight and do not always take care of their uniforms). And I already explained why I did not want to deal with multiple lights (for rim light, etc).

      • 19
        ) Eric Duminil
        February 15, 2012 at 2:07 pm

        Thanks a lot for your answer.

        I came back home, took at look at the pictures and told myself “I might have been a bit harsh, they’re not that bad.” Lola did a good job! :D
        It’s an interesting fact about the bare flashes. I mean, if you’re gonna expose the scene for the same aperture and ISO with the softbox, you still need the same amount of power so I suppose the effect on the fighters is the same.

        As for lighting a bigger area, one possibility is to feather the light to the opposite corner, as well as putting the flashes as far away as possible.

        I’d be interested to look at ISO 25000 pictures coming from the D3s for this kind of event. I mean, for web size pictures, it would probably still look good after some processing.

        Best regards,

        Eric

        • February 15, 2012 at 11:01 pm

          Eric, hehe, Lola is very good with editing indeed. I am OK with post-processing landscape images, but when it comes to people, I’d rather stay away :)

          As for bare flashes versus a softbox, while both would produce about the same amount of raw flash, the softbox is much easier on the eyes. A small and highly concentrated beam from a speedlight, versus a much larger, diffused light source. It does make a difference…

          ISO 25,000? Aghh…I do not think I have ever used it on my D3s. Too noisy, too ugly, very bad colors. I would not want to do it, even for web-sized pictures.

          I will definitely come up with a better plan to shoot something like this next time, with multiple lights. It is all a good learning experience for sure!

    • 60
      ) Steinar Knai
      February 18, 2012 at 9:25 am

      Man this is BS! The colours are fine and the whites are white. This is criticism for criticisms sake. You need to be more constructive. Life is short!

  9. February 15, 2012 at 8:10 am

    The PocketWizard TT5 flex system allows HYPERSYNC not the High speed sync you referenced. Many use the term interchangeably but it will confuse people trying to learn the techniques. Also, in all likelyhood, you could have used the Hypersync hack with the studio lights to shoot at a higher shutter speed (possibly as high as 2000th/sec) or lower the ISO.

    John

    • February 15, 2012 at 11:07 am

      John, could you elaborate more on the “hypersync hack with studio lights”? I did not know it was possible, unless I used proprietary Skyport radio triggers from Elinchrom. A link explaining how to do it or a short summary would be great!

      I changed the language to say “hypersync”, thanks for pointing it out.

      • February 15, 2012 at 2:55 pm

        This could get a little lengthy. I apologize, I am not a wordsmith. The so called hack consists of having a camera and flash capable of fp mode and some simple radio triggers. Although the new Pocket Wizard TT1 will allow you to play with trigger offset, it is not not necessary to get descent results. I will just cover Nikon here as that’s what I shoot. Make sure the camera is in fp mode by selecting fash sync mode from the menu. I use 250th FP. Put an sb-800 or newer flash on the camera in commander mode. Unless you will use the on camera flash for fill of some sort, just put the master in null mode or — so it only sends preflash. Connect a Pocket Wizard plus or plusII to the sync port on the flash or camera. The preflash trigger will be sent to that pc port also. Put a Pocket Wizard receiver on the studio flash. When you press the shutter, the radio plugged into the on camera flash will will be triggered inturn triggering the studio flash. You will actually be exposing the sensor with the trailing light from the initial flash. I do not have Elinchromes, but understand they function very well for this setup as they have a long flash duration. Start at full power and then do test at lower power settings. The Elenchromes should get a longer duration at fractional power settings. I use my sb-800′s in this manner and have to set them to full power because they have a very short duration (i.e. speedlight). I can get 800th of a second shutter speed. Some lose of light will occur of course but nothing like high speed sync which pulses the flash. Of course, the studio light have much more power output to start with. Here is a link to someone who has used the same lights, but he is using Canon and the TT1 and ST4 from Pocket Wizard. Of course you do not need the flash on camera if using that setup.

        http://www.laurencejphotography.com/blog/?p=201
        http://tombolphoto.com/blog/elinchrom-ranger-using-pocketwizard-hypersync-18000-sync-speed-possible/

        If you already have the older Wizards (Plus/PlusII). They wil work. There is enough delay from the electronics to make it work. You may not be able to get as high a shutter speed though.

        There are a lot of ways to skin this cat. Start googling and your head might explode. The way I have described it uses what I have in hand. I believe it can work with the Elinchrome Skyports also. Give it a try. I shoot Basketball using this method.

        http://www.flickr.com/photos/mo-skydawg

        John

        • 24
          ) Kevin
          February 15, 2012 at 9:44 pm

          John, I didn’t hear from Nasim on effects of the flash. Your BB pics are stunning indeed. What comments have you heard from…..
          1) the crowd and their viewing experience with you flsh going off?
          2) officials of the school and game?
          3) comments from players on the effect of flash on their play?

          Our high school league has an informal policy of “no-flash” courtside.

          • February 15, 2012 at 11:09 pm

            Kevin, please see my response above – I apologize for not being able to do it earlier!

        • February 15, 2012 at 11:08 pm

          John, that’s very interesting, thank you so much for posting all the info. Will definitely try it out next time with my Elinchrom setup and let you know. Sounds a little too much for hooking up a pocketwizard to a flash that is mounted on the camera, but if it works, that is still better than nothing!

          I know Elinchrom skyport units can do faster than 1/250, but I do not have any yet (thought the PW units would suffice). Looks like the best thing to do is to get a couple of skyports just for the big lights!

          Awesome basketball pictures, by the way! Looks like you used two lights in your setup. Will definitely experiment more with indoors sports!

  10. 10
    ) Davis Chen
    February 15, 2012 at 8:51 am

    Looks like you tried to make the best of a challenging lighting situation. It may have been better if the gym were darkened and the lighting more concentrated on the competition areas to get better separation of the subjects from the audience. Something similar to this could have been achieved by adding some barn doors or some sort of large snoot, but from the photos it looks like you would need to pump up the flash output (or maybe ditch the softbox) to darken the rest of the scene and like others have mentioned, the officials or event staff may have an issue with that.

    For me I think the greatest lesson here is to scope out the venue ahead of time when possible so that you can plan your gear accordingly.

    • February 15, 2012 at 11:22 am

      Davis, I tried a couple of shots with more flash power and less ambient light, but I had all kinds of problems that I did not want to deal with in post. First, the light spill on the ring was just nasty, with half of the ring too bright and the other too dark. Second, more flash power essentially means too much flash when the subject is too close to the light (resulting in grossly overexposed shots) and too little when the subject is far from light (inverse square law). If I only relied on flash to illuminate my subjects, I would have to adjust power quickly as athletes moved from the end of the ring closer to me and vice versa (these athletes could move from one side of the ring all the way to the end in a matter of seconds.). Hence, I had to balance it out with some ambient light and shoot with less power. Snoots were out of the question, because they would require an assistant to track the athletes in the ring. And I could not ditch the softbox, because shooting with bare flash was prohibited.

      Since this was my first time shooting something like this, I will do some more planning next time and see how I can get better results. Still need to play and experiment with flash in these kinds of situations…

    • February 15, 2012 at 11:10 pm

      Davis, did you get all the studio stuff you were planning on getting? If yes, how is that working out for you?

      • 45
        ) Davis Chen
        February 16, 2012 at 6:41 am

        No, not yet. I’m going to be in CO next week too so it’ll have to wait until after I get back.

  11. 11
    ) Pradipta Datta
    February 15, 2012 at 9:26 am

    Dear Nasim,

    Ones again you proved that you are a great photographer and a teacher as well.. the way you make everything easy even a layman tempt to become a photographer. Seriously..

    Take care of your health.

    Regards,
    pradipta datta
    New Delhi

    P.S. I am eagerly waiting for your review on 500mm f4 lens for wild photography.

    New Delhi

    • February 15, 2012 at 11:11 pm

      Thank you for your feedback Pradipta!

      I am very behind with reviews…have so many of them that I need to write :(

  12. 12
    ) Stanislav
    February 15, 2012 at 10:17 am

    Nice – just the right time for this article – my son is training karate and competition is on Sunday :-)

  13. 16
    ) Jason Weber
    February 15, 2012 at 11:12 am

    Wow, I too have been in Taekwondo for quite some time (since 1987). I competed for Washington State University and have a friend who was an alternate in the 2000 games. Thank you for sharing. The lighting is brilliant and I would love to attend one of your Taekwondo shoots. I just moved to Fort Collins and just very excited about finding your website. THANK YOU!! You and your wife are amazing.

    • February 16, 2012 at 12:00 am

      Jason, very cool! There are some very good athletes around the Denver area. Chris Martinez (national champion, Olympics alternate) is now teaching at our school, along with a few other amazing athletes. If you have the time, come visit us at A-Team Taekwondo! Just let me know beforehand, so that I could be there to meet you.

  14. February 15, 2012 at 11:44 am

    Great shots and clever lighting. Sorry for the pneumonia, hope that you get well. Brings back happy memories as I practiced Aikido for many years, after a year in Japan, had to stop as the work load caught up with me. Thanks for posting, Peter

    • February 16, 2012 at 12:01 am

      Thank you for your feedback Peter! I have a friend in NY that does some Aikido and he is very good…beautiful art.

  15. 20
    ) Jorge Balarin
    February 15, 2012 at 2:46 pm

    Dear Nasim,

    It is good to know that your health is better. I’m very much involved in fighting sports, because I’m a boxing, kickboxing, submission grapling and Mix Martial Arts trainer. One day I will like to photograph a MMA event. Normally they are done over a ring or inside a cage, and if the event has a good production, the light over the ring used to be good. I would like to know wich settings would you advice to photograph this kind of tounaments without using a flash, and using a speedlight. I have the D700 camera, the 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom (one friend told me that this last one is the perfect “ringside lens), and the 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II (last acquisition). Greetings, Jorge.

    • February 16, 2012 at 12:06 am

      Very cool Jorge! If you cannot use flash, then the only thing you can really do is shoot with your 70-200mm or 24-70mm lenses at f/2.8 and bump up the ISO to a high value to keep up with faster shutter speeds. As for using a speedlight, set your camera to FP (high speed sync) mode, then you can shoot faster than 1/250 of a second. You could set up multiple speedlights indoors and you can trigger them all at the same time without using a radio transmitter. And I agree about the 24-70mm being a good ringside lens – it’s focal length is perfect for that kind of close shooting. You definitely do not want to use the 70-200mm from that close of a distance!

  16. 22
    ) Peter
    February 15, 2012 at 4:58 pm

    Hope you fell better after your pneumonia episode. Pneumonia has many possible causes, but the most common ones are bacteria and viruses normally encountered in the environment. Where have you been, my son?

    At age 71, taekwondo is of little interest or use to me. Carrying a .357 Model 327 seems to be more sensible and effective.

    Local Hood: “Hey Mac, hand over your money or I’ll put my foot in your mouth.”
    Me: “OK, hotshot, stop this piece of lead with you foot first.”

    Case closed. Score: Taekwondo zero, .357 one.

    • February 16, 2012 at 12:09 am

      Peter, it is my kids that have been bringing all kinds of bacteria from their school. They get sick, then they make us sick, then it all goes around in circles. Looks like I will be buying an ultraviolet lamp, because I am getting tired of all this!

      “Stop this piece of lead with your foot first” – LOL! You are so full of humor Sir, thank you for cheering us up!

      • 47
        ) Peter
        February 16, 2012 at 7:11 am

        Boy! Do I remember those days of merry-go-round viruses started by one of my 2 kids. Over and over again. They get well, go to school, and come home with a new virus…ad infinitum.

  17. 23
    ) Hank
    February 15, 2012 at 6:37 pm

    Hi Nasim:

    I read your site almost daily and think it’s terrific. Thank you for taking the time to post such valuable information here. This in addition to your professional photography business!

    I wanted to wish you a speedy recovery from your bout with pneumonia.

    I really enjoyed the karate pictures; great work.

    Take good care,

    Hank

    • February 16, 2012 at 12:09 am

      Thank you Hank, I really appreciate it! :)

  18. 36
    ) adam
    February 15, 2012 at 11:54 pm

    Nasim,
    I really like your blog, frequent visitor, loved the play-by-play ring side on your photography process. My son does Tae Kwon Do, so I find myself in similar situations. I have never set up lighting basically because I didn’t want to interfere. I like that you talked to coaches and officials and then set something up that was respectful to the athletes. Good communication skills are so important, and it’s true that athletes and coaches will bend some of the competition photography rules if they know they’ll get better images than they’re used to seeing! Comment on gear for the non-professional: it is true that full frame and 2.8 zooms are the best way to go, but when that is not an option shoot your APS-C/DX sensor with an 85 f/1.8. Some foot-work and creativity will get you incredible photography for consumer/amateur pricing. Thanks for blogging Nasim!

    • February 16, 2012 at 12:14 am

      Adam, thank you for your feedback, I really appreciate it!

      As for shooting with a DX sensor, I would not want to shoot sports with an 85mm prime lens. Don’t get me wrong, I love my 85mm f/1.4 and I know the f/1.8 version is also superb. However, the 85mm is just not fast and accurate enough to keep up with all the fast action in demanding environments and low light conditions in my opinion. If budget is an issue, I always recommend the older version of the 70-200mm, the Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8D. While it does not have VR, it is a very sharp and fast lens for action photography. You can get a used version for very cheap nowadays…

      • 50
        ) Jason Weber
        February 16, 2012 at 11:32 am

        Nasim,

        how about the use of the 70-300mm VR lens with the DX camera?

        • 51
          ) Bintang
          February 16, 2012 at 12:44 pm

          I think, you know, the news are not so good. 70-300 VR has 4.5-5.6 variable best aperture which is 1.5-2 f/stop less, than the 70-200 2.8 VR, or the 80-200 2.8 can provide. It means, that where you need 1/250 sec at aperture 2.8, 1/100-1/60 required at f/stop 4.5-5.6. Therefore you can’t freeze the fast motion. VR is only good for “eliminating” your handshake during the exposure. You can compensate it with higher iso, but that will mean iso 2000-3600 instead of iso 800 to get the same shutter speed, which will result less IQ. As an addition, you are not able to separate so well the subject from the background.

        • February 16, 2012 at 1:29 pm

          Jason, cannot quite compare the AF speed of the 70-200mm/80-200mm with the slow 70-300mm. Sure it can be used, but I don’t think I would have as many keepers…

  19. 44
    ) Irfan Kauser
    February 16, 2012 at 6:28 am

    Hi Nasim,
    u shoot the event with f2.8. Im not that good in photoshooting, but till today my understanding was that, like if it is f2.8 then the aperture would be wide open but small area would be in focus and large area would be blown away. But in youd pictures the atheletes are very much in focus and sharp.
    Or is it due to 70-200mm VRII with FX body?
    I have D7000 and just bought 70-200mm VR II. Can this be possible on DX body as well.

    I dont know, im feeling very dumb asking question like this, but it would be great if u clearify the thing

    • 49
      ) Bintang
      February 16, 2012 at 9:00 am

      Dear Irfan,

      Depth of field, or area in focus depends on many different circumstances, such as the used aperture, the distance between the subject and the camera, FX or DX size sensor, and the used focal length.

      I hope, Nasim doesn’t mind if I link two very helpful pages regarding your question. Please study it, and you will understand everything.
      http://www.dofmaster.com/hyperfocal.html
      http://www.dofmaster.com/doftable.html – here you can calculate Dof with your camera at any possible focal length.

      Your D7000 will do the trick. It has very good IQ at iso800 (even iso 1600 or even iso 3200 can be acceptable in smaller prints after some PP), and its focusing capabilities are also decent. Everything else depend on the lightning and on your abilities.

      Sorry for my English, it is not my native tongue

      • 57
        ) Irfan Kauser
        February 17, 2012 at 5:17 am

        Thanx Bintang. The links u send are very nice and helpful.

    • February 16, 2012 at 1:31 pm

      Irfan, your reference to “in focus” shots is better known as “depth of field”. When shooting at f/2.8, depth of field is indeed very shallow, but it is a matter of focal length and distance from the camera to the subject. The further you stand from the subject and the shorter the focal length, the larger the depth of field. I was at such distances that I had a pretty wide depth of field, covering both athletes in most cases. I shot mostly at 70mm…

      • 58
        ) Irfan Kauser
        February 17, 2012 at 5:18 am

        Thank u for the clarification. This is very helpful.

  20. 56
    ) Phil
    February 16, 2012 at 6:10 pm

    Hi Nasim,
    This is an excellent article. I was looking for an article like this for long time. My kids does lot of fast moving Dances and I shoot with D90, 10-105 kit lense and Nikon 50mm f1.4 prime lense. I never got a shot like you have here. I wanted sharp and bright picture. With an SB600 flash, what shutter speed and aperture you think that works on D90 with Nikon 50 mm – f/1.4 G AF-S to get closes to your images here.

    I am hoping the D700 price should come down after D800 in the market so I can trade in my D90 with D700.

  21. 59
    ) Steinar Knai
    February 18, 2012 at 9:20 am

    Hello Nasim,
    Very nice shots. I disagree with the writer who suggests the uniforms are not white enough. The colours are fine. However, I wonder why you did not do this with the D3s and 2 or 3 speedlights in a softbox? You could then shoot at 1/500 s in S mode or manual with the camera adjusted for Auto FV. I use a D700 and SB900 speedlights and do this all the time. It works particularly well in such a limited room as Tae Kwan Do require. You can shoot upt to 1/2000 second, but I have never gone that high. It works because the flash gives out a number of very high speed stroboscopic flashes. It reduces the power, so you need several flashes together in a box. It is all very well explained in your Nikon manual. The Nikon CLS system is amazing and I never use anything else when I am off studio site.

  22. 61
    ) Crystal
    February 19, 2012 at 9:48 am

    Hi! Thank you for this post! It was very informative. I’m just starting out and I have a Nikon d5000. I shot my first Muay thai fight last night and a lot of my pictures came out blurry. I shot with a 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6 lens. I’m just playing around with my camera for now so i’m very hesitant on buying a very expensive lens. I was wondering if something like this would work:

    http://www.amazon.com/Vivitar-VIV-85MM-N-85MM-LENS-NIKON/dp/B001TP1M4S

  23. 63
    ) will
    February 20, 2012 at 10:26 am

    Many states now have athletic or boxing commissions that regulate pro and amateur martial arts (MMA, kickboxing, boxing, etc.,) competitions and flash is never allowed by ringside photographers.

  24. 64
    ) julie terry
    February 24, 2012 at 5:37 pm

    Hi Nasim,
    What a wonderful site you have here. Soooooo much information. My family compete here in Australia in Rodeo. Daytime is fine with just a DSLR. When the rodeos are held at night, in large arenas, under terrible high ceiling lights or worse, under varied positioned spotlights, would I get away with d90 bodies with 80-200 f2.8 and 50mm f1.8 or Sigma 85mm f1.4 or would I be better off with D700 or D7000. The D3s is a little out of my price range I think. Also the SB900 flash, would I be better off with a remote, higher positioned flash. Thank you for your time. Julie

  25. 65
    ) Che Ibarra
    February 26, 2012 at 9:42 pm

    Nasim, great article. I just got hired to do something similar to this in early late March. It’s a fast action small teams cheerleadering competition. Same style gym with poor lighting. I went by to check it out. I pray that I have my D4 by then but it might have to use my D7000 with my Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 VRII. I had not even thought of flash bc I just thought it wouldn’t reach. I have two SB-900s and I also have two Paul C. Buff head units (640 w Einsteins). I also have two of his big PML umbrella system (64 inch) with a front diffuser fabric in the front. It’s like bounces and diffuse at the same time. I get gorgeous results on family portraits with it. Super soft light…sometimes even seems better than a soft box…maybe that is do to the size of the umbrella and the front diffuser panel. I hope you have some knowledge of Paul’s Einsteins and can answer some of my questions. Anyway, my question to you is do you think the Einsteins with that umbrella system/setup will work similar to your soft box approach? Should I use both my Einsteins? Please advice. Thank you so much in advance.

    • 66
      ) Che Ibarra
      February 26, 2012 at 9:47 pm

      I forgot to mention I have Pocket Wizard wireless triggers for both the SB900s and for my Einsteins. The Flex Mini TT1, FlexTT5 and the PocketWizard PowerMC2 (for Einsteins). I can also shoot in manual flash if I want too….been playing around with that. I will also have free range on the sideline. Thanks.

  26. 67
    ) Brad
    March 1, 2012 at 11:14 am

    Hi Nasim,
    Great article. My daughter fights in Karate tournaments, and I have struggled with all those same issues. I’m fairly new to photography, and I don’t yet own lighting equipment other than a SB-700 (Christmas gift from my family), but have not attempted to use it at a tournament for fear of blinding the fighters, or getting kicked out. I shoot with a Nikon D7000, and have to settle for high ISO to get the fast shutter speed I need. I use a 70-200mm VR1, and a Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8. I end up having to live with a lot of noise, and frequently end up converting pictures to B&W to due to noise levels. I’m OK with that though, because I kinda like the gritty look for the fight shots.
    Any way thanks for the great lighting info in the article. Your photos were great, and clearly show the advantage of using lighting equipment. Here’s a shot I took at a tournament last year (using a 50mm F/1.8). I messed up the framing and cut their feet off.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/bradshehan/6324153169/

  27. 69
    ) Vivek Srivastava
    March 11, 2012 at 12:25 pm

    keep it up Nasim Mansurov, it was gr8 lessons 4 a beginner like me.

    Thanks

  28. 70
    ) Gaby
    April 18, 2012 at 4:48 am

    Hi,

    I find this forum very informative and interesting, thank you. Could someone please help me. My children have a twd tournament and I’d like to take some good photos of them. I have a Canon 450d camera. If I use a Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens will this do the trick for past paced indoor sports? I’d appreciate any feedback. All I know is that I can get close to the courtsapprox. 5 metres away, but I won’t be allowed flash.
    thanking you :)
    Gaby

  29. 71
    ) Porter
    August 22, 2012 at 11:59 am

    I also photograph sports inside gymnasiums with “No flash” regulations at varying distances depending on the facility. What would you do under those circumstances?

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