This past weekend was a busy one. Shooting family portraits on Saturday and an Atom football game on Sunday. The coolest part about Sunday's football shoot was I was able to rent Canon's 300mm f/2.8L IS lens. That thing is a beast! It's about ten inches long and it weighs in at almost six pounds but let me tell you, this is ten inches and six pounds of pure awesome! Super sharp and super quick to focus it captures beautiful images, well, as long as I'm doing my part. Check out the lens shot below.
I don't shoot a lot of sports on a regular basis but I can share a few of the basic tips I use. First off, I start by taking a few shots of a grey card. This allows me to find proper exposure and the grey card image can be used to set (with software) correct white balance during post-processing. Once I have my exposure I just lock in the settings by switching the camera to manual. That way I never have to worry about the camera making incorrect exposure choices due an abundance of dark coloured jerseys or other scenarios that fool the camera's light meter.
With the help of the grey card I was able to establish a baseline exposure of f/4, 1/1000th of a second at ISO 400. I want to keep my ISO as low as possible while still maintaining a 1/1000th of a second shutter speed. Shooting outdoors on a fairly sunny day affords me that luxury. Indoors or at night under artificial lights I would have had to crank my ISO up to 1600 or beyond and shoot wide open at f/2.8.
Having my exposure locked in leaves me one less thing to think about however if you have a partially cloudy day like I did, you need to be cognizant of changing light conditions and adjust accordingly. I just check the LCD from time to time if I sensed that the light was changing. On this particular day it took no more than a 1/3 to 1/2 stop adjustment to get back to a proper exposure.
Another essential tool for handling a lens as big and heavy as the one I was using is a monopod. With image stabilization you could probably hand hold a big lens and get decent results but after a while arms will get fatigued and likely the quality of the pictures will suffer. Monopods are cheap and they work great. Just get one that can easily and quickly adjust to various heights so you can get shots from a variety of angles.
Lastly but quite likely the most important detail is focusing. Anytime there is movement you need the camera to track focus and this means switching to a continuous focus mode. For Canon shooters that mode is AI Servo. I was shooting with a Canon 40D, which is a pretty old camera but it is still a very reliable workhorse. The 40D does not have a lot of the fancy focus zones and tracking that more modern DSLRs do but it still does a very good job. What I do is light up just a single focus point, typically one that's off centre, and then make sure my subject is hit by this point. After that it is up to the camera to do the rest. I just have to line it up and press the shutter.
Hope some of those tips helped.