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