Nikon D5: Sports Camera Settings

These are the settings that I use on my Nikon D5 for shooting most all sport action. Nikon has made it really nice to allow photographers to save these settings so they do not have to remember each and every little setting they like to use for a style of shooting.

If you go to Menu and under the camera icon pick the first item “Shooting menu bank.” I have chosen B, which is my sports menu.

If you toggle into the “Shooting menu bank” you can rename those settings. Once you choose one of these settings everything you do to change the menu will be saved in that menu bank. I recommend to go ahead and try all my settings and then tweak them to your preferences.

When shooting sports it is very common for the lighting conditions to change instantly. While the football player runs toward you they may go from shade into direct sunlight. For this reason I let the camera do some of the thinking for me.

Go to the camera icon again and look for “ISO sensitivity settings.” Select this and you will then see this menu:


I turn on the “Auto ISO sensitivity control.” Then I set the minimum shutter speed to 1/4000. You could pick something else. I used to shoot at 1/2000. The ISO setting is what you see in the smaller window below the menu. I set this to ISO 100 and then set the “Maximum sensitivity” to ISO 102400.
While I am in Aperture Mode shooting the camera will always pick 1/4000 shutter-speed. If in sunlight I am at ƒ/4 the shutter-speed may go as high at 1/8000 at ISO 100, but as the scene changes and the athlete is now in the shade the camera will automatically drop to 1/4000 @ ƒ/4 and then change also the ISO up until I can still shoot at 1/4000.
The only time the shutter speed will dip below the 1/4000 is if the ISO peaks out at 102400.  If my aperture is wide open then the camera is doing everything that I would have done manually, but faster than I could ever adjust the camera. That is how you get more shots than the guy next to you.
Next select the Pencil on the menu and then go into the Custom settings bank.
Again just like the Photo Shooting Menu create a Sports Menu as I have done here.
Next choose the Autofocus in the menu.
Then choose the Focus tracking with lock-on.
I change the “Focus tracking with lock-on” from Normal to 4. What happens when I do this is the delay for the lens to refocus if something comes in between the camera and subject (like a referee). While I am following someone the camera will not refocus right away. This is something you need to try and pick what you like. You may want the lens to be more responsive and therefore go to setting 1 which will let the lens refocus instantly.
Focus Settings
Note the lenses you choose affect the availability of focus points.
You want to pick Autofocus Continuous mode for sports.
In the menu Pencil selections pick AF Activation under the Autofocus settings.
Then choose the AF-ON only. This will mean when you push the shutter release it will not focus, but just fire the shutter to take a photo.
By changing these settings you will notice the camera will stay in focus and shoot faster frame rate. Great for following a baseball player sliding into a plate and another player trying to tag them or maybe a football player running towards you to score. You will find more photos tack sharp in a series.
I generally put my focus point dead center and lock it so I don’t bump it. I am trying to get photos of moving subjects and off center is too difficult for me. I may crop later for a better composition, but I want the subject in focus first.
Now this gets a little complicated so pay attention to the highlighted text above.
  • Moving Predictable – 25-point dynamic-area AF
  • Moving Unpredictable – 72-point dynamic-area AF
  • Moving Erratically side to side – 3D-tracking in AF-C
Here are the selections again with more explanation
The only other setting is on the lens that I turn on VR.

Ever wonder what happened to your camera???

Just the other day I was trying to take photos with my Nikon D4 and it would just not focus. There was a delay when I pushed the shutter until the camera fired.

I looked to see if the timer was set. It wasn’t set. Now I am saying to myself, what the &#%!@?!?

I had put the Pocketwizard TT1 on the camera and was attempting to fire off camera flash. 

Well I can report this took a couple days for me to figure out. Not proud of how long this took.

The problem was the flash control on the Nikon D4 was set to Red-eye reduction. To change those settings you push the flash button on the top of the camera and turn the main command dial. See illustration here.

Here are the choices on the camera for you.

I do not remember ever changing this so, this is why I had a really hard time isolating this problem.

Quick solution 

Most all cameras have a way to reset the camera to factory settings. The time it takes to figure out what setting on the camera got changed may take longer than just doing a very quick reset.

On the Nikon D4 you find the two buttons with the green . You can find them by the ISO and WB buttons on the back of the camera.

Just push these two buttons and most likely this will solve most of your problems.

One more way on the Nikon D4 camera [most cameras have this function] is to find all your recent settings and just change that one item.

I am writing this blog as much for myself as anyone else.  

Here is an interesting factoid: When you take good notes you will remember things well enough that you rarely end up having to look at their notes again.

In fact, it seems that writing anything down makes us remember it better. On the other hand, not writing things down is just asking to forget. It’s a kind of mental Catch-22: the only way not to have to write things down is to write them down so you remember them well enough not to have written them down.

Now you may know another reason I do a blog. It helps me to go through the process of writing something down and in the process I have discovered I remember more things. Another thing is I now have an online database of topics that I can find later when I am having trouble remembering or I want to share with someone who asks me a question.

Shooting Workflow for the Novice Photographer

These are the steps I went through yesterday teaching the camp photographers for WinShape Camps. These were photographers with all levels of skill. We wanted all of them to have a good starting point.

Step One: Quality set to highest

Set your camera to the biggest and best quality. For most of the people and the cameras they had setting the camera to JPEG Fine on the Nikon cameras and JPEG “L” on the Canon cameras. The reason for this choice is if there is a great shot they want to use later for poster, then it needs to be the best quality.  If you can edit RAW images I recommend this over the JPEG setting. You can go back and fix white balance if you screw that up when you shoot RAW.

You cannot up size a photo without the possibility of pixelation.

Step Two: Use Auto ISO


Since the quality of the ISO really has little impact on the quality of the image AS COMPARED to the major quality shift with film, I have my camera normally set to AUTO ISO most of the time.

I will go in to the menu and change this AUTO ISO settings.

Nikon D3S menu ISO settings
Nikon D3S ISO settings allow you not just to set the ISO you can choose AUTO ISO. I use this most of the time. You choose the range by choosing the low and maximum ISO. You also can choose the minimum ISO preference.

This AUTO ISO setting isn’t taking creativity away, but rather I have set the tolerances that I would have been having to stop and think about to do anyway. This lets me get the moment sharp and in focus, which is critical in sports.

What is the take away?

Before the digital camera, to use ISO in a creative way meant to change film stock. You also could not shoot AUTO ISO. Due to this no longer being a hindrance I now see the ISO setting the way I see aperture and shutter-speed.  It is another creative tool giving me more options to get photos that in the past were not possible.

Step Three: White Balance 

Before taking any photos of a new situation we make a custom white balance to get the best possible skin tones.

My favorite way for getting a custom white balance is using my ExpoDisc.

ExposDisc goes in front of the lens and then you use it to get an incident reading rather than a reflective reading of the light.

Notice the direction of the light hitting the subject.  You move to the same position to get the light reading below.

Point the camera toward the direction of the light that is falling on the subject. 

I have found if the subject is facing me and the light is from the side, I face the camera with the ExpoDisc on it so it is pointing towards the camera position.  The chart above is to help you understand the concept, but you can modify it.

One way you can modify it is as long as the light is the same where you are standing, then you could cheat and take a reading from where you are.  The problem that can arise is if they are lit by Window light and the camera position is in the shade then your color balance will be off if you do not take it from the subject’s perspective.

You can use a White Card and get the reading off of this to set your camera. Since every camera has a different process I recommend reading your camera manual for how to set the White Balance.

Better than the white card is a 18% Grey Card. Many of the camera stores sell this as a cloth to clean your lenses as well.

Nikon P7000 shot with -1 fill flash

Step Four: Use Flash

Many times outside you have people with poor light on their face. One of the best examples of this is baseball caps. The easiest way to fix this is to use fill flash.

Refer to your camera’s manual on how to adjust the power of your flash. I recommend starting about -1 stops under with the flash. You need to experiment with this to get the results you like. Remember for the most part most pop up flashes on cameras are only good up to about 10 feet outside.

If you use the flash where you have done a custom white balance you could do another one with the flash or just use the flash preset white balance which often is a lightning bolt icon.

Flash with high ISO

I have discovered a couple of things about using flash with a high ISO.

  1. With TTL flash and high ISO I can easily balance these so I can shoot with my 85mm f/1.4 for example.
  2. When you use flash and it is illuminating most of the scene the dynamic range of the photo is compressed. What this means is most of the time the f-stop range of exposure from the highlight to the shadow is more compressed and therefore the noise is the shadows is much less than when shot without the flash.
Nikon D3 – ISO 200 – f/1.4 – 1/160 and Nikkor 85mm f/1.4. Also off camera flash using the Nikon SU800 to trigger the Nikon SB900 flash in TTL mode. The flash is set for -1 stop compensation. In addition I also was using the Radio Popper system to be sure the signal was consistently getting from the SU800 to the SB900.

Once I discovered the affects flash has on shadow, I started to shoot with it in situations where noise was a real possibility and I wanted to diminish the affect of it. I will often shoot with the flash -1 to -3 stops under on the flash compensation setting.

Nikon D3S – ISO 6400 – f/4.8 – 1/100 and Nikon 28-300mm. Also off camera flash using the Nikon SU800 to trigger the Nikon SB900 flash in TTL mode. The flash is set for -1 stop compensation. In addition I also was using the Radio Popper system to be sure the signal was consistently getting from the SU800 to the SB900.
Nikon D3S – ISO 6400 – f/5.6 – 1/100 and Nikon 28-300mm. Also off camera flash using the Nikon SU800 to trigger the Nikon SB900 flash in TTL mode. The flash is set for -1 stop compensation. In addition I also was using the Radio Popper system to be sure the signal was consistently getting from the SU800 to the SB900.

Step Five: Starting Shutter Speeds


One of the settings I change in the AUTO ISO is the minimum shutter speed. When I am shooting sports I prefer shutter speeds of 1/2000. So I will set this and then shoot in Aperture mode.
The camera will override the shutter speed of 1/2000 and go lower if the ISO gets maxed out at ISO 12,800. If you prefer not to shoot at such a high ISO then you can choose something lower like ISO 5,000 and then shutter speed would drop from 1/2000 much sooner than it would for me.

Flourescent and Sodium Vapor

When shooting under Florescent and Sodium Vapor I normally set the minimum shutter speed to 1/100. You see both of these type of lights are really like flashes.  They are flashing about 60 times a second and if you shoot faster than 1/100 you will get color shifts due to catching the light in between cycles.

Nikon D3 – ISO 6400 – f/2.8 – 1/100 and Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8

Tips for the official photographer of an event

We went out to roam the campus shooting different situations and even did one where 500 people were in a gym listening to the speaker.

Most everyone of the photographers I had to go and talk to them about going up front and taking pictures not just of the speaker, but the audience listening.

If you stay in the back you end of with the back of the heads of the audience and the speaker is all you can see of their face.

If you are the “official photographer” then people expect you to be moving around. If you are there as a participant this can be distracting and make people wonder what you are doing.

I shot photos as well to show the camp photographers how to go to the front of the room and what to photograph.

We also talked about once the meeting is over or not yet started are the best photos. People hanging out and just enjoying each other.

More tips on photos to take to tell the story are here on my earlier blog Variety is the spice of life.

Camera Modes Explained

Cameras are not created equal. When you pick up your basic Kodak Brownie Box Camera there was nothing to adjust. You had no controls. Kodak made the ultimate simple camera and used the slogan “You push the button, we do the rest.”

There were several versions of the Brownie made by Kodak through the years. The first one had no flash and later they would incorporate the flash bulb to help you take photos indoors.

Photo by Capt Kodak

Over time people learned how to get good photos, because they often had photos that didn’t come out at all or were very poor. They learned to keep the sun in the subjects face verses having them back lighted by the sun.

To overcome those limitations camera manufacturers started to give control to the photographer.

There are three controls that they put on the cameras: 1) Focus, 2) Aperture and 3) Shutter Speed.

The film manufacturers then created a variety of film that we could put into the camera. The sensitivity of the film allowed you to take photos from outside in bright sunlight to inside without a flash. You would buy Black and White film with ASA ratings of 12 to 3,200.

When color film came out you then could buy daylight and tungsten film in a variety of ASAs.  Later the ASA which stood for American Standards Association to now ISO which stands for International Standards Organization.

Before explaining how we got more camera modes we need to first understand in the Manual Mode.  Manual mode controls Aperture and Shutter Speed.


The Aperture is identical to the function of the iris of our eyes.  It controls how much light comes through the lens to the sensor.

If you have ever taken a magnifying glass and tried to burn a leaf you knew how to get a really bright point by putting the glass between the sun and the leaf and moving it back and forth. Moving it back and forth is exactly how the focus works on the camera.

When you get that fine point you will notice this larger circle of light. If you cut a small whole in a piece of cardboard you can hold it in between the magnifying glass and the leaf and eliminate that out circle.

If instead of burning a leaf you were doing this with a camera and taking a photo the more you eliminate that outer circle things in front of the subject and behind it that you focused on will become more in focus. This is what we call depth-of-field (DOF).  The bigger the opening the less DOF you have and the background and foreground become fuzzy.

Shutter Speed

While aperture controls how much light comes through the lens the Shutter Speed controls how long the light is on the sensor.

If we shorten the time to 1/280,000 of a second we can stop a bullet. To do this Edgerton did this with flash to freeze the bullet after going through an apple.  Here is a link to that photo.

The longer you keep the shutter open long enough you can blur things.  In this photo from the Civil War times of a street if you look closely you will see the blur of people walking and moving. This is how many of those empty streets were photographed back then. The people were there, but just not still long enough to be recorded.

During the Civil War Times

Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO Combined

When you mix the controls together you have to find the right amount of light coming through the lens and staying on the sensor, which has been set to a certain sensitivity (ISO) to get a good exposure.

Camera Modes

There are basically four main camera modes on many of today’s DSLR cameras.

  • Aperture Priority – In this mode the photographer picks the aperture they want to work with when photographing a subject. They may want a shallow DOF or everything in focus. Sometimes the photographer wants something else in between.  They use the DOF preview button to see what they will get.  I wrote an earlier blog on using that here. While the photographer is in control of the aperture the camera then picks the shutter speed that will properly expose the photo for the ISO picked.
  • Shutter Priority (Tv Mode on Canon) – This is where the photographer is picking the shutter speed to either freeze a subject or blur some of the photograph.  
  • Manual Mode – This is where the photographer is in total control and picks the shutter speed and the aperture. To be sure the photo is exposed correctly they will use the camera meter to get the best exposure for the ISO they also picked.\
  • Program Mode – With today’s most modern cameras the camera has sensors built into the lenses to talk to the camera. This lets the camera know which lens is on the camera and pick the best average setting for aperture and shutter speed to expose the scene correctly.

Scene Modes

Some of the many scene modes are: scene auto selector, portrait, landscape, sports, night portrait, party/indoor, beach, snow, sunset, dusk/dawn, night landscape, close-up, food, museum, fireworks show, copy, backlighting, panorama assist, candlelight, pet portrait, blossom, autumn colors, silhouette, high key, and low key.

These scene modes are like cheat sheets. The photographer does not need to know how to set the camera, but just pick the scene that best matches what they are photographing.

Snow example

If you have ever photographed in snow no matter which of the four modes you choose A, S, M or P they will all be too dark.  The camera sees all that snow as it being too bright.  It doesn’t know that it is snow.

Experience photographers will open up the exposure by 1.3 or 1.5 stops. For the person not knowing what to do, they just pick the snow setting and the camera will now open up the basic exposure by 1.3 to 1.5 stops to get a good exposure.

Portrait Example

For portraits you want a shallow Depth-of-Field. You want the background out of focus and the foreground as I have done in this photo.  Not sure how to do that, just set your camera to portrait scene mode.

Sports Example

When shooting sports the photographer generally is using a very high speed to freeze the action and a fairly shallow depth-of-field to make the subject pop out from the background.  Figuring this out as the player runs in and out of the sunlight takes some skill, or you can select the sports scene mode on your camera.

Silhouette Example

Maybe you like sunsets and sunrises to photograph but want the foreground to be silhouetted.  In general you are going to need to underexpose the photo about 2 stops. Again, not sure what to do to get that silhouette, then put your camera on the silhouette scene mode.

You make the choice

Now to get all these different type of looks you are still having to think before you push the shutter button. What type of a photo am I making. If you do not know and just like pointing the camera and pushing the button then you need to put the camera in “Program Mode.” This will get you closest to a usable photograph.

If you have been shooting in “Program Mode” for a while and are not satisfied with your results, then you need to be able to at least categorize your photo that you are trying to make by using the scene mode categories.

After shooting with these scene modes for a while you may discover you still want even more control. Maybe you want to control the DOF more and therefore you now can choose the “Aperture Mode.”

Maybe you discovered you need to pick the shutter speed and you can use the “Shutter Mode” to have more control.

You may have situations you need complete control and you now can choose “Manual Mode.”

Having a camera with all these modes can be overwhelming or it can help you get what you want.

Once you decide you want to have more control and understand how to use all the functionality of your camera you will finally pick up the camera manual that you never opened when you bought the camera.

The camera manual explains all the modes and even has examples.  Now take that lens cap off and go and shoot some photos.

Photo Tips For Camp Photographers

When you drive into the WinShape Camp at Berry College in Rome, GA you will be greeted by lots of deer. I understand the ratio of deers to students is 8:1.

Friday I spent the day with WinShape summer camp photographers training them to get better photographs.

Here are some camera settings that we all made on the cameras.

Auto ISO on a Nikon
  • Quality of Image. We chose to set the camera to the largest JPEG file at the highest quality setting. (The camp did not provide the software for all the computers to use RAW)
  • Auto ISO. We all then set out cameras to Auto ISO and set our lowest ISO on the camera default preferences of either 50 to 200 ISO. We then set the highest ISO on what the camera is realistically capable of shooting. For most of the cameras this was between ISO 1600 and 6400. Both Canon and Nikon allow you to also set your highest shutter speed.  We set this according to the situation.
  • Shutter speeds (Using auto ISO) The camera will raise the ISO to get the optimum shutter speed and will drop the shutter speed once it hits the maximum ISO.
    • If shooting under fluorescent or sodium vapor lights we recommended that shoot at 1/100 shutter speed, unless they had to shoot sports.
    • For shooting sports we recommended setting 1/2000 shutter speed
    • For general shooting we recommended 1/250 shutter speed
  • White Balance
    • We recommended getting a custom White Balance as the primary choice
    • Our second choice was to use a preset like Fluorescent, Daylight or tungsten for example
    • When we were changing lighting that affects white balance often we recommended using Auto White Balance
  • Aperture
    • For general shooting we recommended to not shoot wide open but use f/4 or f/5.6 so that you subject is in focus
    • When your subject can cooperate a little more with you then we recommended shooting wide apertures if you choose for artistic reasons. This is when f/1.4 is more appropriate. We have found the trend of too many shooters buying 50mm f/1.4 lenses and shooting all the time wide open and having very few in focus photos due to the shallow depth-of-field.
  • Inside Flash or when dark. Use a higher ISO to help open up the background. Here is an earlier blog post on how using the higher ISO helps open the background up.
  • Flash outside in daylight. When it is the middle of the day and the sun is straight up you are most likely to get dark circles around the eyes. I call this the raccoon eye look. If you are less than 10 feet away from the subject you can use either your built in flash or hot shoe flash to fill in those shadows. In addition to filling in the shadows you will get a nice catch light in the eyes. You can also use the flash when you back light a subject. (I wrote about this in earlier blog post here)  This helps them from looking directly into the sun and squinting. Since the shadow side of the face is now towards the camera a flash can help balance the light.
Camp staff photographers are discussing ideas that they will be doing with the campers in a couple weeks.

Some of the camp photographers are photography students or recent graduates of photography programs, but not all the photographers were photography majors. Due to the range of talent we showed them settings that would help them get more photos in focus that are properly exposed and with good skin tones.

The staff of one of the boys camps shows their camp cheer that they will be teaching the campers.

After practicing with these settings we then covered the three stages of composition. I will refer you to my earlier blog on this topic about what we covered.  

The last thing we did during our time was go out and practice shooting looking for photos that tell a story. Then we reviewed everyone’s best 5 photos for our last hour together.

Staff plays some games with each other after dinner.

If you would like me to come to your organization and do this workshop for you just give me a call. I am doing the workshop in a few weeks for the Boy Scout troop that meets at my church. We meet for class time and then meet four weeks later after they shoot a photo story.

The really cool thing about WinShape camps is the emphasis on relationships. As you can see the staff really enjoy each other and this spills over to the campers.