10 quick action photography tips

10 quick action photography tips

Improve your photos with our expert help. Here are 10 quick action photography tips to give you a head start…

New to photography? This series of quick-fire tips will help you master your digital camera and teach you the tricks of the trade that professional photographers rely on.

10 quick action photography tips

1 Knowledge is power

If you understand the sport or activity you’re photographing you’ll find it easier to pick the right moment, because you can anticipate what’s going to happen. For instance, if you know about swimming you’ll know how often a swimmer is likely to breathe during a length, so you can plan your perfect shot. If you’re photographing a sport that you don’t fully understand, watch first or spend some time learning the rules – you’ll find your hit rate for successful shots improves dramatically.

2 Pre-focus

When photographing repetitive sports and action activities, such as motor racing, you’ll have a good idea of exactly where the action will take place – as a motorcycle approaches a bend, for example. Pre-focus on this spot and fire away as the subject moves into the frame. You’ll improve your chances of getting a shot that’s pin sharp. Use your camera’s continuous focus setting when tracking subjects that are moving eratically though.

3 Timing and shutter speeds

The shutter speed you use to freeze the action will be dictated by the subject you’re photographing and how big – and heavy – your lens is. As a very general rule of thumb, however, try to keep the shutter speed as fast as you can and avoid dipping below 1/500sec. Use a higher ISO setting if there’s not enough light.

4 Try panning

When panning, you move your camera so that it follows the direction of the action. Done properly, a shot taken with this technique will have a beautifully motion-blurred background that creates an awesome sense of movement, energy and speed. This is a difficult technique to master and you’ll need plenty of practice to get it right, but it’s worth the effort. Try starting off with a slow-ish shutter speed somewhere between 1/15 and 1/60sec. You could fake this technique in Photoshop, but it’s nowhere near as satisfying!

Motion Blur: how to create a sense of speed in your photos

5 Location, location, location

Put yourself in the right place to get the shot you want. With sports and action photography you can’t always predict what’s going to happen, but you might be able to predict where it will happen. If possible, find the perfect vantage point and eventually you’ll start getting good results. Always consider the background when looking for the prime spot. A classic action shot can be ruined by a messy backdrop, so bear this in mind when setting up.

6 Get a long lens

The choice of lens is important, especially for sports photographers. You’ve only got to look at the lenses in the press pit at a sports event to realise that a big long lens is a must. These lenses can be expensive, though, so why not rent one for a week and see how you get on before you part with your cash? You’ll need  a monopod, too. This will help to support the extra weight – especially if you’re photographing an event that’s several hours long.

7 Get to know your gear

It’s absolutely essential that you’re totally familiar with all of your equipment. You must know your gear inside and out so that it’s almost like an extension of your body. You can’t concentrate properly if you have to keep stopping to think about which settings to use and which switch does what. Don’t let a lack of knowledge get in the way of a great picture.
8 Shoot in burst mode

While it’s incredibly satisfying to get the image you want in one exposure, do make use of your camera’s burst mode functions, which allow you to shoot off several frames in as little as 1 second. Timing is everything when it comes to action photography, but switch to continuous shooting mode and you’re much more likely to get your picture. Remember, though, that you’ll need plenty of space on your memory card. It will soon fill up when you’re shooting 10 frames per second.

9 Practice, Practice, Practice

As is the case with many aspects of photography, practice makes perfect. With action and sports photography, where reactions must be quick, precise techniques such as panning are essential, but dificult to get right. So get out there and shoot, shoot, shoot until you start getting results you’re really proud of. Don’t be disheartened with the amount of blurred photos you ditch to begin with – your hit-rate will improve.

10 Get some inspiration

The work of Eadweard Muybridge is a great place to start. He died at the beginning of the 20th century, but his studies of movement are as relevant today as they were then and include stunning photographic sequences of animals and humans running, walking and jumping. For a more contemporary point of reference, check out the work of sports photographers such as Bob Martin, Tom Jenkins and Eamonn McCabe.


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