My sister takes photographs for our weekly Ultimate league. We start around 6 pm (this is currently summer), and play till 8ish. But nearing the end, the light is low - bright enough to play in, but most shots end up looking like this:

enter image description here

She's using a Canon Rebel T2i with a EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS II lens. How can these lower-light shots be less blurry? (keep in mind, the sport is extremely fast-paced). Would shooting in RAW format help at all? Are there any post-production techniques that could be done if so?

The EXIF data:

Make Canon, Model Canon EOS REBEL T2i, Aperture 5, Exposure Time 1/6 (0.166666666667 sec), Lens IDCanon EF-S55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS II, Focal Length 109.0 mm, FlashOff, Did not fire, File Size 6.3 MB, File Type JPEG, MIME Type image/jpeg, Image Width 5184, Image Height 3456, Encoding Process Baseline DCT, Huffman coding, Bits Per Sample 8, Color Components 3, X Resolution 72, Y Resolution 72, YCbCr Sub Sampling YCbCr4:2:2 (2 1), YCbCr Positioning Co-sited, Exposure Program Action (High speed), Date and Time (Original) 2013:06:20 07:37:14, Metering Mode Evaluative, Color Space sRGB, Custom Rendered Normal, Exposure Mode Auto, White Balance Auto, Scene Capture Type Standard, Contrast Normal, Saturation Normal, Sharpness 3, Quality Fine, Sequence Number N/A, F Number 5, Exposure Compensation N/A, Focus Mode AI Servo AF, ISO 3200, Digital Zoom None, Compression JPEG (old-style), Orientation Horizontal (normal)

  • 1
    Might be a silly question but I hope she was shooting manual and not automatic...
    – Regmi
    Jun 22, 2013 at 3:39
  • I don't know. I'll ask. Certainly autofocus, but I don't think that's what you meant.
    – SSumner
    Jun 23, 2013 at 3:55
  • Could you post an image with the EXIF data intact? While you might not be able to do brilliantly with the 55-250, you should be able to do a lot better than this.
    – Philip Kendall
    Jun 23, 2013 at 14:08
  • 1
    Also looking at the metadata, you could increase the ISO to 12,800, zoom out completely so that your f is at 4 instead of the current 5. This will help you increase the shutter speed a few stops. The resulting image will still be blurry I think but better than what you are getting at the moment, with the same equipment. For details, I am sure you read all the great answers below, already.
    – Regmi
    Jun 25, 2013 at 2:02
  • 1
    Here are some examples of what can be achieved in low light using a f2.8 lens and ISO3200. renewestenberg.smugmug.com/Ultimate-frisbee/outdoor/…
    – Rene
    Jun 25, 2013 at 7:19

3 Answers 3

  • Faster lens. The EF 55-250mm f/4-5.6 is a little slow. The EF 70-200mm f/4 L is not quite as slow. The EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L is better. The EF 200mm f/2 L is the fastest lens (along with the EF 135mm f/2 L) above 85mm Canon makes. Use the widest aperture the lens is capable of.
  • Higher ISO Crank up the ISO. It is better to have a shot that is a little noisy than one that is a little blurry. Noise can be cleaned up some in post, especially if you shoot RAW. Blurry is just blurry.
  • Exposure Compensation By shooting RAW you can dial in minus 1-2 stops of Exposure Compensation, then raise the exposure back up in post. This will increase noise, especially in dark areas in the photo but it is better to have a shot that is a little noisy than one that is a little blurry. Noise can be cleaned up some in post. Blurry is just blurry.

Yes, there is some repetition between #2 & #3. That's because it needs to be emphasized: It is better to have a shot that is a little noisy than one that is a little blurry. Noise can be cleaned up some in post, especially if you shoot RAW. Blurry is just blurry.

  • 2
    Alright, we get it. Jun 21, 2013 at 15:37
  • 1
    Did ya know that blurry is still blurry? @OlinLathrop
    – NULLZ
    Jun 22, 2013 at 1:26
  • @MichaelClark - We have the 18-55mm lens too. Zoom wouldn't be as good, but would that lens be any better?
    – SSumner
    Jun 24, 2013 at 13:36
  • 1
    The EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II is basically the same speed as the EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS II. Wide open at 18mm it is very marginally faster at f/3.5, but that is only 1/3 stop, and by 22-23mm you are already at f/4. Well before you get to 55mm youa are back at f/5.6. You need to gain several stops. The EF 50mm f/1.8 II and the EF 50mm f/1.4 are the most affordable fast lenses in the Canon system. f/1.4 is 2 stops faster than f/4 (thus you could use a shutter speed 1/4 as long) and 3 stops faster than f/5.6 (thus you could use a shutter speed 1/8 as long).
    – Michael C
    Jun 24, 2013 at 16:20

The only option is either higher ISO or a "faster" lens (smaller f number). A flash likely isn't going to be powerful enough at the distances she's having to shoot from. The image becomes blurry because of the shutter speed being too slow. The shutter speed is slow because it needs more light to get a good exposure.

Using a higher ISO will gain up the sensitivity, but noise in the image will increase. Using a faster lens requires buying another lens, which costs more, but will not have noise issues. For a telephoto lens, getting a fast enough lens is probably prohibitively expensive (measured in hundreds to thousands of dollars.) So turning up the ISO is probably the only viable option.


Too freeze action you want to set the shutter speed to be at 1/1000 or faster. To get a correct exposure you will want a large aperture (which also helps with bokeh/isolating your subject from the background) and if the aperture doesn't get you far enough then you need to compensate with ISO. So switch over to manual mode, set your aperture to be wide open (if you zoom in/out during a game with that lens you'll need to readjust your aperture after each zoom) and your shutter speed to 1/1000, then adjust your ISO until your meter is centered (or maybe slightly underexposed). If your ISO doesn't go high enough then you need either a newer camera or a lens with a wider aperture.

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