perfect camera settings for action and sports photography

Shooting sports and action photography is exciting yet challenging. One blink of an eye and you might miss the action. This is the reason why you need to know the perfect settings for sports photography as all you need to do is point to your subject and shoot.

These settings will work in every situation. Like other photography genres, the settings are situational. However, it is a good start and from here you can tweak it to match the look that you want to achieve.

With that in mind, here are the best action and sports photography camera settings you need to remember.

Aperture Priority is your friend

Manual mode allows you to tweak all the settings to get the right exposure. But in a fast-paced environment, aperture priority is your friend.

By setting your aperture to a fixed value, your camera will take care of the shutter speed to match the exposure you want.

However, this does not mean that you will leave the shutter speed setting to the camera alone.

You also need to adjust the minimum ISO and the maximum ISO as well as the minimum shutter speed that you want.

For example, you set your aperture to f/8. You would not want your camera to set the shutter speed to 1/50 - this is too slow and will not freeze the action. You will have to set the minimum shutter speed to 1/500 so that your camera will not go lower than that.

Once set, all you have to do is focus on your composition and shoot your subject.

Girl playing tennis

Use a wide aperture

Moving on to the ideal aperture, it depends on what you are trying to achieve. But for sports photography, the subject and background separation draws the viewer's eyes towards the subject.

Not all lens have a wide aperture such as f/2.8 or even f/4. It does not mean that you cannot achieve background separation. It might not be as "bokehlicious" as f/2.8 lenses but setting your lens to the widest possible aperture will help.

The wide aperture does not only help with bokeh, it also helps in maintaining a higher shutter speed. This will allow you to freeze and capture the action.

Car racing on dirt road

High shutter speed to freeze motion

As mentioned earlier under the Aperture Priority, you need to set a minimum of 1/500 shutter speed to freeze motion.

However, there is another rule of thumb you need to consider. 

As much as possible, use a shutter speed that is twice your focal length. 

If you are using a 70-200mm lens, 200 x 2 is 400. Thus, you must not go lower than 1/400th of a second.

If you have a 500mm lens, then do not go lower than 1/1000 of a second.

The reason why this is a rule of thumb is to avoid camera shake. Though this is not that apparent because you are already shooting at a high shutter speed.

If you need to go lower because the image is still too dark, make sure that your shutter speed is not lower than your focal length. 

Going back to the example of a 70-200mm lens. Do not go lower than 1/200 shutter speed.

Photography is trial and error so review your photos if there is still motion blur or if the set shutter speed is already enough.

There are instances where having motion in a photo is great too. Sometimes showing some movement can make the photo feel alive.

 kickboxing indoors

Do not be scared of high ISO

High ISO leads to more noise or gain in your images. That is cumbersome if you want a clean image. However, you need to bump your ISO to ensure that you have a well-exposed image that is shot at a high shutter speed.

Do not be afraid of noise or pushing your camera to the limits. Modern cameras are capable of producing clean images at high ISOs. 

In the end, the choice is clear. It is either you have a well-exposed crisp shot or a blurry image.

Of course, this does not apply if you are aiming for a certain style or you want to take dramatic shots.

Moreover, underexposing for a little bit is fine as long as you are shooting in RAW. An underexposed RAW image still carries a lot of detail that can be shown through post-processing.

baseball throw

Sometimes JPEG is better than RAW

RAW images carry more details when post-processing images. This is good if you have a lot of time to edit images.

However, fast-paced environment such as sports events do not give you that amount of time to edit each image.

This is where JPEG images are better.

As long as you get your exposure right and your settings are fit for the event, JPEG images are more than enough. 

Sport photography involves a lot of shooting. A 30 minute event may have you end up with thousands of images.

With JPEG images, all you have to do is to check which one has the perfect composition, right exposure, and you are good to go.

Downhill Ski

Shoot in Burst mode

Burst mode allows you to have more chances of nailing the shot. As long as your camera can keep up, you can easily track your subject and get a keeper.

The only downside with shooting continuously is memory space. The quicker you take photos, the faster your memory card will fill up so make sure that you have a large capacity card or spares ready.

Speaking of burst mode, if you are a beginner, Sony APS-C mirrorless cameras have a fast burst mode which makes it great for starter photographers.

Professional full frame mirrorless cameras such as the Nikon Z9 or the Sony A1 has blazing fast burst mode that makes it seem like you are shooting a movie with the number of frames it takes.

Skating on the park

Anticipate the shot

When shooting sports, you need to familiarize yourself with the event or even the players. You are able to nail the shot this way as you can predict what a player will do in certain situations.

For example, in the NBA. Dirk Nowitzki has his signature fade away. So if he is already in position, anticipate that he might do this shot and you are already set to press the shutter.

If you are shooting a slower sports like gold, players have a repetitive motion that you can study. 

The same goes for car races. These speedsters run at more than a hundred miles per hour and you can anticipate that. But in order to nail the shot, you need to keep your panning and tracking skills up.

Person playing golf

Use a monopod

This applies when shooting long hours and you have a heavy lens. Use a monopod to prevent fatigue from carrying your camera and lens setup.

Why monopod for sports?

Monopods are compact and you can easily move from one place to another quickly compared to a tripod.

Using a sturdy monopod also allows you to use camera setups with large telephoto lenses.

Moreover, tracking with a monopod is easier. It follows your direction despite not having a tripod head.

That is it for the quick tips for the perfect camera settings for shooting sports. Use this guide and take the perfect action shot. Don't forget to tag us on our socials @promediagear

April 30, 2022

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