ISO 51200 & 25600 with Sigma 120-300mm on Nikon D4

Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM w/ Sigma 2x, ISO 51200, ƒ/5.6, 1/2000

Chick-fil-A Kickoff

Last night I had the privilege to shoot the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game between Ole Miss and Boise State. Ole Miss pulled away in the second half from Boise State for a 35—13 victory.

I was enjoying shooting with my Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM. I added also to my gear a Sigma 2x converter, which I used giving me a 600mm ƒ/5.6 lens. The photo above was made with that combination.


Photography has as much to do with Yin-Yang than anything I have ever encountered.

Yin-Yang are concepts used to describe how apparently opposite or contrary forces are actually complementary, interconnected and interdependent in the natural world, and how they give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another.

When you change any one of these three you must adjust one of the other to keep a proper exposure. This is the trade-off made all the time in photography.

Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM, ISO 16000, ƒ/4, 1/2000

Sports Settings

Here are my default sports settings for a game with these three:

  • Aperture—While I love the bokeh at wide open, I tend to shoot around ƒ/4 or ƒ/5.6
  • Shutter Speed—1/2000 If the highest ISO is reached, then any need of more light the shutter speed will drop below 1/2000 when using the Auto ISO settings.
  • ISO—Auto ISO 100-12800, but for some of this game 100-51200
Warning about using Auto ISO—you cannot use manual and keep a constant setting. The meter will adjust the ISO up and down. If you want to truly shoot Manual Mode then you must turn off the Auto ISO.
Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM, ISO 7200, ƒ/2.8, 1/2000
I love the Bokeh on the Sigma 120-300mm and with the Ole Miss dancer opened up to ƒ/2.8. For action I find while I love the ƒ/2.8 I prefer a little more depth-of-field to keep them tact sharp.

Here are more examples with the settings showing in the lower left hand corner for you.

Click here to see the photos in slide show larger.

More High School Football ISO 51,200
These are just some photos [above] from the evening that I enjoyed making.

Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 with Sigma 1.4 converter, ISO 12,800, ƒ/4, 1/500, 630mm

Caption for the photo above: Woodward Academy War Eagles #13 Elijah Holyfield is the son of famed heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield, takes to the outside leaving Blessed Trinity Titans #73 Andrew Cornell on the ground and #87 Logan Craighead  going for tackle on Friday, September 27, 2013. Final Score Blessed Trinity defeats Woodward Academy 27-17.

I decided to try another high school football game tonight and try some even higher ISOs than last time.

Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 with Sigma 1.4 converter, ISO 51,200, ƒ/5.6, 1/1600, 480mm

Caption for the photo above: Blessed Trinity Titans #5 Milton Shelton scores the second touchdown with Woodward Academy War Eagles #4 Matthew Clopton and #1 Antone Williams chasing him on Friday, September 27, 2013.

Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 with Sigma 1.4 converter, ISO 51,200, ƒ/5.6, 1/2000, 630mm

Caption for photo above: Blessed Trinity Titans #5 Milton Shelton is tackled by Woodward Academy War Eagles #3 Arrington Farrar in the first quarter on Friday, September 27, 2013. Final Score Blessed Trinity defeats Woodward Academy 27-17.

Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 with Sigma 1.4 converter, ISO 36,204, ƒ/5.6, 1/2000, 262mm

Caption for photo above: Blessed Trinity Titans #6 Chris Keegan scores the first touchdown with Woodward Academy War Eagles #6 Marcus Hyatt and #1 Antone Williams in hot pursuit on Friday, September 27, 2013.

Just a few more photos for you.

Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 , ISO 51,200, ƒ/4, 1/1600, 175mm
Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8, ISO 28,735, ƒ/4, 1/2000, 190mm
Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8, ISO 40,637, ƒ/4, 1/2000, 170mm

Black & White bails me out

Nikon D4, 70-200, ISO 12800, 1/1600, ƒ/2.8 with Custom White balance using ExpoDisc

I walked into the gym and I knew right away I was going to have problems. In an earlier post you will see a basketball shot in color that looks really good. To the untrained eye the gyms may look alike in their lighting, but they are far from it.

I talked about shooting under fluorescent lights earlier in a blog posting. You need to set your custom white balance while the shutter speed is below 1/100 to be sure the cycling of the lights don’t affect the setting. Sodium Vapor lights, which these were are also cycling like the fluorescent lights.

The older the lights to more likely you will get color shifts and banding in the photos. One more factor that can affect the color shift is if the lights were not installed correctly. If some of the lights polarity is different from the others you will get banding.

While shooting this basketball game on this blog the minute I went above 1/100 I was getting color shift all through the image as you can see in the first photo. I was more interested in stopping the action than correct color.

By going to black and white I eliminate the color shifts in the photo. While I would prefer to have all the photos in color, unless you strobe the gym like I did here in this blog you really should just convert all the photos to black and white.

Nikon D4, 70-200, ISO 12800, 1/640, ƒ/2.8

Having the color off will make your work look amateurish. By eliminating the color you have now solved a problem with the color.

Nikon D4, 70-200, ISO 12800, 1/500, ƒ/2.8

Now please also note that while the ISO and the aperture never changed in all the photos, the shutter speed is different.

Here are my custom settings for this photo shoot from an earlier blog.  These are all for a Nikon D4

  • Auto ISO Low 100 – High 12,800
  • Minimum Shutter Speed set 1/2000
  • Shutter only when pushing release
  • Back button focusing
  • Auto Focus 21 pts centered and locked

Nikon D4: Sports Camera Setting

In an earlier blog post I gave you my normal settings for the Nikon D4 for how I shoot. Here is a link to that post.

These are the settings that I use on my Nikon D4 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 C, 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 1/2000. 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 12800.

While I am in Aperture Mode shooting the camera will always pick 1/2000 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 1/2000 @ ƒ/4 and then change also the ISO up until I can still shoot at 1/2000.

The only time the shutter speed will dip below the 1/2000 is if the ISO peaks out at 12800.  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.

Under the custom settings bank (Pencil Icon) I go into the auto focus setting.

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

I set the camera to AF mode. I also run this in continuous focus mode rather than single.

I go into the menu and select under custom settings the AF activation and choose “AF-ON only.” This means when I press the shutter it will not focus the lens.  It will only fire the camera. To focus I am using the AF-ON button on the back of the Nikon D4.

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 of the 51 different focus points you can choose groups of these to help with focusing. I went with Nikon’s suggested 21-point dynamic-area AF.

Here are suggestions by Nikon in the manual:


The only other setting is on the lens that I turn on VR.

Shooting sports using backlighting

Nikon D4, ISO 1000, ƒ/5.6, 1/2000, 28-300mm

This past Saturday I drove up to North Georgia College in Dahlonega to photograph The Citadel playing them in Rugby.  Honestly I just don’t shoot a lot of Rugby.  I can probably count the number of times on both my hands.

There are a few things I knew from shooting football that I would do to insure good photos.

Nikon D4 Camera Settings:

  • Auto ISO with lowest ISO set to 100 and highest to 12,800
  • In Auto ISO I also set the minimum shutter speed to 1/2000
  • Capturing the images as RAW
  • Dynamic-area AF 21-point
  • Continuous-servo autofocus (AF-C)
  • Focus Tracking with Lock-On 4
  • AF Activation Off (Focus is done with the back button and shutter is only fired with shutter button)
  • 10 FPS and not 11 FPS.  At 11 only the first photo is focused.
Nikon D4, ISO 900, ƒ/5.6, 1/2000, 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 with 1.4 extender.

Lens Choice

  • Camera #1: Nikon D4 with Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 and 1.4 extender.  This gives me a 168 – 420mm ƒ/4
  • Camera #2: Nikon D4 with Nikkor 23-300mm ƒ/3.5 – ƒ/5.6
Nikon D4, ISO 900, ƒ/5.6, 1/2000, 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 with 1.4 extender.

Where to stand?

There are basically four sides to pick from.  I picked the sideline where the players are backlighted.  It is extremely important to use a lens hood or you will be getting lens flare.

The advantage I see in shooting with backlight is the contrast is dropped in the middle of the day. The players are rim lit, but you are not having the really strong bright area of the face with a strong shadow.

I am also watching my backgrounds.  The first photo, while a good moment, the background is distracting. Sometimes you cannot get a clean background. There are two things you can do. Use a shallow depth-of-field and pick an angle so the background is darker and cleaner. Maybe you pick an angle where the grass is predominate, or where the background is so much in the shade it goes dark.

Nikon D4, ISO 900, ƒ/5.6, 1/2000, 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 with 1.4 extender.

What I am looking for?

In Rugby you can only pass off to your team without advancing the ball. So you must pass in general backwards.  You can only advance the ball by running (most of the time) or by kicking.  Very similar to American football in tackling and running with the ball.  I wanted to show the competition rather than a guy all by himself running.

The major difference in Rugby and American football is just about the time they are getting tackled the players are often handing off to their team mates.

If they do go down they can hand the ball back to their teammates. I wanted to show how this is done in the photo below.

Nikon D4, ISO 1100, ƒ/5.6, 1/2000, 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 with 1.4 extender.

Even in sports expression counts

I think the one key element that can really make a photo is the expression on the athletes faces. In the photo below you can feel the intensity of the players just in their facial expressions. 
Occasionally even the flexing of the muscles can help communicate the effort of the athlete. The key to this success is being ready, because it is up to the athlete to make the effort and you then can catch it.

Nikon D4, ISO 1000, ƒ/5.6, 1/2000, 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 with 1.4 extender.

My suggestion is to shoot some shots when the teams are warming up.  See which side of the field gives you better light on the athletes.  See what combination of lighting and background works the best and then choose this side of the field for most of the game.  You can mix it up if you like, but the point is to get the best light to capture the action and the expressions of the athletes.