How to Take Action Photography

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Are you looking for tips on how to take action photography? Many people find themselves drawn to action photography because it's all around us--from a child's baseball game to the bird flying outside the window. If you're looking for some tips on how to take some great action shots or are just interested in learning more about the style, keep reading!

What You Need To Know

There are some things that you'll need to know about how to take action photography if you want to get some top-notch shots.

Equipment and Settings

Action photography is one of the few photography styles that tends to require specialized equipment in order to get great pictures. You can still get some great shots with a basic point and shoot camera, but it's easier with certain tools.

Some action photography tools and their usage:

  • A Quick Shutter: Shutter speed is crucial to learning how to take action photography. A shutter's main job is to let light in at a desired rate for the benefit of your photograph. With action photography, it's important for your shutter to move as quickly as possible. Whether you're looking for a crisp image or a little bit of blur, it's imperative for your shutter to move quickly--with recommended speeds of at least 1/250--or you'll end up not even able to recognize the subject of the photo!
  • Camera Speeds: When using a digital camera especially, some cameras take longer than others to 'write' the image to the camera's memory source. Some cameras can take up to a minute (especially when running low on battery life) to save an image and recharge the flash if it was fired. This isn't good if you're trying to catch the winning shot in a hockey game! If you're interesting in pursuing action photography seriously as a profession or as a hobby, look to purchase a camera that was a quick relapse time between frames--especially if you'll be using a digital camera.
  • Film Speed: If you're shooting action pictures on film, use a higher film speed (at least ASA 400 or ASA 800) to make sure you get the best shots possible.
  • Aperture: If you're using a camera with a lens, be sure to use a low aperture. This allows the most light into your camera. This is important with action photography because your shutter will not be open long. You want to make sure that there's enough light in the frame.
  • Camera Setting: Whether you're using an SLR (digital or film) or a basic digital camera, be sure to set your camera to the 'action' setting. This will control your shutter speed for you and will often 'prefocus' your lens to optimize the best chances of a great shot. This fully automatic setting will also let you focus on panning your camera around to get a great shot--rather than on changing your settings around.

Freezing vs. Blur

With action photography, there are two different styles that you can use to take a photo. There is no 'right' way of how to take action photography.

  • Blurring: A blurred action shot is typically one where the subject in the foreground of the photograph is in focus and everything behind them is blurred. A common example of this is a photograph of a bird where the bird is crisp and the trees in the background are blurry. Many people say that blurred action shots allow one to see the path of motion.
  • Freezing: When one freezes an action shot, everything is in perfect focus. The background is crisp and the foreground is too. These shots tend to be referred to as 'freezing' action because they halt the action within the camera frame and present clear images in exchange.

Shutter Lag

A big problem for many beginning action photographers is what is known as 'shutter lag.' Shutter lag is the time difference between when the photographer presses the shutter release (the button that takes a picture) and when the camera actually releases the shutter. If your subject is moving especially fast, shutter lag can mean the difference between completely missing your subject in the camera frame and getting the perfect picture.

Other Tips for How to Take Action Photography

  • Try to shoot as constantly as possible. You never know when you'll get the perfect shot.
  • Look at the action through the camera, not through your eye. It will give you a greater reaction time.
  • If you can anticipate action a bit, try and take the photo as early as possible. For example, if you're watching a baseball game--don't wait until the ball has been hit to start snapping. Click the shutter release when the player is swinging.
  • Experiment! You might find a great way to get a great shot!
  • Try to get as close to the action as possible. There are far more variables involved as far as how cameras shoot when you are farther away.
How to Take Action Photography