Camera settings for sports photography

Soccer playerWhen taking photos of fast moving subjects, it’s important to use the correct camera settings in order to obtain fast shutter speeds.

Many photographers use Shutter Priority mode when photographing sports. However, some compact digital cameras don’t have semi-automatic or manual modes. If yours doesn’t, use Sports, Kids and Pets, or Fast Shutter Speed mode.

Obtaining a fast shutter speed with a compact digital camera can be especially difficult when light is low. Switch to high speed focus mode and/or high speed consecutive shooting if your camera has these options.

If your camera experiences shutter lag, try to prefocus before fully pressing the shutter release button.

Consider getting a digital single lens reflex camera and the fastest lens you can afford if you take a lot of inside sports photography shots. The faster the lens (eg. F2.8), the faster the shutter speeds. In addition, DSLRs are more responsive than compact digital cameras AND have much better low light performance.

Whatever camera you use, many variables effect shutter speed as outlined below.

Digital camera settings for action shots

Shutter speeds

Fast shutter speeds –  around 1/1000th a second to stop action.

1/1000s f/5.6 ISO 200

Slower shutter speeds – around 1/250th second to capture motion.

1/320s f/5.6 ISO 400


Set your cameras sensitivity to the lowest usable ISO setting to obtain a fast enough shutter speed to help freeze the action. In good light, using ISO 100 or 200 should be suitable. In low light, use higher ISO numbers.  Unfortunately, most compact digital cameras will produce visible noise in high ISO shots, however a photo with noise is preferable to one that is hopelessly blurred.


Using a large aperture will increase the shutter speed. Just remember that it can also decrease depth-of-field. Using an aperture in the middle range of a zoom lens should give a good balance between letting in sufficient light and a sharp depth-of-field.

White balance

In decent outside lighting, Auto White Balance should do fine. For inside shots, switch to a white balance setting that matches the lighting in the area, or do a custom white balance. If you shoot RAW, you can adjust the white balance when processing the image.

Using your zoom lens

If you don’t have a fast lens, shoot at a wide angle. It’s tempting to zoom in but the aperture is widest at the short end of the zoom and let’s more light into the camera, which increases shutter speed. You can also zoom by walking as close to the subjects as possible and “zoom” by cropping when you edit.

Use continuous (burst) mode

Continuous modes let you take photos in rapid sequence. Continuous mode is useful to photograph an unpredictably moving subject, or to capture movement in a series of images.

Practice, practice, practice

In addition to tweaking camera settings, techniques such as panning can create dynamic-looking effects. Getting good photos of sporting events requires skill, so practice before photographing an actual event to better understand the capabilities and limitations of your digital camera.

For an comprehensive understanding of how to photograph a variety of sporting events, including information on lenses and using a flash, read Sports Photography by Rob Miracle.

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