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Starting sports photography with your Nikon

Steve Johnson (reuben)

Keywords: sports, photography, photographic, disciplines, guides, tips

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First Tips

Successful sports photography can be achieved with basic point and shoot cameras, but the most reliable results will consistently come from single lens reflex (SLR) cameras.

Single lens reflex cameras generally cost more, but provide you with more control over the settings, allowing you to be more effective in shooting sports. That flexibility is crucial in helping you cope with the challenges of sports and action photography. You will see that as we progress in this tutorial. Many of the desired options discussed will be found predominantly in single lens reflex cameras. However, if you are going to "tackle" the subject with a point and shoot, you will also find a few handy pointers here.


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Know your subject

So – you want to take pictures of your kids playing sports. How old are they? How big are they? How fast are they? Is it a fast sport, or something slower like baseball? Are they on the field with a bunch of other kids in a relatively small area (American football), or more spread out and isolated (baseball)?

If your players are small, you may have to kneel to get down to their eye level. If you don't you may find that you've taken rather silly shots of the tops of their heads, especially when they're close. Wildlife photographers generally use the same mantra – get up or down to their eye level.


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There is a built in bonus in shooting the smaller players. To get to their eye level you can assume a seated position, which provides added steadiness to your grip on the camera and lens.


Taking good pictures

Advanced amateurs with SLR's will have plenty of features available, both in their cameras and their lenses. At the end of this article I will go into detail on some of those features, and I strongly suggest you dig up your manuals to follow along.




It may be painful at first, but I would suggest not using the program (also known as fully automatic) modes. If you have shutter or aperture priority modes, I would suggest learning how they work in general, and how to use them when shooting various types of subjects. Consider this to be much like learning to drive a standard shift car before taking advantage of an automatic transmission.

Shutter priority means that you pick the shutter speed and let the camera figure out what aperture it should use. Aperture priority is the converse – you pick the aperture and let the camera pick the shutter speed.

I tend to use Aperture priority, but lots of folks use shutter priority. Whatever works for you is OK.


Apertures like f/2.8 and f/4 will not only result in faster shutter speeds, but will isolate your subject from the rest of the objects in the picture due to their shallower depth of field. But you'll have to keep an eye on the shutter speed.

For small kids 1/125s or 1/250s may be fine. For larger, faster kids, and faster athletes in general, 1/250 is often the absolute minimum, and 1/500 is great if you can get it. If you can get 1/1000 you'll freeze them like stone.

Freezing them like a stone will only be achieved if you're smoothly panning (following their side to side movement) as you track them across the field, court, pool, etc.

Avoid sudden movements. Our article on handholding technique may be helpful.


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If your camera is capable, I'd suggest these settings:

• Continuous servo autofocus
• Lock the center focus sensor
• Center-weighted metering
• Aperture priority (usually wide open)
• Possibly some negative exposure value (EV) to avoid blowing out white jerseys. Hopefully not more than -1.0.

(4 Votes )
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Originally written on July 6, 2006

Last updated on December 19, 2017

Steve Johnson Steve Johnson (reuben)

Landscape and Sports in depth expertise Awarded for his article contributions to the Resources Donor Ribbon awarded for his extraordinary generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015

Mayo, USA
Basic, 10649 posts


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