Using Manual Mode in Action Soccer Photography

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The best way to shoot youth action soccer photography is to graduate to using "Manual Mode". This is designated by the M on your settings dial. Manual Mode allows you to adjust the Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO manually per shot. Understanding the Exposure Triangle is crucial here and so is understanding how adjusting any of those 3 settings will influence your light meter. But the real secret is Manual Mode isn't as scary as it sounds when it comes to soccer photography. Here's the secret: you really only need to adjust 1 setting on the fly and even then it is only between a few settings.

Here's what I mean. Let's start with the constants.


When it comes to shooting action soccer shots you will always want to keep your aperture at it's highest aperture (which is the lowest number). Unless you are one of those lucky people who can afford the Nikon 200mm f/2, with mostly all long focal length lenses, the maximum aperture is f/2.8. This means that the aperture is at it's largest and allows the most light in. Why do you want this?

For 2 reasons.

1. The higher the aperture (again, lower the number) the shallower depth of field. This means that your subject will be in focus but the background (and foreground) will be blurred out a bit. This effect is called "Bokeh". This creates a professional look to your photos and does a great job of keeping the viewer's eye focused on the subject, not the distracting background of parents, cars, cones, etc.

2. The higher the aperture, the more light that is let in when firing off your shot. This means that you can shoot with a faster shutter speed to truly capture the action.

WHAT TO DO: Set your lens to it's highest aperture and leave it there.


ISO seems like a scary term but it isn't. It simply is the standard measurement metric for light sensitivity to your image sensor. The higher the ISO, the more sensitive the sensor is to the exposure. This allows you to grab more detail in a darker setting. However, the higher the ISO, the grainier the image will become. Managing manual ISO settings is really used for portraits, night sky astrophotography, and other types of photography where you are setting up a shot with consistent light, a tripod, and non-moving objects.

WHAT TO DO: In settings I recommend you max out your ISO at 3200. It seems to be the highest ISO that produces little to no grain. Then set your ISO to "auto" and forget about it. In bright sunshine, that AUTO ISO will be 100. In the darkest night game settings, it will be at your max of 3200.

A note on ISO grain: You can shoot at higher ISOs and you may choose to. But the grain is too noisy to produce print quality photographs at that level. My recommendation is shoot at the max 3200 and if the image underexposes, try to fix in Lightroom or Photoshop.

Shutter Speed

With Aperture and ISO now constants in the exposure triangle this leaves Shutter Speed. This is the only adjustment in Manual Mode that you need to focus on. The goal of soccer photography is to freeze the action. That means that the ball, players, feet, etc is in focus and not blurred. Depending on the amount of light you have you want t shoot from anywhere between 1/1000s at its slowest to 1/5000s at its fastest. (if you are shooting really young kids where the pace of the game is slower, you can get away with 1/800s)

WHAT TO DO: The manual shutter speed can be typically adjusted in manual mode by the scroll wheel in the front right of your camera in front of the shutter button. Using the light meter in your viewfinder, adjust the shutter speed until it registers the light meter in the center. This will give you a perfect exposure. If it is too dark and your ISO and aperture have been maxed out, don't make it slower than 1/1000s.

As you can see, Manual Mode for youth action soccer photography is really Manual Shutter Speed Mode. Good luck.

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