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Digital SLR Settings for Photographing Sporting Events

Your digital SLR can make photographing sporting events — bike races, car races, horse races and more — almost as thrilling as the events themselves. You can use the same techniques the pros use to capture the action and tell the story of the event.

How you set your camera depends on your subject, but action shots tend to look best with settings similar to these:

  • Metering Mode: Evaluative

  • Drive Mode: Single Shot or Continuous

  • Shooting Mode: Shutter Priority

    Shutter Priority mode freezes motion. If you’re photographing people and things before the event, use Aperture Priority mode to control depth of field.

  • Shutter Speed: 1/125 of a second for a racing car to 1/1000 second for a racing horse

    The faster the subject is moving, the faster your shutter speed should be. With amateur bikers, use a fairly slow shutter speed to create a dreamy look that makes the rider look like he’s going much faster than he is. If you’re photographing fast bike riders, use a shutter speed of 1/30 of a second. You’ll still have a nice blurry background, but the bike rider will be in relatively sharp focus.

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    The trick to capturing the details and speed of a race car in a single shot is to use a relatively slow shutter speed and pan the camera. If you use a shutter speed fast enough to capture the fine details, you freeze all motion, and the car looks like it’s parked on the track.

  • ISO Setting: An ISO that gives you an f/stop setting of f/5.6 or smaller; or the lowest ISO setting for the available light conditions

    Don’t use an ISO setting that causes the f/stop number to be greater than f/8.0. Even though panning with a fast moving object causes the background to be a blur, a larger f/stop number (meaning a smaller aperture) gives you a greater depth of field, and objects in the background may be sharp enough to be recognizable.

  • Focus Mode: Continuous Auto-Focus

  • Auto-Focus Point: Single auto-focus point

  • Focal Length: 70mm to 150mm

    If you choose a focal length longer than 80mm, increase the shutter speed to 1/50 of a second.

  • Image Stabilization: On

To capture compelling photos of racers, keep the subject perpendicular to your position and pan the camera with the subject to capture the essence of motion.

When you do a lot of panning, which you need to do to take good action shots, the camera sometimes loses focus. To prevent this, make sure the auto-focus point is over your subject and that the point is illuminated, which indicates that the camera has focused on the right subject.

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