Ryu: Modes de la sports

Disclaimer: It’s too hot and I’m writing this post just in my underwear.  Hope that’s okay with you.

I came across this on lifehacker recently.  Didn’t think much of it until I realised that there are fair number of shooting modes that pertains to sports photography.  Low and behold, that’s what I’m going to talk about here.

The modes are (Tv/S) Shutter priority, (Av/A) Aperture priority, (M) Full manual, (P) Program, (A)Automatic and Scene modes.  Just to prove that I don’t waste my brain cells in something as asinine as this, Tv stands for time value and Av aperture value.  One of those things I’ve never understood, but doesn’t make me feel that much smarter now that I know what it means.   By the way, there is no such thing as ISO priority mode, so please don’t ask me about it.  As for me, I change the ISO depending on the situation.  I can hear Syd disagreeing with me from 16,000 km away.

Tv/S = Shutter priority
If you’ve used a DSLR or even a modern SLR (you know, the one with that film thing), you know what it is.  You set the shutter speed, the camera does the rest.  This is the mode that I use the most.  Rain or shine, I’m in love with my shutter priority.  Since sports photography in a nutshell is all about freezing the action, you can control the level of frost in an image.  In any given sporting situation, I usually set it to 1/800.  There is no specific reason why I have settled for this number, but I guess if you’re Chinese, you might find some solace in my number picking ability. Would have been better if it was 1/888, but unfortunately we don’t have that much control… yet.

From my experiences with crappy floodlights in equally crappy stadiums, the lowest I go to get most things frozen is 1/500. I’ve shot slower, but then you start approaching into indecisive blur territory.  If you want to go the other way and start blurring, you have to start somewhere around 1/15.

If you want to stop the action in most sports, 1/1000 will do just fine, but I have no idea if it will be enough to freeze a shuttle cock in mid flight.

Av/A = Aperture priority
To be honest with you, I’ve probably shot sports in this mode about 4 times.  In this mode, you are allowed to change the aperture whilst the camera does all the dirty work.. For normal photographers out there, the reason you want to fiddle with your aperture is to control the depth of field.  If you don’t know what DoF is then, well, you should find out.  More DoF, things are more focused in the image, less DoF, you’re guess is probably as good as mine.  I’m racking my brain to find out if there are any instances you would want to use this mode in sports photography, but I can’t find any.  Somebody please prove me wrong.

M = Full manual
In this mode, you get to decide everything other than murder.  Shutter speed and aperture.  I apologise if you were expecting a lot more.  I probably use this about 20% of the time.  The only time I go this route is when I know that the lighting condition is and will be consistent throughout  and the playing surface is evenly lit.  Oh and I use it when there is the ever annoying LED billboards in my line of sight.   I will never shoot manual during the day as the sun moves here and there and as a consequence, casts shadows on the outdoor playing surface.  Unless you know the surface will be completely covered with sunlight or shadows, I will give half my control to the camera and go with shutter priority.

I will only consider going manual when there is something that throws off the light meter inside the camera, ie that godforsaken LED billboards.  Since these are hell of a lot brighter (and uglier) than their older paint based counterparts, your camera will suddenly go dumb.    There maybe other factors that might send your camera into a tizzy, such as something really bright or something even brighter.  Make sure you shoot couple of images and check on your LCD monitor to see if it’s correctly exposed.  What you need to really watch out for is the touch line / sides of the playing surface.  In most cases, they are poorly lit compared to the centre and therefore your shots will be underexposed.  I guess you just can’t have it all.

P = Program mode
I call it the “almost stupid mode” and I don’t use it for sports photography.  The only instances I’ve used it is when if I’m not shooting the action.  Even then, I’d rather go with shutter priority as the only thing that I’m interested is to blur or not blur the scene.  But I must admit that in non-sports photography, I’m a closet P lover.

A = Automatic
I’ve read that the difference between Automatic and Program is that one is slightly less cool than the other, which isn’t saying much.  With Automatic everything is… automatic including your ISO, flash, and all sorts of other things that I can’t talk about it here. Basically it’s the real stupid mode.  As with the Program mode, I don’t use it in sports and I don’t even have it on my camera.  But if I did, I’ll be a big fan of it outside sports photography.  Please don’t tell anyone.

Scene modes
One of the dumbest thing ever to be invented in photography.  Just because you move the dial to a fat stick figure running to the left doesn’t mean you can all of a sudden shoot sports.  I believe that in this mode, the camera selects a high shutter speed so that you can freeze the action.  I guess they never heard of shutter priority.  If you have any pride in your sports photography skills, don’t go there.

There you have it.  All modes fully explained to the best of my limited ability.  As you might have realised at this point, there is no one mode that will rule them all in the realm of sports photography.  You have to take into consideration your shooting style as well as the sports and maybe the weather.  If you shoot various sports, it might be a good idea to jot down what mode and settings you’ve used so that you can refer back to it later.  Don’t forget that there is no “correct” way of shooting sports and what works for you doesn’t guarantee that it will work for others.  The more you shoot in various sports and conditions, the more adept you will become at knowing which mode to use to get the shot you want.

By the way, if you ever master the P mode in sports photography, please tell me how it’s done.


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9 thoughts on “Ryu: Modes de la sports

  1. Oh ! boy, how you’re gonna hate me…! ;o)

    First of all, “Modes de la sport” means nothing in French, even though I sorta get the gist of what you’re trying to say. I suggest rewording to “Modes pour le sport”.

    And second… well, yes, I do use the P mode a lot for sports… Obviously, most times, I override the initial suggestion made by the camera to achieve the result I want, but at least I know the mode the camera is in, it doesn’t change and that’s one less thing to worry about.

    Only when I’m shooting superfast action (or, on the contrary, when I want to try some slow-speed pans) will I switch to S, and in sports I very rarely use mode A —simply because, being in P already, I just have to override until I am at the desired aperture value, and that’s much quicker than changing mode, setting the aperture… and not forgetting to change mode back again afterwards.

    It is also true that my sports are not among the fastest, hence maybe less need for the S mode.

    Am I the only one here overriding P when shooting sports?

  2. What an interesting and intriguing blog post Ryu, You’ll have to wait for my reply next week where I’ll explain what settings I use for shooting sports. Needless to say it’s completely different to yours!

  3. Dominique,

    As long as you picked up that it was sort of supposed to be French, then it’s mission accomplished on my part. :)

    P for sport… well… you really shouldn’t if you can help it. Overriding the P by adjusting the shutterspeed and the aperture does make sense, but there is a limit to it. It won’t let you go beyond what the camera think is the appropriate exposure. If you have just started shooting sports, I might suggest that you get comfortable with the S as well as the M. When you start using these modes, you will get familiar with how the camera will meter a particular scene and you will be able to adjust things on the fly.


    You’re here to disagree with me. Let it rip. But you know at the bottom of your hear that my way makes the most sense.

  4. Hi, for what it’s worth for amateurs and kids Aussie Rules, I like TA on my camera – 1/750th to 1/1000 but if I have to 1/500th but problematic and as wide as my humble lens will go – f4-5.6 70-300mm and set the ISO to ‘float’ from 100 to 1600 as the games are usually into late afternoon with no lights. Exposure is set for centre where I will pre-focus,single dot, and lock exposure on the player. If there is a strong back-light then I will try a half stop or so over exposure to get the face up a bit. Really bad light and I go to RAW. That generally gets things in the ball park with enough DoF. PS, great show. Martin

  5. BtG,

    What about it? I think it depends on the way you shoot. If you read what Martin wrote, his method works because that is the way his gear works and that gives him the best chance to get the best shot.

    For instance, I shot handball today and I had it in shutter priority for half of the match, but got a bit annoyed with the electric billboards screwing up my exposure and switched to all manual including the ISO.

    If I’m at a football stadium with non-digital ad boards, I always go shutter priority and manual ISO. But all this will depends on when the match starts and what month as well. Winters tend to give us light here in Europe until 4PM and after that we welcome the darkness. Which means I have to set my ISO accordingly as I’m not a fan of auto ISO.

    So many ways and there is no one “right” way of setting up your camera for an sporting event. Understand what the situation is and understand what your gear is capable of.


  6. I shoot football and I find that the Auto ISO is the best method in stadiums where the stands can cast huge shadows in daylight and where the floodlights don’t always cast an even light over the whole of the pitch. Often there are dark patches down the wings but the centre strip from goal mouth to goal mouth us brightly lit. Letting the camera work out out the ISO means that I can concentrate on getting shots rather than resetting the ISO. It’s not foolproof but then what is?

    On an open field in broad daylight I would set the ISO manually. Incidentally 95% of the time I shoot wide open at f/2.8 so I would use AV rather than TV but that’s my personal preference and what works best for me.

  7. BtG,

    For some reason, I have never been a fan of auto ISO. I think it harks back to the days of when high ISO produced crap images and we also weren’t allowed to set the upper limit of the ISO as well. But with the advent of “smarter” cameras, we can now set it so that we can forget about it. Saying all that, I still prefer to set the ISO manually and not fiddle with it. In most of my matches that I shoot, the terrible LED ad boards screw with my exposure so much so that I set everything in manual. If I can’t get the images on the sidelines, well, that’s life. I’d rather get most of my shots exposed correctly than having to risk them being ruined by the camera not being able to figure out that LEDs are bad. :)

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