Paul Walsh Photography

Sports Photography Tips on camera setup


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Know the exposure triangle!! Look it up before reading further, if you need.

  • Camera mode - aperture priority, shutter priority, manual mode

  • I tend to shoot in manual more or else aperture priority. I always try to get a fast shutter speed, to freeze the action. The mode allows you to control what you select and how you select it. If you shoot aperture priority (Av on Canon, A on Nikon) then you will want to select an open aperture. Ideally you want something between f/4 and f/2.8. Sometimes f/2.8 is too open and has too small depth of field. If you select shutter priority (Tv on Canon, S on Nikon) then you want a fast shutter speed to freeze the action. You will normally want something faster than 1/400sec, up to around 1/1600sec. I try for 1/1600sec usually, but this depends on light and conditions.

  • ISO

  • With sports photography, you will generally select a higher ISO than usual. I tend to start at ISO 800 and move from there. On a bright sunny day you may be able to drop that lower, but on a dark night or under floodlights, you may need to increase that higher. I have shot events at ISO 5,000. It will depend on available light. Don't be afraid to push the ISO. A sharp "noisy" image is better than a clear blurred sports photo. Newer cameras always have better performance at higher ISO than older ones. And how good they are will vary from camera to camera as well as from brand to brand.

    Here is a shot at ISO 5000
    high iso

  • Shutter speed

  • Try for a shutter speed faster than 1/400sec. This will depend on light, ISO and aperture. I try for a 1/1600sec speed. If there is too much light, then you may have to use a faster shutter.

  • Aperture

  • Try for a very open aperture. f/2.8 is as open as most lenses get. But, this will make your plane of focus very narrow. I usually shoot f/3.5-f/4. Your aperture will depend on your lens.

  • Focus mode - single shot, continuous focus, or manual focus

  • I always select the continuous focus mode. This should help your camera track your subject. Cameras are getting better and better at tracking subjects. When you are following a player, try to keep that player in focus and in the centre of your lens.

  • Focus point selection

  • I use the centre point only. If you select groups or have all points selected, then your camera may hunt focus when you want one person in focus. I usually try to focus on the upper body area of the player concerned. This should get good results, since it is a large subject area to focus on.

  • Burst mode - single shot, low burst, continuous burst

  • Try to shoot in short bursts, 4-5 frames. Some may be out of focus (hopefully not), but it is good to have a few shots before and after that key moment, where possible.

  • File format selection - raw or jpg

  • This can be debated until the cows come home. For speed, jpg is much quicker. It also saves space. Raw is slower and requires more space. The choice is yours, but sometimes raw can limit you catching the moment, especially in a burst.

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