I do not shoot action or sports photos. I was asked to shoot a friend's soccer game. I am not looking for perfect magazine quality images; however, I'd like to maximize the quality of my shots with the equipment I have (or a cheap purchase or addition to my gear).

I shoot with a T3i (600D), I have an 18-55 kit lens, 18-200, 75-300, 10-20 and 50mm lens. I realize that I will probably spend most of my time with the 18-200 and 75-300, opened wide to get the crisp shots. I also realize that my gear is not the best for this type of photography. All my lenses have CPL filters, and I have an abundance of ND filters as well (although I doubt they'll be necessary for this shoot).

My Question is: Using the gear that I have, what should I do to maximize the quality of the images?

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Really really consider renting a lens. It will make a world of difference. You can manage with the camera with lots of practice before hand. \$\endgroup\$
    – Itai
    Sep 7, 2012 at 14:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Itai there are no renting facilities close to where I live, and the event is next week. I appreciate the comment though. I already rent lenses when I go out and do landscape shots. \$\endgroup\$
    – dassouki
    Sep 7, 2012 at 15:09

3 Answers 3


When shooting any sort of fast action, shutter speed is paramount -- it's the reason you've got shutter-priority mode. In general, you're going to optimize for shutter speed when you're shooting anything in motion, giving up ISO first, and then aperture if needed in order to get the shutter speed you want. This is where your compromises start, because a high ISO will tend to show more noise in your photos, and you may find yourself setting your aperture to maximize sharpness or to boost shutter speed rather than just worrying about the DOF you want (more on that in a bit).

The more you know about your gear, the better-prepared you'll be to start making these compromises. Understand how your camera performs at various ISO setting (probably starting around 800 and going up from there). Be sure to play with whatever post-processing software you intend to use so you can see what sort of results you'll get after noise reduction. Do some work with the lenses you're going to use. I'd take your 75-300, for instance, and do some test shots at 300mm, starting at wide-open and stopping down to see if there's a "sweet spot" for sharpness somewhere near wide-open. You're not necessarily looking for the sharpest aperture of all -- you're looking for the first stop where it's not awful anymore (because it's probably going to be noticeably bad wide-open).

Do some experimenting with focus modes. On your Canon, AI-Servo is probably best for following action, but it's worth playing with AI-Focus, too -- it'll give up focus in order to release more quickly. There are probably limited instances where this is useful, but again, the more you know about your equipment, the better off you'll be.

Now that you know the limitations of your equipment, it's time to start prepping for the event. The more you know about the game, the better your shots will be. You'll know where to look to find the action, and you'll be able to set up so shots come to you. This can be pretty helpful, since a nicely-composed shot with a little noise in it is going to wind up being a whole lot better than a super-sharp image of the back of the net (or whatever). Think about the sorts of shots you'd like to get, and make a plan to get them. You could be waiting a while if you're hoping they'll just happen by accident.

Finally, don't forget about the slower-moving scenes that tell part of the story, too. This might be of special interest to you, since you're going to be at a pretty fair disadvantage to someone with a high-end kit. Find the emotion in the game and find a way to capture that -- maybe it's the faces on the sideline when a goal is scored, or something along those lines.

If you do all this stuff, you'll find that your preparation also pays off when you finally decide to rent a lens, too. ;-)

[one more thing] -- Don't forget that "slow" is a speed, too. Every once in a while, you may want to choose a shutter speed that shows a little blur somewhere in the frame in order to convey action. Luckily, if you're in tV mode, so you'll get exactly the speed you're looking for in these cases, too.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ All of that said, if it's a "day game" outdoors, you should be able to stay faster than 1/1000th at ISO 400-800 even with the restricted apertures of the lenses in question. Even imperfect panning should work out well enough. \$\endgroup\$
    – user2719
    Sep 7, 2012 at 15:28

Freezing action is going to be biggest issue obviously, so high ISO setting (up to 1600 perhaps), shortest focal length you can get away with (you can crop later), wide open, etc. A tripod or monopod.

The 50 mm wide open might be good for when action gets close, but to make the individual players pop out, you're going to want short depth of field, so you're right that the moderate zoom is probably going to be most useful.

Check the T3i settings for focus points, focus mode, metering mode.

Also, don't forget to get down low. You won't get the most interesting shots if you stand on the sidelines the whole time (or worse, in the stands).

  • \$\begingroup\$ Depending on the size of a field, a 300mm lens isn't sufficient to make players fill the frame enough if they are on the far of end of the field. I have a hard time imagining that a 50mm lens will be useful for most action that happens in a typical soccer game. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eric
    Sep 8, 2012 at 20:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ a 50mm may be fine if all the action is right in front of you. For years I shot sports when all I owed was a 50mm, but I had to get really close. Something 200 or 300 is more realistic if you want to catch action in the mid-field or if you want to stay out of the danger. Remember, image stabilization doesn't help when the subject is moving, such as a player flying across the field. Many sports photographers trade IS for more open aperture. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 8, 2012 at 21:36

I would use your 75-300, stopped down to f/8. Put the camera on aperture priority. Shoot at ISO 800. If it's a sunny day, this should give you shutter speeds around 1/1600. More than enough to stop action. If it's cloudy or you're getting slower shutter speeds, bump the ISO to 1600.

Watch the ball. Include the ball. While you can get some great expressions without the ball in the frame, I think the ball is important to the game.


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