"Look at this great shot of Johnny scoring his first goal!"
You try to be polite but you just can't make out what that yellow, fuzzy, blurry thing really is....
Indoor action photos can be really frustrating unless you know a few things about your camera.
The first thing you need to realize is that the little flash built in to most point and shoot style digital cameras (or film cameras for that matter) is not particularly powerful. The flash has a maximum reach of about 3 to 4 meters (about 10 to 12 feet for us old fogies). So, unless you are the referee, you probably won't be able to get that close to the action on your local rink and most of your pictures will be too dark because the flash is not powerful enough to light up the 20 meters across the rink.
The second thing to note is that if you don't use flash, the relatively low light level in the arena will cause the shutter on your camera to remain open too long (trying to gather enough light to produce a picture) and it will create a blur of any moving object instead of a clear image. By the way, don't confuse the blurred effect with an out of focus picture. They are completely different.
So what is a proud parent supposed to do?
The simplest way to improve the action stopping ability of your digital camera is to set the ISO to the highest setting possible. This setting is typically hidden in the on-screen menu of your camera and it may also be labelled "sensitivity". Raising the ISO (or sensistivity) causes the camera to require less light to produce a picture and thereby allows the shutter to fire at a higher speed. Depending on how high the ISO setting will go you may be able to completely eliminate the blur caused by low light, action situations. Another side benefit of a higher ISO setting is that, should you (or the automatic setting on your camera) decide to use flash, your built in flash will actually reach further than it would at a lower ISO setting.
However all things come at a price. (No, I'm not going to charge you for reading this..)
When the ISO setting is raised, there is a resulting increase in the amount of noise in the image. This is the same thing we dealt with in the film days when we referred to the "graininess" of the old 400, 800 and 1600 speed films. However it is better by far to have a grainy, non-blurred Johnny than a smooth, clear blur that is unrecognizable. The great thing about a digital camera is that you are not stuck with taking the entire film at the high ISO setting. You can simply set it for one or two images and then set it back to "auto" for your normal picture taking. You can even try several different ISO settings until you come up with the best balance of graininess and blur stopping.
Ultimately, the best way to stop any kind of action indoor is with a flash, but it will need to be much more powerful that the little one that is built into the body of the camera. If you are one of the fortunate ones that have a camera with an external flash shoe, you can purchase a more powerful external flash that could potentially reach across the full width of the arena without having to raise the ISO at all. Your local independent camera store (more shameless self promotion...) can help you choose which one might be right for your needs.
By the way, the above information also applies to any low light situation you might encounter such as a graduation ceremony, a school play or just a night around the campfire. If you are having trouble locating the ISO setting option, take some time and drop in and one of our staff would be happy to show you how to do it.
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