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I am shooting with a Nikon D5200 using a 55-200mm lens to take photos of a high school football game. I'm using the sports setting but unsure what my other settings should be. Can you please help? Thank you in advance!

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    Please add example photos to your question and also add the camera settings you were using (shutter speed, ISO, aperture) that you can find in the EXIF data of the image file. – null Oct 7 '16 at 20:52
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There are three basic issues that can make sports pictures blurry:

  • Subject motion too fast for the selected shutter speed.
  • Missed focus
  • Too much camera movement for the selected shutter speed.

The camera's "Sports" setting can only do so much to help you. The amount of light available and the lens you are using don't give it as much to work with as what it needs.

The basic problem is the "slow" maximum aperture of the lens you are using when it is zoomed all the way in to 200mm. At f/5.6 there is 1/2 as much light getting through your lens to the sensor as there would be at f/4, and 1/4 as much light as there would be at f/2.8. That means for the same ISO you need a shutter time twice as long as you would at f/4 and four times as long as you would at f/2.8. If your D5200 allows you to select ISO while in Sports mode then you need to increase it until you are getting shutter times of at least 1/250 second or shorter. 1/500 second is even better and 1/1000 second is minimum most pros try to use with football at night. But to get that you're going to need a much faster lens.

I shoot high school football regularly at night under reasonably good light for a high school stadium. I use Manual exposure mode, f/2.8, and 1/800 second at ISO 2500.

The camera I use also times the release of the shutter with the peak of the flicker caused by the lighting that fluctuates with the frequency of the alternating current that powers the lights. Without a camera with that feature I'd be forced to use about 1/500 second with ISO 2500 and f/2.8 and some of my shots would still be underexposed while others would be overexposed depending on whether the lights were peaking or in the trough of the alternating current. Worse, many frames would be exposed dimmer (and browner in color) on one side of the frame and brighter (and bluer/whiter) on the other.

Without a flicker reduction feature and when using a lens with a maximum aperture of f/5.6 the best you could do in the same light would be somewhere around ISO 6400, f/5.6, and 1/250 second. At ISO 6400 with a camera using an APS-C sized sensor the noise in the photos and/or the resulting loss of detail caused by application of noise reduction is going to rob your photos of a lot of detail and the ability to display them at relatively large sizes.

enter image description here
Canon 7D Mark II with EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II @ 185mm, ISO 2500, f/2.8, 1/640 second.

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Canon 7D Mark II with EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II @ 185mm, ISO 2500, f/2.8, 1/800 second.

Even at 1/800 you'll get some blurring of the fastest parts of the fastest players. Notice the foot of the ball carrier as he breaks free of the defenders with a burst of speed.
enter image description here
Canon 7D Mark II with EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II @ 185mm, ISO 2500, f/2.8, 1/800 second.

  • Question and comment. Noticed that all the images are at 185mm. Is that coincidence or do you deliberately hold back from the full 200mm length in the lens? Also, information on the frequency at which you capture action shots at this level of quality relative to the number of photos shot might add useful context regarding how hard night sports are. – user50888 Oct 8 '16 at 12:52
  • @benrudgers More or less just a coincidence that I didn't even notice. A lot of times I might start at 200mm and as the play develops (and gets less predictable) I'll pull out a bit, especially if the play is moving towards the shooting position. Since I don't need to push images for immediate publication I have the luxury of framing a little wider and then cropping any extraneous items around the edges of the frame. All three of these were probably cropped to one degree or another. – Michael C Oct 9 '16 at 17:34
  • @benrudgers Night sports are hard. They push both the equipment and the photographer to their absolute limits. But when it comes to getting shots like this to a customer they don't care if you had to take 10 frames or 10,000 frames to deliver three images with the quality they want. I know guys that still shoot like they've got film in their cameras and I know guys who shoot 10-12 fps every play. Most of us are somewhere in between. It also helps to know your gear. When using an APS-C body I tend to shoot more frames because the AF will never be as consistent as a same generation FF body. – Michael C Dec 15 '16 at 15:48
  • I often get multiple frames of a developing play, most or all of which would be usable in their own right, and select the one I like the best for delivery/publication. Sometimes I get outstanding shots that I can't use because it shows a player for the team I am covering getting waxed by a player on the other team. But the fact remains if you need f/2.8 to get to 1/800 second at ISO 2500 you're not going to get any of those shots with an f/5.6 lens. You might get a few usable shots at 1/200 second where the motion blur away from the face/torso is acceptable. – Michael C Dec 15 '16 at 15:52
  • For more regarding keeper rates, please see: photo.stackexchange.com/a/71354/15871 – Michael C Dec 15 '16 at 16:14
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There are two sources of blurriness:

  • Motion blur caused by too slow a shutter speed; and

  • Blur caused by camera shake.

Without a sample photo we can't tell which you've got. If you don't understand the basics of exposure, your shutter speed may be too low; and if you're using a long lens and haven't acquired a steady hand through practice, motion blur is possible.

In general, to stop action you need a high shutter speed. Go out this afternoon and shoot cars on any nearby road using a variety of shutter speeds till you get the hang of it. Also you should read some tutorials on basic exposure. Everyone needs to know the fundamentals of shutter speed, f-stop, and ISO.

To hand-hold a long lens, you need to learn to use your hands and body to create a stable platform for your camera; then practice a lot.

  • Blur could also come from missed focus – dav1dsm1th Oct 7 '16 at 22:21
  • @dav1dsm1th That too. – user4894 Oct 7 '16 at 22:26
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Sports setting should use the fastest aperture available. I would suggest raise ISO or use auto ISO.

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