Collegiate soccer season is in full swing in the U.S., and I’ve been giving the D300 are good workout. Click through for settings and techniques.
Soccer can be a tough sport to shoot, as the playing field is about as big as it gets and the action can be intense (sometimes accompanied by periods of great boredom; ever shot a 0-0 match decided on penalty kicks?).
Shooting Menu Settings. The settings I use for soccer are pretty much the same as I use for most outdoor “field” sports. The major ones are:
- Picture Control. I use “Standard” (SD) modified to use Sharpness 5, Saturation +2, Hue 0. Contrast and Brightness are handled by Active D-Lighting under strong sunlight, or +1 and 0 respectively under overcast conditions.
- Color Space. I use Adobe RGB in-camera and convert to appropriate target space as the final step of post-processing.
- Active D-Lighting. I use this when there are dark shadows caused by harsh sunlight conditions, typically Normal or High.
- High ISO Noise Reduction: ALWAYS off. ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS. I hate Nikon’s noise reduction, and it is seldom necessary under ISO 1600 anyway. I use NeatImage selectively instead.
- ISO sensitivity. I typically set ISO to 200 on the camera, and activate ISO sensitivty auto control with maximum sensitivity of 3200 and minimum shutter speed of 1/250. But I get around the 1/250 setting by using the Secret D300 High-Speed Auto ISO Trick.
Custom Menu Settings.
These are also settings common to nearly all sports action I shoot. Changes from default settings are described below:
- a1 AF-C priority selection. I use “Release + focus” for slower lenses and “Release” for faster ones. Faster lenses typically include the AF-S 80-200/f2.8, Sigma 120-300/f2.8 HSM (without teleconverter), or the 70-300 AF-S VR. Slow lenses include most screw-drive (conventional AF) types or internal focus motor lenses with teleconverters (the 80-200 AF-S combined with TC-14E is an exception, as this is still a “fast focusing” combination in my experience).
- a4 Focus tracking with lock-on. I use the Long setting here, giving the fact that players are constantly criss-crossing in front of one another in this sport and “passes” are usually very long, requiring recomposition. I use the “Short” setting with a sport like basketball, where passes typically take place within the frame and you need to shift focus without recomposing.
- f9 No memory card? I ALWAYS set this to Release locked. Why do you want to take shots that you will never see?
Equipment. Soccer is definitely at least a 2-lens sport. You’ll typically want a fast lens (f2.8-f4.0) in the 400-600mm class and a fast medium telephoto zoom in the 70-200 range. I typically use the Sigma 120-300/f2.8 HSM w/Sigma 1.4x teleconverter for the long lens, which yields an effective 35mm equivalent of 250-600/f4 or thereabouts. For the second lens, I normally rely on my 80-200/f2.8 AF-S, sometimes with teleconverter. If you have the newer 70-200/f2.8 AF-S VR lens, even better, as long clears in soccer can lend themselves to slow shutter speed panning techniques as you follow players streaking down the sidelines. The 70-300/f4.5-5.6G AF-S VR lens also works well for this technique, and makes an effective enough lens for “normal” action shooting at higher shutter speeds although the depth of field leaves a little to be desired.
Shutter Speed & Aperture. If light permits, I will use one step above maximum aperture, either f4.0 or f5.6 for the equipment I typically use. I prefer the additional sharpness slightly stopping down usually gives, even if this pushes the ISO all the way up to 3200. Only when I can’t achieve a decent shutter speed at ISO 3200 will I shoot wide open.
For shutter speed, I use a value between 1/640 and 1/2000 (or higher) depending on what I’m trying to accomplish:
- Typical “ball in motion” shots – This is what I normally try to achieve, an effect that freezes player movement but allows for slight ball movement blur. This varies but is typically somewhere between 1/800-1/1250 or so.
- Total freeze – 1/1600 or higher will usually stop all ball movement as well. I don’t think this looks as “natural” but can be effective for the most dramatic “peak action” shots – and can actually artifically extend the peak action period.
- Low light – When you’re desperate, accept speeds in the range of 1/500-1/800. Only go lower than 1/500 if you absolutely have to.
Positioning. The soccer field is big! There are lots of places to shoot from. I’ve identified some typical locations that make for good action photos. I usually shoot from one of four field locations:
Most frequently I situate myself along the sidelines opposite the outer edge of the penalty box (Position 1). This gives me good coverage of the attacking team and corner kicks, while with the long lens I can still cover (barely) the opposite goal. This is useful if you are primarily interested in covering a single team.
Position 2 is a slight variation except you’re totally focused on the attacking team. You have poor coverage of either goal keeper from this position. An elevated spot, if available, works very well here.
Position 3 takes this angle even further, giving you opportunities for dramatic shots of scoring opportunities from directly in front of the goal. The price you pay is loss of angles on most other parts of the field.
Position 4 gives you an effective angle to cover the defending goal keeper, as well as interesting angles on corner kicks and crosses. An elevated position is excellent here.
Of course, the positions shown can be chosen from any of the three corresponding parts of the field in addition to those shown. Crowd, bench, and sun position, naturally, will affect your selection.