In this page, we'll look at sports photography and different possibilities, trying to analyze the required settings for each. Students of our class will know to compute the best possible settings given the priorities at hand. As a reminder, we stick the the golden rule of 'lowest possible ISO that we are comfortable with'. 

Part 1: Studying the Settings

High Jump


The image above is a standard photograph expected from a sporting scene - the kind that we often see in newspapers and elsewhere. It's an excellent addition to text that describes what happened in the event. 

By looking at this image, we know for a fact that the photographer was quite far from the subject and was therefore using a telephoto lens. In terms of the needed settings however, we see that it is quite typically a fast shutter speed - anywhere between 1/500 to 1/2000. For this image, the most important thing for the photographer is to FREEZE MOTION so these fast shutter speeds are essential. We decided that the shutter speed will be 1/500s or 1/750s and adjust everything to ensure that we are taking the best quality and exposure photograph possible. You might need to take a few failed photos before you're happy. Maybe your first photo at 1/500s still shows some motion blur. Increase shutter speed. 

Thiery Henry


Alright, here's another photograph with the legendary Thiery Henry. This is quite similar to the photograph above in terms of settings. Again, we see the use of a telephoto zoom lens and a fast shutter speed. 

The photographer simply prioritized a shutter speed to freeze motion. So we're essentially talking about a shutter speed of 1/500 - 1/1000 again. Looking at the bokeh of the image, we can see that the telephoto settings 

Panning cyclist


This is an incredible photograph because it is still sports, but has the interesting zooming effect. In this photograph, our subject is very much in motion and the photographer had to pan him as he approached, but to add to the technicality of the image, he decided to zoom out while the shutter was open. A typical pan can be accomplished with a shutter speed of 1/30 on most standard zooms. With telephoto lenses, we have a little more leeway, but the lens had to zoom out to create the needed effect here, we're guessing his shutter speed was in the tune of anywhere between 1/4s - 1/15s

So to recap, his goal here was to get this zoom out motion implied image. In order to achieve this, he needed to have a shutter speed slow enough to allow his hands to rotate the zoom ring while also panning. It is safe to assume also that the photographer was well positioned on a monopod. 



Ok, again, we come to the panning option. Here, our photographer decided to chase our jockey with the camera and needed to have a shutter speed that allowed him to capture motion whilst also ensuring that the image was legible. Although we can't quite see our rider's face, perhaps that was the point to begin with. Again, he is using a zoom lens to get closer to the action and again, a shutter speed of 1/30 becomes paramount to achieve the desired effect. 

Traditional Cyclist Panning


Classical Cyclist Panning. Here again, our photographer happens not to be using a telephoto lens but something a little more standard. You can know this but studying the bokeh (the out of focus part of the image). Therefore, we can safely assume that his settings set priority to a shutter speed of about 1/30s or perhaps 1/40 (as the pan isn't as strong as is typically the case with a shutter speed of 1/30). 

So to recap, again, our photographer decided that 1/30 (or 1/40) was the shutter speed of choice. Anything different and he would not have gotten the panning effect. This is an important finding. 

Flying Rugby


You guessed right. Again, here, the photographer is looking to freeze motion. He has captured our players in the thick of the action and once again, we need to prioritize shutter speed and set it to anything 1/500s or faster in order to get this effect. Again, common sense would have it that the photographer was using an incredible telephoto zoom, possibly  a 300mm f/2.8 but we can also discern this from the bokeh of the image. 

Part 2: Get over settings and move to perspective

Often times it is the subtleties of the game that are left out. There is a lot to bring out of a game. Team spirit, high spirits, determination, aggression, fatigue and many other emotions. You want to try to capture the subtle details of the sport (or any event for that matter). There is so much more than the main action on the field or perhaps even many different ways to capture this. 

As far as I could remember, world cup winning photographers are never about the action but rather the emotion after. Whether it is players praying for their victory or huddling together with fans or celebrating on the field or elsewhere.

Here are a couple of things to take note of. 


In this photograph, our photographer takes the image through the legs of a player using a fairly wide angle lens. He seems rather fortunate with lighting however as dynamic range (despite the hard light) is within range. Had the photographer stayed at the stands, then this photograph was a definite no-no. Often times, its about getting out and trying to capture something that is not as straightforward to find (to my fellow students, think McCurry's fishing photographs). 

Ultimately, this is a photograph with a lot of light and plenty of exposure options as there is no movement to capture. We can simply set our ISO to 100 and shoot at the appropriate shutter speed. The exposure settings, based on the Sunny 16 rule (explained here) was probably ISO100, F/8 and 1/200s


Freezing motion (splashes) - So everytime there is water, consider that there might be something interesting to work with. Water always means textures or reflections. So whether it's a water logged astro turf (as with the field hockey game above) or perhaps and obviously, a water sport, consider the option to freeze motion. In both photographs, our photographer used a telephoto lens with a relatively fast shutter speed. The choice of zoom in the second one brings forth the action of course. There is a balance within the image with the eyes pushing to the left as it follows the ball, the line that points towards it and the intention of the defending player. 

Once again, we state that the shutter speed was at least 1/500s with this being the priority. 

Part 3: More On Perspectives


Alright. Lets take this a step further. Consider the two photographs above. Both of them quite original. The first photograph is a pan/perspective combo (much like our cyclist zoom-pan combo). They are ways to show competitiveness and togetherness at once and in order to do this, our photographer needed to find himself atop a building with a nice zoom lens, set his shutter speed to something in the panning zone and then pan these runners. Not bad. To recap, we're essentially talking about a shutter speed of anywhere between 1/4 - 1/15. This becomes our important determinant and what follows is the right settings for the other parameters.

The photograph that follows is exceptional in the perspective to captures. It really is a story telling photograph of the competitive moment, capturing patience, desperation, hope and competitiveness. While any appropriate shutter speed will do (since there isn't any motion captured, any shutter speed should get you the result above). Of course, it is right to wonder what the photographs after would have been like. As a photographer, you might want to think a few photographs in advance and make the decision of whether you want to pan the photographs or freeze motion (as well as whether or not its a good idea to get out of the way of these people as well as when that would be appropriate). If you aren't careful, you might find yourself in deep trouble. Assuming our photographer wanted to move out of the way of these people, lets say he decided on a relatively fast shutter speed - and anything higher than 1/250s will do the job. 


The swimmers are a good example here. Water, again, provides for incredible textures. None of the boring sort of stuff seen on plain concrete environments. Both these photographs pertain to freezing motion. This remains our most important factor here so the shutter speed needs to remain quite fast. Bear in mind that it is much faster in the latter case than the former. For the first case, I predict a shutter speed to be anything faster than 1/200s where as the second case may be 1/500s.


The reason I particularly like this photograph is because it looks beyond the the actual game and works with a simplicity of composition. Our player is completely out of it, position on the far left corner, but as stated, simplicity of composition would lead our eyes to him. The player is mid-air which shows a fast shutter speed - anything over 1/125s will probably do it, but given the amount of light and that this is a perfectly front lit sunset shot, it is quite possible that shooting at a normal aperture (f/2.8 - f/8) and the lowest ISO is sufficient to give us a shutter speed that is far beyond 1/125s. 

Part 4: The importance of experimenting

One of the best things you can do for yourself is to look at images and try to study them, as we have done above, but where things get really incredible is in the experimentation process. Once you happen upon an idea, put it to the test and don't be discouraged. The best way to improve is to really get curious. Set yourself upon an idea and go for it and be open to change where necessary but as you have seen above, understanding exposure and applying it to the field with different possible settings is the best way to develop your photography. 

Thanks for reading up and I hope you enjoyed this article.