Discover how to photograph moving targets with our handy guide to the best shutter speeds and plotting a subject’s trajectory.
One of the fundamental rules of photography is that if there is blur in your pictures it has to be there deliberately! There are no excuses for camera shake, and moving targets should be frozen, unless you want make use to blurry effect for artistic reasons.
The key to achieving these things is to use the right shutter speed for the job. Your first stop is to avoid the shakes.
If you are hand-holding your camera, the image is not completely still and you need to set a shutter speed that is fast enough to allow for the involuntary movements of your arms and body.
How fast you need to go will depend on things such as how fit you are and how cold it is, but also on the focal length of the lens you are using.
The longer the lens, the more obvious any slight movement in the lens becomes in the image, necessitating a faster shutter speed than if you had a wider angle of view.
But if you are in any doubt, always play safe and go for a faster shutter speed than you think you need!
Get the best shutter speeds for moving targets
Banish camera shake
- The standard way of working out which shutter speed to use is the reciprocal rule: if using a 50mm lens, you need to use a shutter speed of 1/50 sec or faster. For a 500mm, use a minimum of 1/500 sec.
- If you use a crop sensor camera, you need to take the crop factor into account and multiply the shutter speed by 1.5, so use a 1/750 sec with a 500mm lens.
- If using image stabilisation you can use a slower speed, if the subject isn’t moving.
Plotting a moving target’s trajectory
Shutter speed: 1/1000 sec
It’s the speed relative to you that matters, not your subject’s actual speed. If it’s moving across the frame you need a faster shutter speed than if it’s heading towards you.
Shutter speed: 1/250 sec
You can get away with a shutter speed that is two stops slower (four times as long) if the car is heading towards you… but be warned, the autofocus is more likely to fail!
Shutter speed: 1/30 sec
You can get away with slower shutter speeds by keeping the car in your sights and tracking its movement. These panning shots artistically blur the surroundings.
Fast-action bolt-ons for shooting moving targets
A long lens is the tool of choice for wildlife and sport. How long a lens you need will vary, but one with a fast maximum aperture will help you focus faster, get higher shutter speeds and isolate the action from the background.
A teleconverter is a great portable add-on for giving you more firepower when you need to crop in that bit closer. They only work effectively with certain faster lenses, so shop with care and check the requirements.
Understanding shutter speed as a creative tool
Motion Blur: what shutter speed should you use?
Camera Shake: the ultimate cheat sheet for tripods, monopods and shooting handheld
Photography Basics: the No. 1 cheat sheet for metering and exposure