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Old Nov 25, 2008, 9:18 AM   #1
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I will be shooting at an indoor gymnastics meet where flash photography is not allowed. I have a Nikon D40 with a 70-200-mm F2.8 lens. I'm a novice photographer, and I want to get good shots. Any suggestions? Monopod, tripod, shutter speeds? I want to freeze the action, w/little blurring.
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Old Nov 25, 2008, 12:32 PM   #2
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The reality is - unless you're in a pro or major Div I NCAA arena you're going to have a very tough time. If you're in a HS gymnasium you could get 1/400 speeds at f2.8 and ISO 3200. If you're at a gymnastics studio however you'll be lucky to get 1/250 at f2.8 and ISO 3200.

There's a lot to shooting sports but here's a crash course on gymnastics:

1. Set a manual exposure realizing it may change for each event. You can determine what exposure is proper for each event during warmups.

2. Shoot RAW so you can correct white balance in post processing.

3. Turn on continuous focus (whatever Nikon calls it).

4. Turn on burst (i.e so you can keep shutter button pressed and take multiple pictures)

5. Leave all focus points active

6. Use a monopod if you're not comfortable hand-holding the lens yet. If you're comfortable then no need for the monopod. But don't feel bad about using one if you need it.

Now, I'm assuming your taking photos of your child as the move through the various apparatus. The best photo ops are on beam - it's a small area to cover for a photographer, movements are slow and you don't need fast shutter speeds - 1/250 will do for much of beam routines. Generally I prefer being at the head of the beam rather than the side. Of course that means that half the routine you won't be able to get shots of (since they'll be facing the other end of the beam) but such is life.

Floor: position yourself along the side (rather than in a corner). Forget about the tumbling passes - they RARELY turn out well in photos. First of all, shutter speeds are usually too slow so you get blur and second it's difficult to get a shot where the gymnast looks good. Take the shots of poses and jumps, they're easier and they look better.

Bars: depending on the level there isn't a whole lot interesting going on in bars routines. If they do release/catch moves those are the shots that are the most interesting.

On spins, try and get the face not the back:

Vault: like bars, how interesting this event is depends on the level of gymnast. At level 5 they're still just doing a handspring - not very exciting. But the important thing to note there is - the actual move will determine where you want to set up. For that handspring their face will be back towards the run-up. So that's where you want to be:

Now, a key to having any chance at success is - you have to be close enough. Shoot with camera in portrait orientation and make sure your subject is filling 3/4 of the frame. That means for floor you have to be right at the mat. If you're subject isn't filling 3/4 of the frame your number of keepers is going to go down very rapidly. This also means that if you're relegated to sitting in a gallery you'll have limited opportunities for good shots. No way you could stay in one place and be able to get enough reach out of a 200mm lens to cover all 4 events.

I'll also mention that gymnastics is one of the toughest sports to shoot. Lighting usually stinks and you're often limited as to where you can shoot from - especially if you're a parent. Getting good shots takes practice. Sports shooting in general, and low light sports shooting in specific are not point-and-shoot things. Takes a lot of practice and good technique.

Good luck.
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Old Nov 25, 2008, 5:37 PM   #3
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Thanks for the advice. The meet is actually for my son, but the principles are still the same. I feel good about getting still shots on rings and p-bars, but the other apparatus may be tougher...It is a well-lit gym, so who knows.
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