Photo Tips

What Sports Photography Camera Settings Should You Use? by Beth Wendland

Elizabeth Wendland

We’ve talked about set-up and gear, now let’s talk about sports photography camera settings. Sports photography is a special skill all it’s own.  You use different camera settings, different gear, and you set up differently.

Several of you have asked this question, so this seems like the perfect topic to end our series on learning how to shoot kids sports.  I’ll also answer any other questions that have come in as well.

The main reason it is so hard to shoot sports, is that it so frequently happens in low light.  The camera needs a fast shutter speed to stop motion.  The camera needs a slow shutter speed or wide aperture to let light in.  What’s a photographer to do…?  Learn to shoot in manual.  I know, I already gave you a little tough love about this subject 😉

When people ask me what setting I use, it’s never a simple answer, and I always have to say “For this picture I…”.  Sometimes I think people believe I don’t want to tell them, but that’s not the case!, it’s just so much more involved than that.  To help me explain, I took a few pictures.  I borrowed some lacrosse balls and took the same picture (I tried really hard no to move!) four different times, with four different settings.

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Do those pictures look any different to you?  I could have changed the aperture values as well to create even more setting options, and still get that exact. same. picture.

Choosing what camera settings to use (when shooting any subject) is the personal preference of that photographer.  It’s just one of the things that goes into making each photographer’s work unique.  Most people who have seen my work can identify it from other photographers.  I have opened every single menu and sub-menu in my camera.  There isn’t a single default setting that haven’t looked at or changed.  If you bought the exact same camera I use and we both set the same ISO, aperture and shutter speed, my pictures would still look substantially different.  I don’t tell you this to discourage you, but rather to empower you!  If you didn’t know how extensively I had tweaked my camera’s settings, you would think it was your fault your pictures didn’t look the same!

So until you start to find “your style”, here is a basic rundown of where I start with my camera settings:

  • mode – manual
  • ISO – 400
  • Shutter speed – 320
  • Aperture  – 2.8
  • WB – preset
  • focus – continuous
  • metering – center-point, or spot

Now, let’s finish up our time together by answering some of the sports photography camera settings questions I’ve received!


Megan V. asked the same question many of you have, “What is the best setting to have in very low light for action shots?…?”.


When shooting sports in low light situations you need to open up your aperture (the smaller the number the better) and boost your ISO.  Depending on how low the light is, you may be pushing your camera’s limits.  Try starting around ISO 1000-1250 and go up from there.  Select the correct shutter speed you need for your sport using the cheat sheet I gave you a couple of weeks ago as a starting point.


Christina B. asked me, “What do you have your focus set on?”.


For sports my focus is nearly always set on continuous focus.  When you set your camera to continuous focus, you are essentially telling it that you want it to keep a moving subject in focus.


Rachael C. asked “Any tips on getting a horizontal horizon in fast pace sports? I’m having problems, mainly on turf where the field is not flat and actually curved.”


Great question!  If you head in to your camera’s menu, and look in the tool menu, many DSLR’s have this awesome thing called a “virtual horizon”. It acts kind of like a level in the viewfinder of your camera so that you can get a straight shot!

Thank you all for your fabulous questions about sports photography camera settings and amazing feedback!  It’s been wonderful getting to know you.  I hope you have been trying out all these tips, and having a great time shooting the sports your kids love.  If you have any more questions about sports photography camera settings, please stop by my FB page and ask!  Plus,head to my blog for more photography tips.

Hope to see you soon, until then…

Play hard, and have fun!


If you’ve missed any of this series on how to shoot kids sports, you can catch up here…

How to Photograph Kids Sports

Kids Sports Photography Lighting: 5 Types

How to Shoot Sports in a Gym or Stadium With Artificial Light

Shutter Speed for Sports in 5 Simple Steps

Shutter Speed for Sports, Part 2

Which Sports Photography Equipment Do You Use?



  1. […] BTW, if you’ve been following Beth Wethland’s series on how to photograph sports, you can find her latest installment here, which talks about which camera settings to use.: […]

  2. Rhea Jackson says:

    Sports photography really needs perfection and your blog would help to the beginners in this field. You skipped to mention the light effects in sports photography, anyways it was informative.