Although cameras with fast burst modes are useful for capturing many frames in a short duration, it's not a substitute for good timing. Even at six or eight frames per second, you could miss the peak of the action by a hair. Instead of blindly blasting away, we recommend watching the action closely, studying the rhythm of the sport, and squeezing the shutter with more deliberate timing.
2) Fast Shutter Speed
In order to capture the sweat, the grit, and the determination of an athlete, select a very fast shutter speed of at least 1/500th of a second. You can do this in the Shutter Priority mode of your DSLR. This speed will even freeze someone running full speed. However, for cycling, diving, and other high-speed action, you may find 1/1000 will be a better choice.
3) Wide Aperture
If you can find an uncluttered, clean background as NYIP Graduate John Miller did in the photo below, you will have succeeded at simplifying the photo. However, the inclusion of large crowds of spectators in a sports photo is often unavoidable. The problem however, is it presents a visual distraction to the athlete. To bring the viewers focus back to the main subject, we recommend using a wide aperture like f2.8 or f4 to render them largely out of focus.
4) Don't Hesitate to Raise the ISO
Indoor sporting events are notorious for poor lighting, and often require a very high ISO along with the fast shutter speed and wide aperture mentioned above. We often hear from photographers who are concerned about introducing digital noise (grain) into their image. While it's true that higher ISOs will result in more noticeable noise, the current line of DSLRs on the market today does a far better job at this than previous models. It's not uncommon for professionals to shoot at ISO 3200, and 6400 when necessary. If the presence of noise is not something you are comfortable with, you may want to explore one of the many terrific noise reduction programs like Noise Ninja, or Neat Image.
5) Include the Competition
In the NYIP Course we often talk about simplifying an image by making your subject large in the frame. This is sound advice for many types of photography. Sometimes though, rules are meant to be broken, and this can be true with sports photography. Since this is an athletic contest, part of the story is the struggle between each participant. Besides a medium telephoto lens, a wide angle lens can be quite useful to document the whole field.