Many clients tell me that one of the main reasons they buy a DSLR camera is capturing children's sporting events. The distance from the subject, the speed of play, and the improbable actions of players makes a DSLR a far superior tool compared to a point and shoot camera or a pocket phone.
This blog post will focus on indoor sporting activities. Indoor sports allow photographers to be much closer to the action compared to the sideline up a football or soccer field. However, the photographer does not get the benefit of natural light. This is not a fair trade-off as it is almost always favorable to have more light. Shooting indoor sports is a challenge, but with the right settings and shooting modes you can capture some great shots.
Because you are shooting inside, you will need to set your ISO rating higher (800-1000) to increase the sensitivity of the sensor. However, avoid setting ISO too high as you may want to crop in post production and you don’t want the noise that increased sensitivity and higher ISOs yield.
Controlling shutter speed is the real key to shooting sports. The speed of play means that you'll get blurred images if you don’t have shutter speed set appropriately. I recommend starting with 1/200th and going higher as needed. Remember every time shutter speed increases, exposures will get slightly darker, so be prepared to make aperture adjustments. I recommend opening aperture until you get to F3.5-4.0. Once you set exposure as low as F3.5, then think about increasing ISO sensitivity.
Avoid over zooming. In sports its great to have a shot of the player, but it is even better to have a wider frame so that the viewer can understand the context of the play. Zooming also reduces your aperture as most zoom lenses raise the aperture when zoomed over 100mm. Keep the zoom moderate and you'll catch the context AND keep the aperture open.
I recommend using a small focal point and focusing on the player making the play, vice a wider set of focal points where you have less control. Many DSLRs also offer a focus mode with called "servo" that allows you to choose a focal point and the camera locks on the target for several seconds even if the target is moving. Using this feature takes practice, but it can help capture some great moments.
Flash great for after the game taking team shots, but less useful during the game and could be annoying to the players, so keep the flash off or in the bag. Even with an external flash if the subject is more than 25 feet away, then flash isn’t going to offer much benefit.
Shutter speed: >1/200th
Aperture: > F4.0
Focus: Point focus