By Scott Rovak
Sports photography is one of the most frustrating types of photography. Everyone thinks with all of the new technology in cameras and lenses, it should be easy to achieve great results.The truth is that capturing a moment in time is more difficult than it seems that it should be. When people ask me the settings for their camera, I will always recommend a higher ISO than you think you would need, a shutter speed no slower than 1/500th of a second, and a lens usually no shorter than 200 mm. Any great sports photograph that really stands out captured that moment in time perfectly. Therefore to achieve your higher shutter speed, especially in lowlight conditions, I will always recommend pushing your ISO to fit the environment you are photographing in. When people think of high ISO‘s, they are always fearful of digital noise, but if you achieve that moment in time that really sticks out, no one will notice that noise. I have shot in daylight at 800 or even 1000 ISO, if it means that I can achieve a faster shutter speed. Especially in indoor and nighttime sports, ISO’s usually need to be around 2500 to even 10,000 ISO. Most cameras manufactured in the past 8 years or so, can handle these ISO‘s with fine quality. I have shown people images shot at these high ISO's and then zoomed into show that there is digital noise, but if that peak moment was captured, they didn't even notice the noise.
It also helps to have what we call "Fast" lenses, which means an aperture of f2.8, or f4.0. Now I know that a lot of people own a variable aperture zoom lens, meaning that they let in more light when the lens is at its widest zoom length, but then the aperture changes the more you zoom in. An example of one of these lenses would be a 28–300mm f4.5 - F6.3.
This is another reason why a high ISO will help. On this type of lens, I usually recommend finding a good exposure with an F6.3aperture, that way zooming in or out, your exposure would stay the same. A lot of times shutter priority is recommended for achieving results in sports photography, you pick your ISO, and your shutter speed, and then the camera will pick the appropriate aperture for a good exposure. The biggest problem with this is your background may be darker than where the players are, or if one team has dark uniforms and the other team has light uniforms. A camera’s meter does not distinguish the subject from these different shades, and your exposure could change even though the light stays the same. I tell people that are not familiar with shooting in manual mode to take a photo with shutter priority and look at the image and see what the camera shot it at. If it is a good exposure, change the camera's mode to manual, and put in those settings, remembering that you need a high ISO and a high shutter speed.
One of the toughest situations in sports photography is shooting indoor or nighttime sporting events. Our eyes adjust to the lights on a football or soccer field, or in a basketball or volleyball court. But those lights are extremely low compared to shooting in daylight during daytime sports. I usually recommend a starting ISO of at least 2500 to 3200 and a shutter speed of at least 1/400th of a second. This is also where those “fast” lenses come in handy. In a gymnasium, you usually do not need as long of a telephoto lens, sometimes an 85mm to a 200mm lens will work fine. The nice thing about these lenses is that you can find them with large aperture‘s like f1.8, f2.8, and f4.0. These lenses and aperture‘s let in an extremely large amount of light for the cameras sensor. One setting I usually recommend to start with in manual mode is 3200 ISO, 1/400th of a second, and an aperture off4.0. This setting has been a good starting point in most school gymnasiums. As far as nighttime lacrosse, football, and soccer, you are back to using long lenses. Your ISO for those sports might be starting around6400 ISO and higher.