Why Do You Need High ISO with Sports Photography?

In sports photography, having a wide ISO range and using a higher ISO setting is essential because you won’t always have access to good lighting. If you want to avoid dark photos, you’ll have to crank up the ISO during night games!

I’m Caleb, and I’ve been a photographer for more than four years. As I specialize in sports photography, figuring out the right settings for low-light shooting was one of the first things I had to learn.

In this article, I’ll talk about ISO settings and when you’ll need to raise your ISO. If you’re planning on ever shooting evening or night games, read ahead for an overview that might come in handy.

Why Need High ISO in Sports Photography?

Yes, you need a high ISO in sports photography. In sports photography, we talk more about shutter speed and aperture than ISO. While those settings are necessary as they’re directly tied to getting sharp action shots, you shouldn’t forget about ISO.

When buying a camera for sports photography, you shouldn’t just think of how many autofocus points it has or how fast it can shoot in burst mode. You should also consider the ISO range.

ISO can be just as important for sports photography as shutter speed or aperture because, chances are, you won’t always have ideal lighting conditions.

Many Venues Have Poor Lighting

While major sports venues such as professional stadiums are usually well-lit, many smaller venues are not. You might only have dim lighting at high school, smaller college fields, and many semi-pro venues.

If you’re shooting evening or night games at venues like these, you’ll have to turn up your ISO to avoid underexposed photos.

Depending on the time of year, which affects how fast the sun will set during a late starting game, the ideal settings may even change drastically within a few hours.

During one soccer game, I started shooting with an ISO of 100 or 200, only to finish the game a couple of hours later at ISO 32,000! 

The sun was out at the start of the game but had completely set by the time of the final whistle. The venue was a small college field, and the weak floodlights didn’t give off enough light to keep shooting with lower ISO settings.

Of course, it’s not just outdoor venues where this is a problem. The lighting can be just as bad at many smaller indoor venues, such as high school gyms, thanks to a lack of natural sunlight.

The Importance Of ISO Range

All of this is why you should consider ISO range, not just things like fast shooting when choosing a camera for sports photography. 

It generally costs more to get a camera with a wider ISO range, but you won’t regret paying more if you intend to shoot games at night or in small indoor venues.

In my experience, you should expect evening and night games at smaller venues to require an ISO between 1,600 and 6,400. This also applies to games that begin during the day but last until sunset.

Of course, you’ll have to deal with a lot more grain at these higher ISO settings. But that’s just one part of doing action photography at night, at venues where the lighting isn’t in your control.


Here are some other frequently asked questions about sports photography and ISO.

Does High ISO Make Pictures Grainy?

High ISO does make your pictures more grainy. This is the main tradeoff to raising your ISO setting.

What ISO Should I Use For Sports Photography?

The best ISO for sports photography is usually the lowest setting you can manage without underexposing your photos. This is due to higher ISO settings producing more unwanted grain.


When doing sports photography at night, you’ll often need a higher ISO setting to deal with the lack of natural light and the poor artificial lighting at many venues.

Suppose you’re just getting into sports photography and plan to shoot these games. In that case, you should consider the low-light capabilities of your chosen camera and how it performs at higher ISO counts.

Do you do action photography at night, and if you do, what settings do you use? Tell us in the comments.

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