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I'm to take pictures at a boxing match, probably under low lights conditions.

My plan is to set the camera on a fixed shutter speed, and the let the camera automatically set aperture and ISO. But how slow can I safely take the pictures. I hope I can bring my tripod, so it's not as much a question of camera shake, more a question of catching the action.

My equipment is a canon EOS 500D and a Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens.

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See also photo.stackexchange.com/questions/6151/…, a more general "what speed to stop motion" question. –  mattdm Apr 1 '11 at 15:36
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I would change your tactic regarding shutter speed and aperture. You want your shutter to be selectable, as that changes how you capture the action. You want your aperture to be as wide as possible, to get as much light as you can. I would let your ISO vary automatically, to ensure you get a useful exposure for the shutter you set. To do this, you would need to set ISO to "Auto" and use the M (manual) camera mode to set your aperture wide, and choose your shutter speed. –  jrista Apr 1 '11 at 17:42
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@jrista - The problem with my (cheap) camera is that setting it to M and ISO to auto actually fixes the ISO to 400. But setting shutter priority mode will have the desired effect (wide open aperture, and automatically adjusted ISO) –  Pete Apr 1 '11 at 21:30
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Most cameras work that way. Auto ISO is usually disabled and replaced by a fixed value when in M mode. This makes manually controlling exposure more predictable and consistent when using Bulb mode. Some more expensive cameras do not even have an Auto ISO option in ANY mode. On high-end Pentax DSLRs, there is a TAv mode which is essentially Manual with forced Auto ISO. –  Itai Apr 2 '11 at 3:49
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Hi ive shot a few boxing matches just a quick tip if say youre shooting your friend in the ring put most of your efforts on the other guy or youll do what i did and get most shots of your friend getting a beatings.....which certainly cheesed off MY fighter. I was shooting!!! –  user14007 Dec 12 '12 at 22:14

5 Answers 5

up vote 30 down vote accepted

Any speed will give you something. It will render the photo differently.

So, the question should not be how slow can I take the photo? but how slow do I want to take the photo?

Some ideas:

  • If you want to freeze the sweat flying off the boxer's face when he takes a hit, I suggest 1/2000s or faster.
  • If you want to freeze the boxer's body and leave the hands blurry (to convey the action), then try around 1/500s.
  • If you go slower then 1/250 you will probably blur the entire boxer, at least by a bit.
  • You should be able to go down to 1/focal-length (or 2 stops lower with stabilization) to get convey the action while keeping the ring and background sharp.

You'll have to try a lot but you are right about using Shutter-speed priority. You may want to fix the ISO and let camera play the aperture if you do not want all your shots to be at F/4, since most cameras prefer opening the lens than raising the ISO when light is low.

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Excellent answer! –  mattdm Apr 1 '11 at 16:33
    
Awesome answer, thanks –  Pete Apr 1 '11 at 21:23
    
Short addition: 1/focal-length is valid for full frame cameras, so for APS-C it is 1.6/focal-length... –  eWolf Apr 2 '11 at 5:41
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@eWolf - It's a rule-of-thumb and very approximate, it highly depends on the individual and resolution, so people just quote it as 1/F-L regardless of sensor-size. If you really want to adjust it, you actually have it backwards (Canon APS-C = 1/(1.6*F-L) and everyone else APS-C = 1/(1.5*F-L)). –  Itai Apr 2 '11 at 14:13

I recommend leaving your tripod at home. I can take pictures at 1/60 or 1/100 without noticeable camera shake. If you're taking pictures faster than that anyway, it would just slow you down.

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Advice to leave tripod at home is good. Shutter speed numbers depend on way too many factors to make this a good answer. –  mattdm Apr 5 '11 at 19:50
    
Hi Tim, and welcome to Photo-SE. I would like to encourage you to provide some more details in your answer. I think the recommendation to leave the tripod at home is good advice, but could you clarify the bit about shutter speed more? I think the minimal shutter speed necessary to avoid camera shake is dependent on the lens. If you could provide more information about the lenses you use to achieve those shutter speeds, that would be useful to readers. –  jrista Apr 7 '11 at 4:18
    
— sorry, I didn't mean to come across as rude there. Welcome to the site, and yeah, as @jrista says, more detail would be helpful, particularly on your technique for taking shake-free pictures at those speeds. –  mattdm Apr 7 '11 at 11:53

The more skilled you become at shooting action shots, the more you learn to use slow shutter-speeds and use the subjects' motion to highlight the important activity and give the image impact. At a slow shutter-speed, you should, with practice, be able to completely blur the boxers' arms, legs, boxing-ring, and audience, but capture that moment when glove makes contact, making it the most sharp and abrupt part of the image. In this case, pun intended, a real moment of impact. Using the motion blur to frame and focus the most important part of the image, leading the viewer's eye there. Not unlike the same way that shallow DOF is used to isolate a part of the subject from foreground and background, but in this case it is accomplished with motion-blur.

This takes practice with both knowing how to quickly pan and follow a subject as well as knowing your subject to know how it will move, and the limits of how each movement might stop abruptly or halt motion during a sudden change of direction. Examples: snapping off a shot at the peak of a jump, or when a football player makes a 180-degree turn on the field, when a baseball hits the bat. (These skills are also invaluable in wildlife and birding photography, but then you must also know animal behavior as well as you might know human behavior.)

Too often people assume they need the highest shutter-speeds for action photography, when actually some of the best shots ever taken of these kinds of subjects were with slow shutter-speeds and low ISOs.

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The negative part about "they" at the end of this post doesn't seem very constructive. –  mattdm Apr 5 '11 at 19:52

SHOOTING BOXING MATCHES- You can get acceptable images with a shutter speed of 1/320 although faster is better. Tomorrow I am shooting my third boxing match from the edge of the ring with a Nikon D7000 crop sensor. The boxing ring is somewhat dark being lit by a single overhead florescent strip. The challenge is getting enough light.
On the first boxing shoot last Feburary I had to set ISO at 3200 (high for my D7000), with an aperture of f/3.2, for depth of field, on my Nikon f/2.8 17-55 lens and a shutter speed of 1/320. The images were dark and grainy but were acceptable after processing in Lightroom. Shooting my 2nd boxing match I opened the lens to f/2.8, 1/320 and ISO 3200. The added light from changing the f/stop from 3.2 to 2.8 made a noticeable difference in image brightness and color. Tomorrow I’m shooting my third boxing match and plan to use my f/1.8 35mm prime lens and shoot it at f/1.8, 1/400 and ISO 1600. As with the first two matches I can shoot from the edge of the ring and can get good prespective with a 35mm lens.
I think the wider aperture will still give me adequate depth of field while allowing me to half the ISO from 3200 to 1600 and bump the shutter speed to 1/400. My understanding is the larger f/1.8 (vs. f/2.8) aperture will give me 1.3 additional f/stops that should equate to enough additional light to handle the drop in ISO from 3200 to 1600 with enough light left over to bump the shutter from 1/320 to 1/400. Two other points- On the first match I carried both my Nikon D7000 and a Nikon D5100, each with different lenses. The focusing/metering system in the D5100 is good but not quick enough for the instantaneous response necessary for timing boxing shots. I believe the Canon Rebels are comparable in response to the D5100 and Canon’s quicker 60D and 7D are more like Nikon’s D7000. Another point- Nikon’s are pretty good at recovery of detail & color from dark shadows in Lightroom.

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"How slow" is somewhat subjective, as the acceptable amount of blur for me might be different for you. It also depends on how far your subject is from you. Because of these two factors, a specific shutter speed is not what I would recommend looking for. Instead, and since you are shooting digital - simply experiment and see what shutter speed works best for your needs.

Very generally speaking, I would start at 1/125s second shutter speed and work faster from there. You could potentially need as fast as 1/500-1/1000s to freeze very fast motion. I would say a safe bet would be 1/250s, but your results will vary. Depending on the match, some movements could be very fast and you might want every bit of the subject sharp, if that is the case you will be testing the limits of your equipment with certainty. If the routine is a bit slower or you find a bit of blur in the extremities acceptable, this should be quite achievable with your kit.

What you may find, is that you are forced to shoot at 1/125s because that also requires either a very narrow depth of field, or a very high ISO that is too noisy for your tastes. Again, personal preferences play into this.

Keep in mind also that some motion blur can be an artistic effect that adds to the image. Especially if you can shoot with a flash(but maybe you aren't allowed to), and use second-curtain sync.

Finally, why not browse through some Flickr images and examine the shutter speed used? Nothing beats real world examples to show the differences: http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=boxing

Here are some examples at varying shutter speeds. These are of a soccer game, but the same idea applies. These are all pretty poor images unfortunately.

18mm, f/3.5, 1/40sec: enter image description here 50mm, f/2.8, 1/125sec: description 18mm, f/3.5, 1/500sec: enter image description here

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