How Rapid ISOs are Changing Action and Adventure Sports Photography

Source By: Red Bull Illume

Capturing fast moving action sports is a tough challenge. Traditionally popping the subject out from the picture and keeping it sharp, requires one or more strategically placed flashes. But this method usually means much of the background light is lost.

The restricting factor with old film cameras was the ISO speed. ISO measures a film’s sensitivity to light, the higher the ISO, the more light a film captures. Since fast moving subjects, such as mountain bikers require a fast shutter speed and an open aperture, the ISO needs to be high to capture as much light as possible.

In normal conditions, films with even the biggest available ISO range were not able to properly get the shot without flash.

However, as digital camera equipment moves rapidly away from their film-based predecessors, ultra-high ISO capabilities mean that taking high quality sports shots with natural background light is now possible.

The Leica M9, Nikon D3s and Canon Mark IV all boast standard ISOs of between 2500 and 10,800 and expanded ISOs of even beyond 100,000. The colour film with the highest ever ISO value was the Fuji Superia with 1600.

Unfortunately, often the drawback to shooting with a high ISO is increased noise, but due to major efforts in developing better digital hardware, today’s CPUs and sensors are capable of being pushed without losing much quality.

“This changed my way to shoot photos a lot,” says Vancouver, Canada-based sports fashion and mountain bike photographer Yorick Carroux. “I was always a huge friend of available light photography and the new Nikon cameras unchained me from noisy photos and allow me to get good light without the flashes.”

Carroux, a finalist in the Experimental category of the 2007 Image Quest, says that use of flash will not end, but that there are now more possibilities for photographers.

“When you use flash in the right way you can get great photographs, but often you change or even destroy the atmosphere totally,” he says. “Now I can capture the scene the way it is and get more real, intense views of the sport.

“I can capture the light and the atmosphere exactly as it is, especially in the deep woods of British Columbia around Whistler.”

Carroux mainly uses Nikon D3 and D700 bodies with a standard set of lenses. “I’m not a big fan of zoom lenses. I stick pretty much with a basic kit: 16mm fisheye, 20mm, 35mm, 85mm, 180mm and 300mm. Having said that, a Leica M9 would be a pretty hot tool when you need quality and light.”

The main challenge for photographers using this method is keeping noise to a minimum unless they want to create a certain intended film look. As technology moves forward, this will no doubt improve, but for now deciding when and when not to use flash will be the key.

“I wouldn’t say flashes are dead, it’s more that you can choose now and you have more tools in your hand.”

More information and images from Yorick Carroux can be found at