I will be shooting some ice hockey actions this week for a fundraiser and was wondering what the ideal camera settings are for a Canon EOS 6D and Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM.

I am planning to set the white balance myself when I get there but what other settings that should I be mindful of? Ex. shutter speed, ISO, etc. Also, should I shoot in manual mode? If not, what mode should I be in?

One thing that I am not sure about is that whether they will turn on all the lights for the event or not.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Lots of good technical advice here. I use a ladder to get up and over the glass boards. It's probably as good as all this technical advice. \$\endgroup\$
    – Buckthorn
    May 1, 2019 at 12:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Buckthorn If one is a "credentialed" photographer (or the "official" photographer for a smaller event), often a hockey arena will have a media area with portholes for camera lenses. Just watch out for flying pucks! they've been known to shatter front elements of lenses. ("Protective" filters won't "save" your lens from a fast flying hockey puck that is flying straight enough towards the camera to not be deflected by the lens hood, either.) \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Oct 7, 2019 at 21:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ You have three mode's to choose from. "Face off" mode, "Icing" mode and "Shoot out" mode. Or you could go full manual "Take the gloves off and brawl" . \$\endgroup\$
    – Alaska Man
    Oct 8, 2019 at 17:32

2 Answers 2


The best way to shoot indoors sports in most fairly evenly lit gyms/rinks/arenas is to set exposure manually. It gives you the most complete control over shutter times, aperture, and ISO.

Keep in mind that manual exposure will be more accurate than automatic metering under flickering lights such as those found in most indoor sports arenas and outdoor stadiums used at night. The meter will often measure the lights at their peak and then the shutter will open when they are in the valley of their cycle and vice-versa. Setting manual exposure for the middle of the lights' cycle will get you closer overall for all of your shots.

If you want to get anywhere close to freezing the action you're just going to have to live with whatever flicker the lights are giving you. To eliminate most of the flicker you would need to use shutter times of about 1/125 second or longer and that's not happening with ice hockey. If you can get the shots you want shooting raw that will give you more latitude to correct the color and exposure of the peaks and valleys of the lights in post-processing. (The linked question is about how to process hockey photos shot under marginal lighting. The answer shows an example of the power of raw post processing vs. jpeg.)

Of course shooting raw will lower the number of frames you can take in a burst before your buffer fills up and your frame rate bogs down. With the 6D you can shoot continuously for about 17 raw frames before it slows down. At 4.5 fps (theoretical) that's about a four second continuous burst. Normally you'll want to avoid filling the buffer completely, though. Try to limit your bursts to about half that so you will have a few shots in reserve if a key action moment happens.

You can set a custom white balance by shooting directly at a solid white section of ice. Intentionally underexpose a stop or two, set the focus switch on the lens to "MF" and defocus at either the MFD or infinity. If the lights in the venue flicker (they probably will - our eyes can't tell the difference but our cameras sure can!) take several shots and use a shot that is about halfway in between the brightest and darkest one to set the custom WB.

A note about custom WB: If you are shooting raw and want to apply a custom WB in post using Canon's Digital Photo Professional raw conversion software you must have that custom WB loaded and the WB set to "Custom" when you take the picture. You are still free to change the WB in post to any other available setting (Auto, color temperature, click WB, etc.). But if the WB setting in camera is set to anything other than "Custom" when the photo was taken you won't be able to apply the custom WB generated from a different shot of a featureless white object under the lights in question. You can probably get very close with the click WB tool and the WB fine tune along the blue-yellow and magenta-green axes, but it won't be exactly the same.

Don't forget to switch the lens back to "AF" when you've got the WB set. While you're at it, set the Image Stabilization to "On", the IS mode to "2" (panning mode), and the focus limiter to "2.5m - ∞" (unless your subjects will be closer to you than 2.5 meters at points in the action).

With a full frame 6D and the excellent EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II you're not going to get many tight shots unless the players are on the closest parts of the ice to where you are. If you plan on cropping shots of players further away your maximum shutter times will need to get shorter to control blur from subject motion than they would be for uncropped shots.

With the AF system of the 6D you're probably going to want to manually select the center AF point only and leave it there. Set the AF mode to AI Servo AF. You'll need to keep your main subject in the center of the frame. For distant shots you're probably going to crop a bit anyway, so you can adjust the composition if you want by cropping off-center. If you set the AF point selection to Auto you'll wind up with the closest thing in the frame (usually a plexiglass support) instead of your intended subject in focus. When shooting action I prefer to use the AF ON button to initiate AF and disable AF connected to the shutter button but it takes a bit of getting used to it. YMMV.

Set the drive mode to Continuous.

Set your aperture to f/2.8, set your shutter time to 1/1000 and then dial up the ISO until you get a decent histogram on the back of the camera when reviewing your shots. Avoid the +1/3 stop ISO settings on Canon DSLRs. Keep in mind that if you are shooting at a downward angle with most of the frame consisting of white ice you'll need the histogram to be shifted a bit to the right. If you're shooting from a very low angle such as the team bench and a lot of the frame is a dark background (such as dimly lit seating areas) you'll want a histogram more to the left. If 1/1000 second forces you into an ISO higher than you're willing to accept, reduce the shutter time to 1/800, 1/640, or 1/500 second and check your results. When reviewing your shots on the LCD, zoom in all the way to see if you're getting any motion blur.

Don't be afraid to take plenty of frames. Under the best of circumstances the "keeper" rate is lower for sports than most other kinds of photography. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't plan your shots instead of just "praying and spraying." It just means you should accept that sometimes the action will move a different way than you anticipated. Sometimes the AF will miss a little. Sometimes it will miss by a country mile. Sometimes another player (or, even more likely, a referee with his back to you) will pass between you and your subject at the exact instant the shutter is open.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Wow! Thank you very much for such detailed explanation! \$\endgroup\$ Feb 16, 2017 at 4:07
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ If light flicker is a big problem in your venue, a camera with flicker reduction would be invaluable. Most mid-to-upper level Canon cameras released since late 2014 when the 7D Mark II introduced it include the feature (1D X II, 5D IV, 80D, T6i/750D, etc). For a detailed look at what flicker reduction can do when shooting sports under artificial lighting, please see the case study at the end of this answer: photo.stackexchange.com/a/71226/15871 \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Feb 16, 2017 at 16:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ The following cameras have an anti-flicker setting which counteracts the potentially negative effects of poor indoor gym and ice rink lighting: Canon 7D Mark 2, T6i, T6s, 80D, T7i and 77D, EOS 5Ds and probably the EOS 5Ds R too - and perhaps other models as well. Nikon D500, D5 Sony a7 III There may well more cameras that have anti-flicker capabilities, the above were all I could find as of Dec., 2018. Warning: If a camera shows anti-flicker on its list of specifications, be sure to find out if it works for BOTH stills and video. As I understand it, some cameras may have it for video only! \$\endgroup\$
    – AndreB
    Dec 22, 2018 at 5:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AndreB With Canon it is pretty simple. All xD and xxD models introduced after the 7D Mark II in late 2014 have it for stills shooting. The only xx0D that I'm aware of that has it is the Rebel T6i/750D, which was replaced by the 77D (which also has it, as do all other two digit EOS models). Most of the Nikon and Sony models only have a video version. Nikon's D500, released in early 2016 does have flicker reduction when shooting stills. The D750, released in late 2014, does not. One would assume the newer D850 does, but I don't follow Nikon bodies that closely. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Dec 22, 2018 at 21:36

As with any sports the key is to capture the action. This means that you need to have a high shutter speed.

How high you ask? Well that is not simple to say. It is a fast moving sport, so one second the players will be coming towards you the next flying off to your left or right which drastically changes what you need. And of course it depends on your lens and the light conditions. But I would guess 1/200 sec or faster.

So you just have to see when you get there.

Keep the aperture wide to enable a high shutter speed, and let the ISO be as high as you need. Set your drive mode to Continuous shooting, and your auto focus to AI Servo or AI Focus.

I'm not sure about your canon camera but on mine I can set the Auto-ISO range. So this is handy to ensure that your ISO stays a certain level to enable high shutter speeds.

I think manual mode will not enable you to be quick enough to make any adjustments.

To capture the action you will need to effectively watch most of the game through the viewfinder.

And don't be afraid to try things and experiment. Sport is great fun to photograph, but it is an art to master it. It can be tricky to capture action and so it is all about practice and building experience. So take as many shots as possible and

Remember that in sport a perfect technical picture is not as important as capturing the action.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ All very good advice, especially the last line. One thing I'd add is that many ice rinks are lit with poor-quality metal halide or fluorescent lights. These have a tendency to color-shift in time with the electrical cycle. If you use a shutter speed faster than that, you'll end up with difficult-to-correct colors in your image. This might limit you to shooting at a speed of 1/60sec (1/50th in Europe or other areas with a 50Hz electrical supply) or slower to catch the full cycle in one frame and avoid weird colors. \$\endgroup\$
    – cajunc2
    Feb 14, 2017 at 22:32

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.