12 Helpful Pieces of Advice on Photographing Gymnastics

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12 Helpful Pieces of Advice on Photographing Gymnastics

Sports photography is certainly not something I specialize in, though I do love bringing my camera to sporting events like football, basketball, and baseball. When it comes to my children, they have a few hobbies that loosely fall into the category of sports: dance and gymnastics.

Both dance and gymnastics often have certain photographic challenges: low light, fast movement, and inability to move to ideal locations to shoot the photograph.

My daughter Jenna recently performed at her studio’s recreation holiday show. It was fairly dark and there were not many spots for me to go capture images. So I did the best I could.  Here are some of the images along with tips.

  1. Shoot at a high ISO – shoot at the highest acceptable ISO for your camera. I was at ISO 3200-6400 on my Canon 5D MKII for these shots.
  2. Use a fast focusing lens – I used my 50 1.2.
  3. Shoot at a fairly wide open aperture.  I shot most pictures at f 2.2-2.8 so I let more light in.
  4. Use a fast shutter speed – gymnasts move fast. I varied speed, but primarily was at 1/500.
  5. Use a flash to help stop action and light the subject.  I used my 580ex (ceilings were too high so I aimed the flash directly at her versus bouncing)
  6. Consider black and white if the color are harsh from the lighting and spotlights.
  7. Consider staying with color when it sets the mood.
  8. Embrace grain and noise. You cannot get noise-free image at this high an ISO, so use the noise to convey a feel to the images.
  9. Try and capture feeling and emotion with the light.
  10. Be flexible. Sometimes you may not get he angle you want or there may be a barrier (such as a person) blocking you. Do the best you can.
  11. Be creative. Look for environment to enhance the image (for example the mirror showing a reflection).
  12. Take a silhouette shot.

gymnastics performance-12

gymnastics performance-22

gymnastics performance-17

gymnastics performance-3

gymnastics performance-5

gymnastics performance-33

gymnastics performance-13

And the certificate and ribbon to make it all worth it…

gymnastics performance-30

Ellie was very proud of her sister. Since her gymnastics tumbling class was not part of this performance, she decided to perform for us at home.

gymnastics performance-36

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  1. July 25, 2015 at 5:07 pm —

    I am like your daughter jenna i love gymnastics

  2. Pat
    February 25, 2015 at 9:37 am —

    My grand-daughter competes, level 7 this year, and flash can NOT be used during competition nor can the little assist light on the front of the camera. There are no spot lights and most gymnasiums have poor lighting for fast fast action without flash.

  3. January 14, 2010 at 10:04 pm —

    Thanks for sharing this Jodi. I’m finally getting time to check your blog out 🙂
    Thanks too for the awesome products!

  4. January 14, 2010 at 7:36 am —

    Thank you for posting this. My son plays highschool football in Taylor, MI and there are so many times I feel like throwing in the towel trying to get photos. Why on earth would I not think to raise my ISO off of 100? doh’ The tips are great and now I cannot wait to try them out. I have a few months until football though. There were many times trying to get shots of the kids in the gym during band concerts. I think these tips will help too. Although band is obviously not fast action the colors are wonky because of the lights inside. Converting to b/w is a great idea.
    Thank you so very much.

  5. January 13, 2010 at 6:27 pm —

    Thanks for the tips. I always love coming back to your blog for great tips.

  6. January 13, 2010 at 2:26 am —

    You have given really nice and useful tips for gymnastics photography.This will be very helpful for my cousin as he like this.Those photographs are also very wonderful.Thank you very much for this nice post.

  7. JohnG
    January 12, 2010 at 1:13 pm —

    I would like to advise people AGAINST trying to use flash. In any type of competition and in most gyms it is strictly forbiden. It’s a big no-no for gymnastics throughout the world. Having a disrespect for those policies is also a way to get photography restricted or banned. So, as a sports photographer and proud uncle of a Level 6 gymnast I ask that you NOT use flash. I’m amazed the gym the original poster with allowed it in the first place.

    • January 12, 2010 at 7:12 pm —

      Our gym allowed it. For dance recitals we were allowed during rehearsal but not recitals. I would say to ask your gym for their rules. If you are not allowed, you will need to boost the ISO even more.

      Oh and the professional the gym hired was using a flash too.

  8. January 12, 2010 at 12:08 pm —

    Thanks for the tips- I’m struggling with the really high ceilings and cruddy flourescent lights in some of the old gymnasiums that my girls play basketball in. Trying to shoot non-flash so as not to be a distraction…. but think I need a different lens- the EFs 70-300/2.8 just isn’t getting the results I want…

  9. Tanya T.
    January 12, 2010 at 11:31 am —

    Thanks Jodi!!!! My daughter just moved up to team at her gymnastics and I will want to photograph her next fall at meets!!! Your tips will help greatly!!! I am going to practice before next fall so I can get good pictures!!!!!!

  10. January 12, 2010 at 11:14 am —

    Good advice. Similar advice can be given to shoot plays and concerts, except you shouldn’t use flash in those instances. In December, I shot a performance of the Northern CA ballet’s performance of the Nutcracker, and shot at high ISO with my trusy 50mm 1.2 lens. Had to “zoom” with my feet, but it was worth it to get good shots. Oh, and Noiseware is great for high ISO stuff!

  11. January 12, 2010 at 11:08 am —

    Great post!

  12. January 12, 2010 at 10:42 am —

    Wonderful advice! My daughter is a highly competitive gymnast. I have thousands of gymnastics pictures just sitting around in files. Gymnastics has some of the worst lighting. Gyms are usually very dark and movement is very fast. To make it even harder, at competitions… NO flash photography is allowed for the safety of the athletes. A flash of light from a camera in their eyes can cause them to miss a piece of equipment and result in injury. I have found that if a gym has balcony seating, go there. You will be closer to the light source for the gym and action shots become more clear. You have to get creative with ISO/noise and just accept it and work with it. Black and white images always save the day! Haha!

    • January 12, 2010 at 7:14 pm —

      For whatever reason our gym allowed it – and even the photog they hired was using one. This said, they were entry level gymnasts, 6-8 yrs old. But you would think rules are rules. So maybe they allow it for all, hard to say.

      • Chris Sutton
        August 7, 2015 at 8:33 pm —

        My daughter does competitive trampoline, tumbling and gymnastics albeit in a higher age group than your daughter Jodi. At all competitions flash is absolutely forbidden for the reasons Sharon says (I have even seen a parent removed from the spectators seating for using flash!). That said I have, on occasion, arranged with her coach to go along to training sessions and get some photos using flash, on the grounds that the athletes are pre-warned and it is not such a shock / distraction when the flash goes off plus as it is not a competitive environment they are not pushing themselves to the limit.

    • Bec
      February 26, 2017 at 8:27 pm —

      I have to agree! My daughter is a high level senior gymnast and every event I have been to in the past 7 years has been absolutely no flash photography, including the professionals, getting a great shot isn’t worth an athlete getting injured.

  13. January 12, 2010 at 10:26 am —

    These are great. I love these tips. I always wondered when it comes to sport. My son is only two but I’m sure I will be shooting some in the near future.

  14. Channon Zabel
    January 12, 2010 at 9:34 am —

    Great post! I need to learn to embrace the noise. Love that tip. I get shy about upping my ISO for fear of noise, but need to let that go and focus and catching the action. And love the silhouette shot. Gonna aim for one of those next time I do a dance class shoot. Thanks!

  15. Nils
    January 12, 2010 at 9:22 am —

    Thanks for these great tips! Question – how do you take a silhouette shot?

    • January 12, 2010 at 7:16 pm —

      same way I do a beach silhouette or any other. Exposure for the background/sky, not the subject. I did a few posts a while back on silhouettes. Do a quick search for the step by step process. Hope that helps.

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12 Helpful Pieces of Advice on Photographing Gymnastics