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I have a Nikon D300S and have been taking pictures of my son's soccer team since they were 10. Well, this past fall I was really having a hard time with capturing decent pictures, was using a 70-300 4.5, but my fantabulous soccer families presented me with a new Tamron 70-200 2.8 lens, so I am trying to play with settings. I tried taking shots of indoor soccer last night, and well, I wasn't very happy with them. I am going to a gymnastics competition (which I have never been to nor taken pictures of) to do more testing. I know two different events and picture taking scenarios, but at least it gives me a little more time to play. But any advice I could receive, I would greatly appreciate it.

The camera I was unhappy with was the D300S with a 55-300 4.5-5.6. As it became darker, the pictures would be very grainy during the game. When I took OK pictures for the senior banners, when the graphic artist enlarged the pictures, we noticed crosses all over the pictures. These were taken outside - the graphic artist indicated he had never seen something like it. As far as settings for games, I created a bank with the settings from this post:
http://johnfriend.blogspot.com/2009/10/nikon-d300-auto-focus-for-sports-i.html?m=1

When my son and his teammates were 10, I had a Coolpix, and obviously as they got older, I used a different camera. I am stuck thinking there may be an issue with the D300S (i.e. the cross in the picture) and debating if I should get a different camera, or of course user error. This fall is the only time I have had issues with the grainy pictures, or the crosses, or even some pictures appearing pixelated.

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    Since your son was 10... when was that? Let's assume it was years ago. What lens(es) have you been using all these years? What settings have you used for shots that you were happy with? What settings were you using recently for the pictures you were unhappy with. Why are you unhappy with the photos? Are they blurred? Is the blur from camera shake or subject movement? Are they too dark? Are they too grainy? – osullic Jan 19 '18 at 16:44
  • I'm not sure what you mean by crosses. Can you include an example photo? – osullic Jan 20 '18 at 11:38
  • So to summarise, you started out with a Coolpix camera, then acquired a Nikon D300S, starting with a 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6 lens, followed by a 70-300mm f/4.5 lens, now followed by a 70-200mm f/2.8. Is that correct? And really the main problem is increased "grain" as the light fades? It really would be most helpful if you could include some images with the settings used (aperture, shutter speed, ISO). It sounds like the grain effect is coming from a high ISO, to deal with the low light. But a wide aperture can work here too - you just have less leeway with inexact focusing. – osullic Jan 20 '18 at 11:46
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When capturing fast moving action, it is always about the shutter speed.

When shooting sports in low light you're not going to be able to shoot at narrower apertures like f/8 or f/11. Most of us use f/2.8 lenses and shoot wide open. We do this not only because it helps isolate our subject(s) from backgrounds that are often cluttered but also because we need the "speed" of the wide aperture to allow a fast enough shutter speed. I typically shoot night/indoor sports using Manual exposure mode at ISO 3200-5000, f/2.8 (or wider with a faster prime lens), and 1/500-1/1250 second.

enter image description here EOS 7D Mark II + EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II, ISO 2500, 120mm, f/2.8, 1/800 second.

The shallow depth of field (DoF) usually works to your advantage when shooting sports by helping to isolate the subject from the surrounding players and distracting backgrounds. Even when shooting in bright sunlight, using too much DoF allows your subject to get lost in their surroundings. Selectively focusing only on one or two participants draws the viewer's eye to that spot in the frame.

In low light you never have enough shutter speed, so you shoot wide open and expect that autofocus (AF) inaccuracies will relegate some shots to the Recycle Bin. You can mitigate focus issues somewhat by pre-focusing on spots ahead of the action and then operating the shutter when the action moves to that spot. Of course this requires a good working knowledge of the sport you are shooting and even the particular tendencies of the participants. Learning the exact way your camera's AF focus system functions will also help reduce the number of shots with missed focus. Being able to, for instance, quickly switch from Servo (continuous focus) to One Shot (locked focus) without taking your eye from the viewfinder, and knowing when to use each is invaluable. And the actual target areas for each of those little squares in your viewfinder may surprise you. For more on this, please see Andre's Blog.

Getting good results when shooting sports/action in low light goes beyond the exposure settings when shooting. You should also leverage the power of raw files to make them look as good as possible. If you're saving the raw data you can shoot a bit darker and then increase the brightness in post. You'll also need to use noise reduction if you "pull" exposure when shooting an "push" it in post. This answer to Lots of noise in my hockey pictures. What am I doing wrong? shows how a raw file can be processed to make this straight out of camera jpeg

enter image description here

look like this.

enter image description here

For more, please see:
Recommended shutter speed for action sports?
How to get exposure right in night photography?
Why are my football action shots blurry?
Why my "action" shots are blurry even shooting on AF-C, is this a lens or camera limitation?
Canon Camera Settings for Ice Hockey
Lots of noise in my hockey pictures. What am I doing wrong?
Anyone have experience with the Tamron SP AF 70-200mm f/2.8 DI LD (IF) Macro?
Does the number of shots differ dramatically between an amateur and a pro?

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