One of the more challenging sports photography environments is capturing shots at night under stadium lights. Getting the camera settings correct can be difficult. You have to worry about getting fast shutter speeds, proper exposure, good colors and low noise levels.
The most critical choice for attaining even decent night sports shots will be your lens choice. Unfortunately, fast lenses (f/2.8 or faster) are a requirement. These types of lenses are generally expensive - particularly those lenses that also provide generous reach. The photo above was captured using a 300mm f/2.8 lens. Yes, this is an expensive lens. You can also consider using a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens or the Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 lens as well.
The first setting that I adjust for stadium light photography is the white balance setting to make sure that colors are correct in this type of lighting environment. Stadium lights are notorious for creating inaccurate color reproduction with cameras set to the the auto white balance setting. I use the ExpoDisc to easily and automatically help me set my white balance for night sports shots. You can also use a gray or white card to make this adjustment as well.
I usually shoot in complete manual mode as well when shooting night sports photography. I manually set the aperture to f/2.8 while setting the shutter speed to a setting that insures I'll be able to stop the action. When experimenting for this setting before the game, I look at sample photos and the histogram to make sure I have the proper exposure. This photos was manually set at aperture f/2.8 and shutter speed 1/500.
I also set the ISO to a level that allows me to get the proper exposure at the manual settings I require. For this photo the ISO was set a 4000. Of course this produces a lot of noise in the pictures. But I'd rather get a photo with noise, than no photo at all. The noise in this photo was also cleaned up with Noise Ninja.Noise Ninja Pro Bundle Version 2.1 Software
The last camera setting that I adjust is to shoot in center weighted metering mode as opposed to matrix metering mode. I choose center weighted metering to make the camera account for the intended subject more than the often dark background. I find that matrix metering often over-exposes the intended subject because the camera accounts too much for the nighttime background.