Shooting Basketball (Fluorescent Lighting)

We’ve talked about the challenges of shooting basketball in old gyms.  Let’s get a bit more specific and talk particular types of lighting, starting with Fluorescent lighting.  You will find many basketball gyms using fluorescent lights because of the cost savings.  Fluorescent lights though cause real challenges in achieving good basketball photos.  We are all familiar with those long fluorescent light tubes we see in offices and commercial buildings.  This same design continues today, but it has also changed with looped tubes and other tube designs that can often make it difficult to tell by just looking at the light fixture if you are shooting in a fluorescent gym.

A little history and background
Fluorescent lights began being used commercially back in the 1930s.  They became popular because fluorescent lights are more efficient than incandescent light.  Fluorescent lights are a gas discharge light which means that electricity is used to excite an ionized gas such as mercury vapor.  The resulting ultra-violet radiation is converted to visible light with a fluorescent coating on the inside of the lamp.  Standard heat temperature ratings (kelvins) do not apply to fluorescent lights, in addition fluorescent lights change over time through usage, making basketball photography under fluorescent light most difficult.

Okay…………..that was probably more than any of us wanted to know and what does that have to do with how you get a good basketball photo…………………  

Bottom line
We are real fans of automatic white balance, but basketball gyms and fluorescent lights are one place it usually doesn’t work well.  Fluorescent lights typically produce a more warm color in the orange and red range.  When that combines with yellow/orange hardwood floors and wood bleachers you can get some very orange photos.  
There are primarily three things you can do to improve the color in your basketball photos::

  1. Try the “fluorescent” white balance setting on your camera.   That setting will often compensate quite well for the lights.   
  2. You can manually set the white balance by shooting something white in the gym and then manually adjusting the white balance.  We will cover this in a future blog, it’s not as hard as it sounds.
  3. Shoot in RAW mode and adjust the white balance afterwards.  We also plan to cover this in a blog.

So, if your basketball photos are looking real orange, or reddish try that fluorescent setting and see what you get!


Scott

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