Night time football presents its own set of photographic challenges particularly as you go down the leagues and the quality of floodlights deteriorates in terms of output. At Premier League level the floodlights are usually superb, they basically turn night into day and you can shoot quite easily and well within the capabilities of your camera settings e.g 1\1600th sec, f4, ISO 2000.
If you go down to Championship level and below and particularly at non-league grounds you can encounter all sorts of difficult lighting situations which really stretch the performance of your camera and lenses. This is made more difficult if the teams you are photographing wear white or black shirts or some of those outrageously bright pink and yellow fluorescent colours that can often be on display. It is quite normal that the floodlights will light up the central areas of the pitch leaving the corner flag areas in very dim lighting.
If the floodlights are really poor you can struggle to get anywhere near 1/1000th sec at f2.8 and ISO 4000. Personally, I won’t go below 1\1000th sec even if that means a wide open aperture and an ISO value of 8000. The higher end professional cameras can still produce very usable images with those settings.
The image on the header of this blog was taken at Preston North End’s Deepdale stadium, where the floodlights are poor for photography. It was shot at 1/1250th sec , f3.2 and ISO 5000. You simply must not be frightened of high ISO’s if you are shooting in very poor light. Yes, there will be unavoidable noise in your pictures, you just have run with it or do what you can in post production to reduce it.
The good thing about night-time photography under floodlights is that the light is constant throughout the night, so you are not going to get the sort of variations that you get during daylight where the sun moves in and out of clouds or half the pitch is very bright and half is in shadow. So, I find it best to move to fully manual settings during a nighttime floodlit game. All you need to do is get your settings right from the start and leave them there as the constant nature of the light means you don’t need to change them.
In post production you may need to make some tweaks on the highlights and shadows sliders if any areas become too bright or too dark but you really do have to watch out more closely to blown highlights on white shirts and deep black shadows on black shirts. The most frustrating thing that you can do little about is the dark eyes that you get on players as the shadows really do make the whole eye socket area quite unusually dark.