3 Settings for Sports Photography

[NIKON D4, 120.0-300.0 mm f/2.8, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 12800, 1/1250, ƒ/5.6, (35mm = 270)]

Nikon D5, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S, Sigma TC-2001 2x, ISO 800, ƒ/5.6, 1/4000

Before you snap a photo like this, you must set your camera to the proper settings.

3 Settings: Exposure, Focus, & Motor Drive

EXPOSURE

Cameras today let you automate the exposure settings and concentrate on getting the moment.

You can put the camera into Manual mode, where you pick the Aperture, Shutter Speed & ISO. But, first, I want to tell you why you want to choose specific settings.

It would help if you had a fast shutter speed to freeze the baseball, or it would blur so much you can’t see it. [Nikon D5, Sigma TC-2001 2x, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S, ISO 1000, ƒ/5.6, 1/4000]

First of all, for the majority of all your sports photos, you must freeze the moment. So I recommend shooting as fast as you can. I recommend 1/4000th of a second. Now there are lighting situations that will not let you get that fast, but the thing you need to remember is that shooting as fast as possible is the priority.

Nikon D3, 14-24mm, ISO 200, ƒ/2.8, 1/4 with off-camera flash

Use a slow shutter speed only if you want to show the blur.

Nikon D5, Sigma TC-2001 2x, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S, ISO 720, ƒ/5.6, 1/4000

Second, choose a shallow depth-of-field to clean up the background by throwing it out of focus. Yes, there are moments where you may want a lot of depth-of-field, but this is the norm for most sports photos.

Nikon D5, Sigma TC-2001 2x, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S, ISO 800, ƒ/5.6, 1/4000

Third, too many people are concerned about a high ISO’s poor image. If you are shooting in daylight, this is not a concern with cameras made in the last couple of years. Take a look at the baseball player. Note the setting for ISO 1000.

What is essential is a photo that is sharp and in focus more than if there is any noise in the image. You can live with noise more than with out-of-focus or blurred images.

Last thing I recommend if you have it is to turn on the VR [Vibration Reduction], often called OS [Optical Stabilization], which will help minimize the effects of your body movement on the image.

FOCUS

With today’s cameras, you can get many more in-focus cameras with autofocus than we could use manual focus.

First, set your camera to continuous autofocus rather than singular. The continuous focus will keep the camera focused as long as you are keeping the camera active. The default setting for cameras is to push the shutter release halfway down. The back focus button activates your focus but doesn’t take the picture.

Nikon D5, Sigma TC-2001 2x, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S, ISO 1400, ƒ/5.6, 1/4000

Many cameras offer a second button on the back that your right thumb can push. For example, you can enter your menu and separate the focusing from the shutter release. This way, you push the back button with your thumb, keep it held, and follow the action. Then, press the shutter release with your index finger when you want to take a photo. Using these settings will increase the probability of in-focus images.

I highly recommend getting out your camera and studying the Auto Focus section. Each camera is different from all other cameras and true even if you own the same brand name.

Also, search the internet by putting in your camera and look for videos where someone has already studied the camera and discovered the advantages of specific settings.

Nikon D5, Sigma TC-2001 2x, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S, ISO 4500, ƒ/5.6, 1/4000

Motor Drive

You want to set the camera to take more than one photo when you press and squeeze the shutter release. I recommend going to the highest frame rate your camera will let you shoot.

Nikon D5, Sigma TC-2001 2x, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S, ISO 4000, ƒ/5.6, 1/4000

Learn to anticipate and push the button milliseconds before the moment and hold the shutter to capture 2 or 3 frames. The reason is that you may get the ball popping out of the glove, which changes the play from safe to out.

Don’t just keep the shutter pressed all the time. First of all, you will find the camera will stop firing. The camera will need to write those images to your media card, and you will miss better moments because you cannot take photos.

For those who own the Nikon D4, here are my settings for that camera for shooting sports. Next, here are the settings for the Nikon D5. Finally, here are my latest sports settings for the Nikon Z9.

My Gear for these photos
Nikon D5
Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 Sport
Sigma 2x