How to Take Better Action Photos

Tips & Advice

Gear Focus

Jun 19, 2020

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The next time you go see your kid’s sports game, you want to be the proud parent who captures their child midshot. The problem is your child moves pretty quickly, and you’re going to want to freeze that movement, otherwise you’re going to have image blur and miss the shot. If you’d like to learn how to take better action photos, check out our guide below. We put together some tips that will take your action photography skills to the next level.

Know what you’re shooting and plan

Like any other photography scenario, you have to know what your subject is and the environment. If you’re shooting a sport, ask yourself what the highlight moments are in that sport, like a slam dunk in basketball. After all, asking these questions is how Walter Iooss Jr. captured Michael Jordan during his 1988 slam dunk contest. Iooss focused on Jordan’s face because he believed “if you didn’t see the player’s face, there’s no picture.” Looking back on that photo today, it’s one of the most iconic action photos of all time and without Jordan’s face, the photo probably wouldn’t be as memorable. Alternatively, if you’re trying to capture something that you can’t plan for ahead of time, such as a flock of birds flying overhead, you have to be ready with the appropriate camera settings.

Adjust your shutter speed and aperture

The ideal camera settings will vary depending on the action you’re trying to freeze. If you’re trying to capture birds flying, you’re going to need to freeze that action quickly with a shutter speed around 1/1000 because birds move so fast. On the other hand, if you’re taking action photos involving people, you can slow down the shutter speed because we’re not quite that fast. Let’s say you’re at your kid’s soccer game and you want to capture them taking a shot on net; you’ll want a shutter speed somewhere in the range of 1/500 or faster. Now when you’re considering your aperture settings, it can vary depending on the image you’re going for. In many sports scenarios, you’ll want a wide aperture like f/2.8 or wider to focus on your subject and have a blurred background. On the other hand, if you want to capture your subject and keep the background sharp, you’ll want a smaller aperture like f/11.

Try panning and using autofocus

One common method action photographers like to employ is following the subject as opposed to freezing the subject. You can achieve a blurred background with some movement in your image by using your DSLR’s autofocus mode. When you activate autofocus mode, you can press the shutter release button and continue following your subject until the image and movement are captured. It’s best to have at least one sharp item in the photo, but because your subject is moving, there will be some motion blur. If possible, you can move farther away from the motion; that way the subject is easier to capture with a slower shutter speed. However, if you’re closer to the subject, you’ll need a faster shutter speed to capture the motion. Many panning photographers start their shutter speeds around 1/30 and move up or down from there. There’s no definitive answer to how to take better action photos because it really comes down to your particular scenario. However, adjusting your shutter speed and aperture are arguably the most important aspects of action photos, so make sure you have plenty of lenses to choose from. We know many photographers have plenty of gear and often sell camera gear to purchase new equipment that will help them progress. Selling your gear online was never enjoyable before because many online marketplaces had absurd seller fees or weren’t dependable sources of quality gear, until now. Gear Focus was created for photographers by photographers because we were tired of the high fees and untrustworthy marketplaces. So we created one of the fastest-growing communities in photography to buy and sell new and used gear. If you need new lenses for action photography, check out our lens inventory today!

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