Getting the right exposure for outdoor sports


Canonet QL17 GIII
Sep 22, 2012
St. Paul, MN
I mostly shoot indoor sports where lighting tends to be consistent and getting the correct exposure is fairly easy. But, I occasionally shoot soccer and cross country where cloud cover can change the light quickly and players can sometimes be in the sun, sometimes in the shade. I could use some tips for getting the correct exposure.

For cross country, the courses tend to serpentine around a field so I pick a spot at the beginning, one in the middle, and one at the finish line to get runners from our school. Keeping the sun in front or to the side of the runner's face is a factor in selecting my vantage points. My ability to hoof it from one spot to the next before the runners get there is another.

I'm using a 5D3, sometimes a 7D, with a 70-200 f2.8L II. I've grown leery of Evaluative meter mode because it tends to overcompensate for the sky and it can change wildly. I most often use spot or partial metering. I have more comfort in manual mode. Aperture or shutter priority modes seems to lead to wide swings in exposure. Jersey colors are not always 18% gray and the meter can often be blown out by the background.

My current technique is to try to get a bunch of test shots before the event with kids facing the sun and away from the sun so I know the range of shutter speeds to use. F-stop is fixed at 2.8 and I pick an ISO that lets me pick a shutter speed between 1/1,000 and 1/4,000 -- ISO 400 often works. While shooting, I'm watching the needle and the light on the runners. I try to judge when the runner's face's appear shaded, then dial down the shutter speed to bump up the exposure. Generally, I make sure that the needle is in the middle or to the right. When I can, I glance at the LCD, but there often isn't time. Sometimes the sun makes it difficult get a good read from the LCD.

My consistency needs help and I often get a bunch of shots that are over-exposed. Lightroom fixes this, but I'd like to get better at nailing the exposure. Listening to Scott Kelby talk about the 7D2, it fascinates me that pros typically shoot JPEGs to get their shots to their wire service with minimum delay. This got me wondering how they nail the exposure since there's less room for error with JPEGs. I most often shoot RAW.

So, for those shoot outdoor sports, how do you nail the exposure? What meter modes do you like and do you trust Av, Tv, or Auto ISO?