Often when on photo assignments, I’m asked about my equipment, gear and camera settings. Over the years, though, the most common question I’ve encountered by both students and parents is, “How do I stop the action of basketball players in low lit gymnasiums?”

My response is almost always ISO, shutter speed, and more ISO!

So in this photo tip of the week, I would like to walk you through shutter speed and ISO, and why both are crucial in accomplishing beautiful stopped motion photographs of athletes or basketball players in low lit gymnasiums.


The shutter is a mirror curtain inside the camera that reflects light onto the camera sensor or film inside the camera when a photo is taken.


The length of time that the shutter is open to expose light into the camera.


The ISO is the sensitivity of which your camera sensor or film is to available light.


Photography is all about light. It actually is the recording of light, therefore we obviously need some light to make a photo.

So the basics are whatever the shutter of the camera opens up to is what will be seen on our photograph.

When photographing sports, the basic rule of thumb is that fast shutter speeds stop action, while slow shutter speeds can often lead to blurring movement in the photograph.

Shutter 1/20; aperture F/4.5; ISO 400. Though the exposure is correct in this photo, you can see that the shooter and other players are blurred due to a low shutter. The only way for me to increase my shutter speed is to also increase my ISO.


Sky View battles Fremont for the Region 1 title on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017, at Fremont High School. Sky View went on to defeat Fremont, 72-64.
Shutter 1/800; Aperture F/4; ISO 10,000. This photo is from the same gym and game as the photo above, but with a faster shutter and higher ISO to keep the same exposure.


Low ISOs are necessary when photographing in situations like bright sunny days. High ISOs are necessary when in low lit or dark settings.

In order for these two different camera functions to solve our problem we need to think of them as a formula.


ISO + Fast Shutter Speed = Stop Action Photos


My preference whenever photographing basketball is to keep my shutter speed around 1/1000 to a minimum of 1/400 in order to stop action. My main shutter speed this season has been 1/800. I do not go lower than 1/400 because I know the photos will blur. 

Next, I always want to keep my ISO as low as possible. My reason for this is the higher the ISO, the more grain or pixellation that appears on the final picture. (This is another discussion for another day… stay on track.)

Whenever I walk into a gym, I like to set my camera on a shutter speed of 1/800 and just take a random photo. At this point, I’m not concerned about any other settings.

Given that I’ve been in many gyms, I set up a memorized go-to ISO setting, but let’s just pretend my camera is left on outdoor sunny light setting, like 1/400.

I do this so I can see what the light looks like at 1/800. If the photo is dark and doesn’t create a proper exposure, that’s when I begin to raise the ISO. From there, I continue to raise the ISO one stop until I find the proper ISO needed to allow me to expose my pictures at 1/800.

Shutter 1/800; Aperture F/4; ISO 400.

Shutter 1/800; Aperture F/4; ISO 640.

Shutter 1/800; Aperture F/4; ISO 1000.

Shutter 1/800; Aperture F/4; ISO 1600.

Shutter 1/800; Aperture F/4; ISO 2500.

Shutter 1/800; Aperture F/4; ISO 4000.

Shutter 1/800; Aperture F/4; ISO; 6400.


Once I’ve accomplished that, I am pretty much good to go. I leave my camera on those settings the rest of the game and I shoot away!


Shutter 1/1250; Aperture F/4; ISO 6400.

Shutter 1/1000; Aperture F/4; ISO 6400.

Shutter 1/800; Aperture F/4; ISO 6400.