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What Camera Settings Should You Adjust When Taking Pictures of Sports?

written by: Larry M. Lynch•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 3/30/2010

If you're a sports buff or just love photographing the action they provide, you can enhance and improve your digital image quality using these simple techniques to extract the most from your camera settings when taking pictures of sports.

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    Taking Pictures of Sports

    Year round there are sports to suit every taste and skill level. No matter what the season, temperature or climatic conditions, there are sports which can take place. From the extreme harshness of a sub-zero degree blizzard in which the Iditarod Dog Sled Race is run across Alaska and Canada to the balmy delights of championship surfing on tropical isles like Hawaii, digital photographers can revel in the challenge of taking pictures of sports. As an aid in meeting the challenge, of taking pictures of sports under a broad range of conditions, both amateur and professional model cameras come equipped with a variety of settings. These settings can facilitate the process when taking pictures of sports and enable the photographer to come away with saleable images no matter what sport is being covered. Let’s look here at some camera settings for taking pictures of sports.

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    Camera Settings for Taking Pictures of Sports

    Whether a camera is operating in a manual or fully automatic picture taking mode, the following settings are often adjusted when taking pictures of sports. These include aperture or the diameter of the opening of the camera iris through which light can pass to reach the film plane, CCD or CMOS digital sensors. The shutter speed determines the length of time light is allowed to pass through the aperture to reach the digital sensor array or film plane. Unless the camera is a fixed-focus model in which the lens does not move, the lens focus is a key setting to consider when taking pictures of sports. There are other settings which also may be considered such as white balance or tone, and the ISO settings. Here we’ll continue with a more in-depth look at what camera settings should you adjust when taking pictures of sports and how they can be applied.

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    Lens Aperture Camera Settings

    Aperture settings can range from a pinhole-like f/64 to an eye-popping f/1.8, f/1.2 or (gasp!) even larger. As the light level grows dimmer, the need for ever wider lens apertures increases. Fast action sports like formula auto racing, horse racing, power boat competitions or team blitz action as experienced in ice hockey, basketball and other indoor court sports require careful consideration of lens apertures used for taking pictures of sports. Remember though, the wider or larger the lens aperture the narrower the depth-of-field range of the image.

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    Taking Pictures of Sports Using Adjustable Camera Settings Taking pictures of sports using adjustable camera setting allows you to optimize your digital images and get better overall results. Shutter speed, lens aperture, and zone focus can all contribute to better digital images of sports no matter what or where the sporting event. Here's how:
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    Shutter Speed Camera Settings

    The faster the action in a sport, the greater impact shutter speed can have when taking pictures of sports. The shutter speed setting can be used to either “freeze” action when shutter speeds of 1/500th or faster (up to 1/2000th second) are used, or to create a soft “blur” indicating that the subject is in motion when shutter speeds around 1/125th to 1/250th are used. You can also keep the subject in focus using a slower shutter speed (slower than 1/125th second) that allows for proper exposure of the subject by panning along with the action when shooting a fast-moving subject. Shooting position is also an important factor. When the action is coming towards or away from the photographer, its rate of size change appears to be “slower” and a slower shutter speed will often suffice to obtain good final action image results.

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    Focus Camera Settings

    Using a fast shutter speed will often be of great help when trying to get a good tight focus on a fast-moving subject. Focus can be directly on the subject or the focus can be to a “zone” the subject is in or must pass through during the course of the sports action. When taking pictures of sports, choose a “zone”, spot or location which the action frequently, regularly or must pass through. The curves of a track or race course, a goal zone, the bases and home plate in baseball or a finish line are all good spots or “zones” to focus in on when taking pictures of sports. Zone photography is helpful because you are almost always assured the subject(s) will be in good focus when the action enters the zone you’ve focused on. This is yet another “trick” many photography professionals use when covering a sporting event in which the action (and focus) continually and rapidly shift from one area of the playing field or sporting event concourse to another.

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    What Camera Settings You Should Adjust When Taking Pictures of Sports

    Using adjustments to these camera settings when taking pictures of sports should allow you to improve the quality and quantity of your digital images. You can get more salable digital images with higher impact, better focus and improved composition too by bearing these tips in mind during your next sports photo shooting session.

    For tips on how to photograph specific sports - such as hockey, football, or soccer - check out the article series called Sports Photography Tips & Techniques. In this sports photography series, you will also be provided with an equipment list for capturing the best sports photos possible.