Under the Friday Night Lights

Please note: This post is adapted from a lesson in our Sports Photography Course For Parents.  This course is now OPEN for enrollment (8/16/19 – 8/23/19)! 


With the impending end of summer comes a return to Friday (and Saturday) night lights!  

Photo courtesy of SPS Sports Photography member Josh Ryder

If you’ll be spending some time under the Friday night lights this fall and want a few tips for getting better shots of your player, then look no further!  We’ll walk you through the steps to get you the best chance at a good under-the-lights pics!

Night games and stadium lighting are one place where knowing your camera and the exposure triangle can really help. For a successful night game shot, you’re going to have to be bold and brave and take that camera off of auto.  Yep.  Manual is your best bet.

Photo courtesy of SPS Sports Photography member Emily Brunner

Manual mode fully in mind, let’s cover some settings:


Our cameras’ sensors are not nearly as sensitive as our own eyes.  Even though you may feel like there’s plenty of light to see your favorite player, your camera likely doesn’t.  Enter ISO.

Increasing your ISO increases the sensitivity of your camera to light.  Sounds great, right?  Crank it up and voila!  Unfortunately, increased ISO comes at a cost – noise (grain).  Some models do better with higher ISO than others, but most current models should be able to handle ISO 3200 without too much trouble.   The higher your ISO, the more noise you’ll have – especially in dark areas – but some noise is often better than no picture, or a really blurry one.

In general, it’s better to have an even higher ISO and a properly exposed image than a lower ISO and an under exposed image.  

Another thing: if you want to freeze action, you’ll need to embrace the high ISOs for sure.  More on that below with shutter speed.


Your aperture is the opening in the lens that lets light pass through.  The lower the number the wider the opening (makes total sense, right?) and the more light that comes into your camera.

Can you guess what we’re going to say next?  Yep.  Open that aperture way up – as wide as it will go. 

For some that will be f2.8 and for others it may be f5.6.   The wider your aperture can go, the lower your ISO can be and the faster your shutter speed can be.  Shooting wide open under the lights is basically required (unless you’re going to use off camera flash…in which case you still will probably shoot wide open).

Shutter Speed

If you’re trying to stop the action, faster is always better. 

At a night game, though, finding balance between stopping the action and allowing enough light into the camera to create an image can be a more delicate balance than daytime shoots.  You’ll want to aim for a bare minimum of 1/250, but 1/500 or faster is better.  


Your camera’s meter is represented by the little line in your viewfinder that goes from -3 to +3 on most cameras.  Each camera is different, but I find that on mine (Canon 6d) aiming for about +1 gets me a well exposed image.

With that in mind, my method for shooting a night game would be to open my aperture all the way up, set my shutter speed to 1/500, and then see where I need my ISO to get a balanced exposure on my in camera meter.  If my ISO needs to be far too high to accommodate 1/500, I’ll drop my shutter speed a bit and see if it’s more workable.

White Balance

Choosing your white balance can be critical to avoiding yellow or orange game images. Your camera most likely has a white balance menu option.  You’ll want to choose either fluorescent light (the little caterpillar looking one) or tungsten (the lightbulb) depending on your stadium’s lights.

If it’s not quite dark when the game starts cloudy or shady will likely be your best bet, but if the lights are already on then auto might be better due to the mixed lighting.  Clear as mud, right?  The bottom line is don’t be afraid to experiment with different white balance options.  

Photo courtesy of SPS Sports Photography member Kay Parrott


Two quick tips here.

Watch for dead zones – the areas where the overhead lights just don’t reach.  You don’t want to shoot with your subject IN a dead zone.  However, you can get a fantastic shot with your subject in the light with a dead zone behind them.

If you can, move to where there’s darkness in your background.  It will help your subject pop.  

Photo courtesy of SPS Sports Photography member Anna Jaeger

It might take a little trial and error, but we’re confident you’ll be getting better game shots in no time.

Are you ready to dive in to Sports Photography this fall?

We’ve just opened enrollment for our Sports Photography Course For Parents today!

You’ll find sport specific lessons as well as lessons and tips that apply across all sports.  Create images that will make your kids’ fall sports seasons (and all the seasons after that) more than just a memory!

Tiny Photo Course For Parents

Can 7 tiny photo tips really change the way you take pics forever as a parent? Absolutely! NO cost. NO spam. NO gimmicks. Just better pics!

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