What Are The Best Camera Settings for Sports Photography?

The ideal settings for sports photography are easy to learn, but it takes time to master tweaking them to your needs. Generally, you should use the lowest ISO, the widest aperture, and the fastest shutter speed that you can manage.

My name is Caleb, and I’ve been a sports photographer for more than four years. I taught myself sports photography, which means I had to learn the ideal combination of settings the hard way. 

In this article, I’ll explain what I’ve learned, so you don’t have to go through the same struggle. If you’re wondering what the best settings are to capture sharp and stunning sports pictures, keep reading for the full breakdown.

The Best Camera Settings for Sports Photography

It’s hard to sum up all the ideal sports camera settings at one time because they cover several different areas. Instead, we’ll go through it point by point, and I’ll explain the ideal settings in each major area.

Autofocus

It should go without saying that autofocus is a requirement for photographing most sports. The subjects are often fast-moving, and spending time manually adjusting your focal length is a good way to miss an important shot.

If you have a camera with continuous autofocus, you should use that setting. The camera will automatically track your subject and predict where they’ll end up next, saving you the trouble of trying to keep them in focus.

Image Stabilization

When it comes to image stabilization, the ideal settings are less clear. On one hand, image stabilization can help take clearer, less blurry shots. On the other hand, shooting with image stabilization is generally slower than shooting without it.

My recommendation is to go without image stabilization during sports photography. At the higher shutter speeds that are used for sports photos, you won’t really notice the lack of stabilization. 

When capturing fast-paced action, it’s much better to have the extra bit of speed. 

In fact, sometimes, it’s recommended that newer sports photographers who are on a budget save money by buying an older lens that doesn’t have stabilization at all.

Stabilization is usually set to on or off by flipping a switch on the lens. But it’s worth pointing out that some cameras have their own stabilization settings. If you have one of these cameras, you should make sure that stabilization is also turned off camera side.

Camera Mode

Multiple camera modes work well for sports photography. Manual, aperture priority, and shutter speed priority are all usable. 

You should stay away from fully automatic modes. While many cameras come with modes for action or sports photography, these are usually only suitable for casual users and will lower the quality ceiling for more serious ones.

When you use fully automatic modes, you’re handing the most important settings over to the camera. We aren’t at the point yet where your camera is smarter at picking these settings than you, the photographer.

Manual Mode

Manual mode gives you the most control. You pick the shutter speed, ISO, and aperture when in this mode. You can’t really go wrong with manual, and if you’re serious about sports photography, you should know how to use it.

There is one major con with manual mode, however. If the environment changes around you, you’ll have to adjust manually.

For example, clouds passing overhead can change the lighting conditions, forcing you to stop and change your settings in response.

Priority Modes

The priority modes are a middle ground between manual and automatic. 

Aperture priority lets you choose your aperture, and the camera decides the shutter speed and ISO. Shutter speed priority works similarly, but you choose the shutter speed instead of the aperture.

Both of these modes are usable for sports photography. If I had to pick one, I’d say aperture priority is the better of the two. That’s because keeping your aperture as wide as possible is usually important for avoiding underexposure in sports photography.

ISO

ISO measures your camera’s light sensitivity. The higher the ISO, the brighter the image. However, raising the ISO also increases the amount of grain in the picture. Because of that, you should keep your ISO as low as you can get away with.

Sometimes, auto ISO works well enough for sports photography. In this setting, your camera judges the amount of light in the area and tries to pick a suitable ISO.

Like other automatic settings, auto ISO can get things wrong and give subpar results. If you notice your pictures are coming out too bright or dark, you should manually set your ISO to the lowest number you can manage without underexposing your photos.

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed is insanely important in sports photography. Having a fast shutter speed is needed to freeze the action. If your shutter speed is too slow, you’ll get blurry photos that won’t look good, no matter how great your composition was.

For sports photography, I recommend staying at or above a shutter speed of 1/1000. You can go below this if your photos are coming out underexposed. But keep in mind that the lower you go in shutter speed, the blurrier your action shots will end up.

Ideally, your shutter speed should be as high as you can get it without suffering underexposure.

Aperture

Aperture is probably the second most important setting. If you use a wide aperture, your lens will allow more light inside. This, in turn, allows you to get well-lit photos even using a fast shutter speed like 1/1000.

This is the reason why most of the top sports photography lenses have notably wide maximum apertures, such as f/2.8.

Your aperture should usually be as wide as possible. In settings terms, the f-stop number should be as low as your camera allows.

This also has the effect of blurring the background more, which helps with framing the action and blocking out unnecessary clutter such as faces in the crowd and advertisements on the sideline.

Shooting Mode

Because of the fast pace of most sports, shooting in burst mode is practically a requirement for sports photographers. This will allow you to hold down the shutter button and take multiple photos with one button press.

When capturing a moment of action, you’ll want to hold down the shutter button and capture a continuous burst, rather than stopping to press the button again with each picture.

FAQs

Still wondering about something we didn’t cover? Here are some frequently asked questions.

What Are The Best Sports Photography Settings For Canon/Nikon/Sony?

The best sports photography settings don’t change based on the camera brand. You can apply the settings in this article whether your camera is made by Canon, Nikon, or any other manufacturer.

What Is The Best Camera For Sports Photography?

The best camera for sports photography primarily comes down to personal preference. But generally, very fast DSLRs like the Canon EOS-1DX Mark II are considered top options.

How Do I Get My Sports Pictures Sharp?

Image sharpness mainly comes from shutter speed. Try using a faster shutter speed if you aren’t getting sharp images.

Conclusion

Sports photography can seem intimidating to learn, but if you stick to the basic principles like keeping your aperture wide and your shutter speed high, you’ll get good results in no time.

Are you a sports photographer? Do you know any settings we missed here? Let us know in the comments.

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