A light rant


St. Mary’s Afure Jemerigbe goes to the hoop against St. Francis’ Beth Balbierz, left, and Aurora Singh during a game at St. Francis in Sacramento (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 70mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 1600).

Last month I shot the St. Mary’s girls varsity basketball game at St. Francis High School in Sacramento. The St. Francis Troubadors have a great gym: Large, roomy and very well lit. I thought it’d be nice if St Mary’s had a gym like this, at least for the lighting. St Mary’s has always had great basketball and volleyball teams, and I’ve always thought that if the light at Morelli Gym were doubled, the quality of light would match the quality of play of those teams.

The lighting in most of the high school gyms in the Stockton/San Joaquin County area are at best merely adequate. It’s understandable, for some are older venues, such as Edison and Tokay. It’s expensive to retrofit an existing gymnasium with new lights. But some newer places, such as Chavez High and the newly renovated Lincoln High gym, are just as bad or worse. Even UOP’s Spanos Center and Delta College’s Blanchard Gym are barely acceptable.

One just has to either boost the camera’s light sensitivity to higher ISOs (causing noise) or use a flash, sometimes both. Newer cameras have helped with their relatively low noise to high ISO ratio, but there are some gyms that still test their capabilities.

St. Mary’s Joshua Harper drives to the hoop on El Dorado’s Nick Jemmot during a first round division III Sac-Joaquin playoff game at St. Mary’s High in Stockton (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 70mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 1600).

A few weeks ago I shot a Sac-Joaquin Section boys basketball first-round playoff game at St. Mary’s High School in Stockton. I have shot there many times before, so I already knew the exposure there. Walking up to the gym, I adjusted the settings on my camera: a shutter speed of 1/320th of a second with an aperture of f/2.8 at ISO 3200.


St. Mary’s John Smith dirves to the hoop on El Dorado’s Matt Winterer during a first round division III Sac-Joaquin playoff game at St. Mary’s High in Stockton (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 70mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 1600).

Once inside, I noticed the game had already started. It seemed brighter than I had remembered, but I attributed it to my eyes adjusting to coming out of the dark into a lit room. I shot off several frames then checked the monitor on the back of the camera. All of the pictures were overexposed. Perplexed, I looked toward the ceiling. There seemed to be the same number of light fixtures as I had remembered. There were even a couple that were out, but somehow there was more light than when I last shot there, only about three months previously.

St. Mary’s Sean Fenner shoots over El Dorado’s Matt Winterer (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 70mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 1600).

It was great. I re-calibrated my settings. I was able to drop the ISO to 1600 and bump up the shutter speed to 1/500th of a second. I shot and rechecked, and it was still just a bit too bright. I dropped the ISO down even more to about 1250, and that was about right. The brighter light saved me about 1-1/2 stops, meaning that there was about 150% more light. I was loving it.

A couple of days ago I called St. Mary’s athletic director Jim Brusa and asked him what was up with the lights. Were there more fixtures put in? Or maybe new higher intensity bulbs? None of the above. Brusa answered that there is a second set of lights, lights that have always been there, in each fixture but aren’t normally turned on. He said that it’s always been that way. He guessed that it was due to the conservation of energy and using just enough light for what was needed for the particular event. He didn’t know the reason those extra lights were turned on that night.


St. Mary’s Joshua Harper shoots a foul shot during a first round division III Sac-Joaquin playoff game against El Dorado at St. Mary’s High in Stockton (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 1250).

I told Brusa that the lighting was a great boon for photography and that they should use them for every game, and he agreed. So after my 25 years of shooting, St. Mary’s teams will get the lights that they deserve, lights that they had all along.

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