Stop wasting pictures! 10 tips for bagging keepers every time

Stop wasting pictures! 10 tips for bagging keepers every time

7. Avoid lifeless action shots

Photography Tips: try panning for more dramatic action photos

Capturing some movement in this scene would make it less… dull

There are two ways to capture a moving subject. You can aim to freeze the action in its tracks, or take the opposite approach and blur the subject deliberately.

The first gives a clinical, pin-sharp result that captures every single detail of the subject if the shutter speed is fast enough. The second sacrifices detail, but instead gives a real impression of movement in the still image.

Some subjects suit one approach better than the other. Football highlights, for example, are normally photographed 
by newspaper photographers using fast shutter speeds (see our 10 tips for striking football photos). Mountain waterfalls, meanwhile, are often tackled using slow shutter settings.

But sometimes neither approach works well. Use a shutter speed of 1/2000 sec to capture a racing car on a track [1], and you’ll end up with a picture where it’s hard, if not impossible, to tell whether the vehicle was moving [2]. You might as well have taken the shot in a car park.

Problem areas in action photography

The solution is to take a hybrid approach. With panning you swing the camera to track the subject as you shoot. The idea is that you try to blur the background and foreground in the picture while trying to capture the moving subject itself relatively crisply.

This neat technique combines the detail of a fast shutter speed with the impression of movement that a slow shutter speed would offer (or you can find out how to fake perfect panning photos).

Panning made easy

How to pan photos - step 1

1. To pan successfully you must follow the moving subject smoothly across the scene. A monopod (a  one-legged tripod) is a really useful accessory that gives you a pivot point to swing the camera from. This also helps to carry the weight of your lens.

2. Focus manually on the spot where you’d like to capture your subject. Zoom in to focus more accurately, then zoom out. Here we have focused on the blades of grass at the side of the track.

How to pan photos - step 3

3. Choose a slow shutter speed, but not too slow! For this event a shutter speed of 1/40 to 1/80 sec proved the best setting. If you get the chance, experiment a little to perfect the technique.

How to pan photos - step 4

4. Try to keep both eyes open so you  can see the car before it moves into shot. This trick helps you to see picture opportunities you wouldn’t otherwise notice (and you can watch out for danger).

Photography Tips: try panning for more dramatic action photos

By panning with the subject and tracking its movement we have created a sense of speed in this scene and given the picture more immediate impact.


8. Avoid poor photos in low light

Photography Tips: avoid badly exposed night photos

Built-in flash has washed out this scene quite dramatically

Flash is a fantastic tool that allows you carry on shooting when sharp, well-exposed shots would otherwise be impossible. But flash, and built-in flash in particular, should always be used with extreme caution.

Left to its own devices, 
it can all too often ruin the atmosphere of the shot, particularly after dark, because it’s the existing lighting that makes the scene interesting [1]. Use flash and that atmosphere is killed dead, illuminating everything within range [2].

A better approach is to either combine flash with a slower-than-average exposure, or turn the flash off altogether. Shooting flash-free allows you to capture moving lights after dark, such as fireworks or car headlamps.

Problem areas in night photography

The trick is to pick a long enough shutter speed to extend the trails of light. The shutter speed for the sparkler shot below was three seconds, while images of stars creating concentric circles can require an exposure lasting whole hours! 
A tripod is always essential.

Photography Tips: create light trails

Here the light trails have been captured by turning off the flash and using a tripod.

For exposures lasting a few seconds, control the shutter speed using the Av mode and a small aperture (f/8-f/22). For long exposures, switch to M mode (this is essential for exposures over 30 secs), and use the B setting to keep the shutter open for as long as you like using a cable release.

Capturing light trails: your easy guide
A quick reference to the shutter speed range you need to record light trails after dark

  • Cars:   15-40 secs, f/22,  ISO100
  • Fireworks (rockets):   10-30 secs, f/16, ISO100
  • Fireworks (sparklers):  2-8 secs, f/8,  ISO100
  • Funfair rides:  15-30 secs, f/16, ISO100
  • Stars:  20 mins-4 hours, f/5.6, ISO200

For more information on taking pictures at night, check out the 12 common errors of night photography (and how to fix them).

PAGE 1: Cut out the clutter; Avoid limp landscapes
PAGE 2: Stay sharp at slow shutter speeds; Banish lifeless still lifes
PAGE 3: Avoid portraits that lack focus; Shoot into the light and avoid a washout
PAGE 4: Avoid lifeless action shots; Avoid poor photos in low light
PAGE 5: Rescue dull, dark exposures; Don’t flood the scene with flash


10 quick action photography tips
Night Photography Tips: 9 essential steps for beginners
Low light photography fixes: how to reduce noise while preserving image quality