Sports / Action

Sports and Action Photography Tips






What’s different about sports shots, well they happen fast and most of the time there isn’t a do over. So careful planning, anticipation and the right gear help a lot. What can you do with the equipment that you have, well here are a few tips and settings that may guide you in the right direction:

Let’s start with what we can control – camera settings, position relative to the action, lenses. When possible, its a good idea to have two bodies, each with different lenses attached. Mono pods are pretty useful if you shooting with larger telephotos. Fast apertures lenses let you shoot in dimmer ambient light conditions, they also allows you to control depth of field and isolate the subject a little better.

The shot above was at f4, and I was fairly close to the runner, so the background is still busy, and the subject isn’t as isolated as I would of liked, but that can be corrected a bit in post processing. In this edited version, I have used Photoshop to blur the background some more. The degree of blur can easily be adjusted.


Some bodies are more oriented to large burst rates like a D500, and some are not. If yours isn’t one them, then you have to be more selective on how long you hold that shutter down. Possibly shoot more jpegs if the lighting allows, and you don’t need max dynamic range that shooting RAW provides.

Below are some sports specific settings that I took from one of my older bodies:

AF Sport Settings:

  • A1 AF-C Release + Focus
  • A3 Dynamic Area – 9 or 21 points
  • A4 Focus tracking short -1 or 2
  • A8 Number of focus points – Normally set to max
  • Active D-Lighting – Off (when lighting allows)
  • NEF (RAW) bit depth 12-bit compressed

Other Tips:

  • Back button focus can come in handy if you find yourself switching back and forth between AFC and AFC on Nikon bodies.
  • Use AF fine tune for telephoto lenses, to make sure your images are as sharp.
  • Don’t be afraid to use higher ISO’s to help maintain reasonable shutter speeds, typically that is at least 1/500 of second, but may need to be higher if the subject is very fast and you want to stop the action.
  • Panning can help portray a sense of speed and naturally blur the background.