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Sports Shooting Settings


100% Crop with XSi

100% Crop with XSi

Professional sports can be a bit more tough to shoot, not because of the action or environments but due to the strict regulations that arenas and stadiums place on the type of equipment allowed into a sports venue.

When shooting NFL, NHL, MLB, or NBA games different venues have different policies on what lens length maximum is permitted.

I doubt very much you will get in with a 300 2.8 or 400 2.8, so you are probably wasting your time if that’s what you want to bring in.

However, I have had repeated success at different venues in different states bring a 70-200 2.8 into the venue with me. I’ve had success at NHL, NFL, and NBA games. Also, training camps are a perfect opportunity to bring the larger lenses such as 300 or 400, and not be turned away by the teams.

100% crop using XSi

When I bring my XSi and 70-200 into the venues, I usually just wear it around my neck with the lens and body on my back. I don’t cover it with my shirt or anything, I just don’t leave it in a case. If you bring your camera in a case, and have to open the bag they are more likely to pay attention to your lens. So if you are going to try and bring in a longer lens then permitted, I would probably suggest wearing it around your back and just hoping you can get in!

As for everyone else who will just bring a kit lens or a zoom lens that is shorter (at least when not zoomed) then the maximum the venue permits.

If shooting out doors, you will want to shoot in Av mode and select the widest aperture setting you can with your lens. Additionally, you will want to achieve shutter speeds of 1/500 of a second or more preferably 1/1000 or faster. When you go into a day football game, you will likely find plenty of light to get faster shutter speeds. However you may need to use an ISO of 200 or 400 in order to achieve this depending on the widest aperture your lens is capable of.

A faster shutter speed will also help reduce the camera shake blur of using a zoom telephoto lens hand held. When using a lens such as a 75 – 300, it will be hard to get crisp shots unless you use 1/500 or faster. Again you will likely need to boost the ISO to do so if the aperture is narrower than 4.0 F stop.

If shooting an out door football game, shoot in evaluative metering, this will achieve great color balance and help to ensure no uniforms are over exposed.

Use AI Servo focusing in combination with continuous shooting for high speed shooting and accurate motion focusing. Make sure the center focus point is used, and try and shoot in a vertical orientation to frame the scene tighter on your subject.

Again, make sure your custom function for iso noise reduction is disabled. This eats up your cameras buffer, and reduces FPS from 3.5 to 2 or less. Also, we suggest shooting in RAW format so that you can properly edit your photos, and adjust white balance later when on your computer. RAW files allow 6 shot bursts, while JPG allows a greater number. You will need to decide if having more burst shot capability is more important then having image edit capability in post processing.

Other Basic Shooting suggestions:

Outdoor Amateur and school athletics are a unique chance to sharpen your sports photography skills. They usually are unregulated, and its easy to take shots week after week in order to better your best practices.

Because of the lighter restrictions of shooting a school athletic game, we will recommend some equipment and then discuss how to shoot below.

What you need to get great amateur sports photos:
A mono pod is KEY, Bogen Manfrotto sells a very affordable, light weight, and well made one.  Bogen 676B Digi Mono Pod holds up to 12 lbs.

You will also need a telephoto lens, at minimum a 70-200 2.8 (if you want the nice blur background), and if you can buy or rent a EF 300 2.8 or EF 400 2.8 you will be even better off. (With the EF 300 or 400 you can not use the mono pod I have recommended).

XSi and battery grip with 70-200 2.8

XSi and battery grip with 70-200 2.8

I recomend the 70-200 2.8 over the 70-200 F 4 series partially because they come with a great tripod ring which will set you back a substantial part of the price difference anyway. These rings are very important because, due to the weight of the lens you will actually mount the lens to the tripod or mono pod and then in turn mount the camera body to the lens. While this may seem strange, its far more sturdy and will prevent the front of your camera from breaking off if the lens is too heavy for the body.

A tripod ring is great because it allows you to quickly rotate the body of the camera from a horizontal landscape position to a vertical portrait position. This is the preferred position for shooting sports, it focuses in on the subject and allows you to be zoomed in further while still capturing head and feet.

Technique fundamentals:
Here is an example of the landscape vs portrait position; while I do not have EF 300 or EF 400, the photo draws more attention on the subject matter, less distraction due to background, and more of the subject is caught in the action:







Now that you have your mono pod and lens….

Place your camera in Av mode (aperture priority) and dial the aperture size to the widest size your lens is capable of, preferably F 2.8 if you are using the 70-200 2.8, 300 2.8 or 400 2.8.

You will then want to put your camera in Continuous shooting mode
Place your camera in AI Servo focus mode
Make sure the center point of your focus screen is the only one selected.

**Advanced feature:
enable AE lock / AF : which switches AF to the * key.
Take some practice shots, hold down the * key while keeping the center focal point on your subject while they are moving. You will notice the camera is constantly focusing and you can take a photo at any point in time. The red focus light will not light up, just take shots. While holding the * key you will be able to press the shutter key to take photos when desired. This allows you to focus constantly but also capture the shot separately and prevents accidental misfiring – something that can cause your card to fill up faster then desired.

Take a few shots, and pay attention to the shutter speed your camera is choosing. Is the shutter speed 1/500 or greater? if so, perfect, continue as you have been and capture as many great photos as you can. Use raw mode so you can perfect the photos and white balance later on. If the camera has selected 1/4000 of a second and that 1/4000 is flashing – this means your environment is too bright and the photo will over expose. To correct this, confirm your ISO speed is not set too high. If its 800, bump it down to 400, if 400 bump down to 200 etc.. If ISO is at 100, and the shutter speed is flashing 1/4000 you will need to reduce the width of your aperture 1/3 of a stop or 1/2 of a stop at a time until the shutter speed stops flashing.

What if you’re taking photos and the shutter speed seems to slow, your photos are blurry and you’re already at F 2.8 the fastest of your lens? Well you will need to bump the 3rd component of your camera imaging system the ISO speed. Start by bumping the ISO from 100 to 200, see if you can get the shutter speed over 1/500 and up to 1/1000 if possible. Once the speeds are up, review your photos on the camera and see how they look – zoom in on a face, is it blurry? how’s the detail? If its still not fast enough, bump the ISO to 400 or 800. You can shoot in ISO 1600 but this probably should indicate there isn’t great lighting and your photos wont look amazing. This is more of a “must get the shot” then a lets get great shots feature.

Finally, remember to have fun don’t stress, you can always go back and shoot again. Shooting sports will take some time to master, you need to really know what to look for. Try to focus on one target, and shoot them, don’t try and jump around from person to person during a play, it will be too difficult. Have an organized plan of who you want to capture and your results will be better off.
Try and get on the field if you can, move around and get different view points. Capture expressions on faces if possible.

Find a good position on the field where you will not interfere with play, but you will also not be blocked by fans or players. Some teams will appreciate a photographer and give permission for you to walk along the sidelines and shoot photos.

Bring your mono pod and set yourself up so you can begin to take photos of the game. Move around a bit and find a location you like shooting from. Set your camera into a vertical orientation by rotating the lens in the tripod collar.

Take a couple of test shots to get an idea of your settings, and dial in the fast shutter speeds, wide aperture and lowest ISO you can get away with. Set your camera to evaluative metering.

Again make sure your custom function for ISO noise reduction is disabled.

Make sure the center focus point is the only selected focus point, and begin to focus using AI Servo on your target. Take some test shots, how do they look?

I am certain that with these few changes, you can go from leaving the camera in “sports mode” or auto mode to obtaining more professional, high action shots that are both exciting to look at and also reassuring that your skills are indeed improving.