Do you ever find that your action shots are blurry, or that you often miss the moment entirely? You’re not alone! In fact, photographing moving subjects can be tricky even for seasoned professionals. But with the right knowledge and technical skills, you can freeze time and capture exactly what you need to tell your story.
To see a timeless example, check out the iconic action shot of Muhammad Ali, taken in 1965 by Neil Leifer with an old fashioned Rolleiflex camera. This single photo captures a special moment in history that encapsulates the legendary boxer’s entire career. That’s not to say that you need to start photographing sporting heroes; you can apply the same techniques to your family photo shoots too.
Capture the energy of your children’s movements and you can capture the essence of their childhood. Photograph your partner in motion during your annual cycling trip and you can capture the feeling of the entire holiday to cherish for a lifetime.
However, not all action shots are about freezing time and capturing sharp images. In fact, adding some blur to your action photos can also add a sense of speed, energy and motion. This technique is often used in dance photography, for example, to give the viewer a sense of the performer’s movement.
Must know action photography camera settings and techniques
1. Best camera settings for sharp images of moving subjects
To take sharp action photos that freeze movement it’s important to use a fast shutter speed of at least 1/250 sec. In fact, some street photographers insist on using a minimum shutter speed of 1/1000 sec. You’ll find it easier to use a fast shutter speed when shooting outdoors during the day or in well-lit spaces. If you’re shooting indoors, try increasing your ISO setting and opening your aperture as wide as possible. This will allow you to use faster shutter speeds.
Tip: Download a photo app like Manual Camera DSLR to control your phone camera’s shutter speed.
2. Best camera settings for capturing motion blur
To introduce intentional motion blur in your action shots, select a slower shutter speed of 1/100 or slower. You may find your images are overexposed if you use slow shutter speeds in bright daylight. If so, select a smaller aperture of around f/11 and make sure your ISO is as low as it will possibly go.
3. Shoot in shutter priority to easily control your shutter speed
Your camera likely has a shooting mode called “shutter priority” or “shutter speed priority”, which is typically displayed as “TV” or simply “S”. This mode is perfect for photographing fast-moving subjects as it allows you to manually control your shutter speed while your camera automatically takes care of aperture and ISO.
Creative tips for shooting action photography
Head outdoors to get started with action photography. You’ll find it much easier to get sharp images of moving subjects when there’s plenty of natural light, as this will allow your camera to use faster shutter speeds. Try a sporty shoot with your little ones playing their favourite games, or ask your partner to put their dancing skills to work at the beach so you get some practice in.
Try panning your phone or camera from side to side while keeping your subject in frame. This will blur out the background while keeping your subject in focus. Get started with this technique by photographing your child cycling past you, or ask a friend to run past you.
When shooting in low-light conditions, whether at night or in a dark room, give your subject a torch and ask them to wave it around as they run, dance and play. If your shutter speed is slow enough you will be able to capture the light trails and emphasise their movement.
Get creative with your camera angles by positioning yourself and your camera in unusual places. Maybe you could lie down on the floor and photograph your child or pet jumping over you. Climb a tree or stand on a bench and photograph the action from above. Or maybe you could even attach an action camera to your bikes to capture adventurous self-portraits of yourself and your loved ones.
Ultimately, it’s important to have fun with your action photography and remember that you are free to break the rules. As with all types of photography, there’s always an element of luck involved when shooting motion shots. Some of the best actions photos were created “accidentally”, simply because the photographer was in the right place at the right time. The most important thing is to experiment and have fun!
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