Full Manual Sports Shooters, Are They Really The Shiznit?


TPF Noob!
Aug 13, 2009
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Rural America
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We all know that full manual gives you complete control of your camera. As it should.

But is that even desired for sports shooters?

I'm no pro, but I'm no slouch either. Most of the shooting I've done has varied from mild to extreme changes in lighting, speed etc.

I couldn't imaging ever being good enough to go full manual sports shooting in dynamic conditions like at an outdoor track where panning shots from an apex cause the lighting to change wildly in a second.

Am I missing something? Does it get that easy? Will I be able to adjust all the settings on my camera with the same fluidity that I can type my thoughts on a keyboard?

I still tend to stress when I have to quickly change the shutter speed or ISO. Imagine having to do everything! :lol:
You'll probably find that most sports shooters use one of the priority modes (shutter or aperture), and make required adjustments from there.

And, yes, with enough practice, you will be able to make camera adjustments on the fly without having to look at what you are doing. Mine shows most of the settings in the viewfinder, and I know where the buttons are to change what I want, so I can see the results without taking my eye away.
I don't know what camera you have, but the higher end ones have separate dials for shutter speed & aperture. No need to hold a button down to change one or the other...

That makes it a lot easier to change settings quickly.

Work one with your thumb, the other with your finger.
I'm using a 7D. I haven't learned the controls by heart yet.

I should be able to figure out the controls ok. Being able to dial in those controls to get the right effect in a split-second is what I question.

I typically use Tv for sports. Makes it easy to get the effect: Freeze or Motion Blurr. I've done a couple of night events that kind of kicked my arse the first time and a half, but I'm getting the hang of it.
I shoot sports regularly and in full manual. Once you get enough practice it's pretty easy to keep track of the light meter while still watching the action.

One thing I always do if I'm in mixed lighting, mostly fields with sun and shade, I'll figure out the proper exposure for both and keep a mental note, then constantly dial into the exposure when the yget to the respective parts of the field.
On the pro Nikons, it only takes one press of the thumb and a click or two of the rear dial to switch the camera mode from M to Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority or to program if you'd like...allowing you to pre-set the desired aperture for A mode, the desired shutter for S mode, and of course a Manual exposure...the settings STAY THE SAME from shot to shot on Nikon,and exposure compensation ALSO stays dialed in where you set it...allowing you to shoot any way you want to.

Some sports and some stadiums lend themselves quite well to Aperture priority automatic regulation of the shutter speed...you're usually using an f/stop that's the most important thing...like f/2.8 or f/3.5 or f/4,and many times athletes will move from sunlight and into shade coming out of turn three and into the stadium...at MOST track and field stadiums in North America, the finish line will be just south of the stadium's southern edge, and so the runners will usually go from bright, open sunlight at the start area of the 100 meters/110 hurdles/, into the shade of the stadium for the middle 75 meters, and then will finish up the last 15 meters or so in bright sunshine...meaning you have 3/4 of a second to shoot the best shots of the race, near the finish....but on the hurdles and sprints, using Aperture Priority automatic is the smarter way to shoot...
I've been shooting college sports for three years now. My camera is in full manual mode. However, rear button auto-focusing has doubled my keep rate. I can't imagine shooting sports anymore without it. I'll never go back.
With a few exceptions here and there, I'd think that most sports shooting doesn't involve a lot of varying light conditions. For example, an indoor arena is probably fairly evenly lit on the playing surface. Same deal for an outdoor field, either during the day or at night under the lights. (as mentioned, sometimes there is a shaded area on the field, which will surely require a very different exposure setting...but as Dan mentioned, it's still only two settings you will be using, so it's not hard to just remember what they are.

So once you find the exposure that works for you...it's probably the best idea to shoot in manual, just so that the meter is not fooled by the variety of things that might be in your frame at any given time. For example, in auto modes, you could end up with an underexposed face if a white jersey suddenly fills up a good part of your frame. But if your exposure is locked in (manual) then you's still be OK.
Well, I do a lot of skateboard photography, and I pretty much only use the A and S mode (I use an Olympus e520), because anything else would (at my skill level) just take way to long to set up. I sometimes go out with a friend who is absolutely crazy about using Manual, and everytime we both get ready to set up a shot, I'm simply way faster.
I've been shooting college sports for three years now. My camera is in full manual mode. However, rear button auto-focusing has doubled my keep rate. I can't imagine shooting sports anymore without it. I'll never go back.

Do you mind if I ask what you're using? And what sports you're shooting?
I do not think that full manual mode is necessary for sports photography. Typically sports photography will either want to freeze motion or capture motion. I think that shutter priority is a better mode for this. Although there are exceptions.

I like to shoot motorsport events. I love seeing dramatic motion blur while still having a tack sharp subject. But for a subject coming towards me or going away from me motion blur is impossible (well maybe you could zoom out/in). Therefore I like to be able to quickly adjust shutter speed in shutter priority mode.

A few minutes before the event starts I will meter the scene in shutter priority mode. I normal start with a ss of 1/fl. 1/fl is often(!) a good ss for handheld panning in good ambient light. I will look at the aperture that the camera has choosen. If I want more or less dof then I adjust the ss to reflect a change in aperture to have a properly exposed image with good dof. Ok, 1/fl for panning but I want a faster ss for on coming and going subjects. This is another reason why shutter priority is ideal, I can change ss by rotating a dial without taking my eye off the view finder. Again, before the event starts, I set a good exposure for panning and also a good exposure for a faster ss. I familiarize myself with how many clicks of the dial to switch between the two shutter speed so I don't miss any good shots when the event starts.

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