Monday, February 28, 2011

Action Photography: Taking Amazing Pictures

ActionPhotographing pictures of moving subjects is a challenging and rewarding way to capture amazing shots. Whether you're photographing your son's baseball game, a go-kart race or a professional sports event, there are lots of great action pictures waiting to be captured. It takes some knowledge of the activity you are photographing and a few special skills but you can master them with a little practice. Take note, you have to practice them; just reading about them won't do the trick. So dust off those cameras!

There are a few things you need to start practicing in order to see the results of your efforts. Practice focusing (in manual and AF or auto focus modes) and following the action with the camera. Practice tracking a child or pet around the yard or a park, trying to snap the shutter at the right moments. Practice panning the camera by tracking cars driving by on a busy street. When you start to feel comfortable doing these things, start taking actual pictures of these same subjects. You will be able to check on your progress and see which techniques you've got down and which ones still need work.
Practice and keep on practicing! It may seem difficult at first, but after a while, the mechanical aspects of using your camera for action shots will become second nature and you'll be able to concentrate on composition, emotional moments and all the other things that make for good action pictures.

Freeze or Blur

Freeze ActionBlur ActionBasically, there are two ways to deal with action, photographically: freeze it (to emphasize sharpness) or blur it. To freeze action, shoot at a fast shutter speed in bright light and set your camera's ISO at 400 or 800. Of course, this depends upon on the subject's speed and direction of travel and the lens focal length you're using. To blur action, use a slower shutter speed in dimmer light and set your camera's ISO at 100 or 200.

These are things you have to learn through experience. When shooting action subjects, try using different shutter speeds and keep notes of your activity. By doing so, you will be able to gauge the results you like. As a rule, shutter speeds of 1/1000 or faster freeze most sports action and shutter speeds of 1/15 or slower blur them. Shutter speeds in between might or might not freeze action subjects; it depends on the subject and what it is doing.


PanningPanning means smoothly moving the camera to track the moving subject so that the subject remains in one spot in the viewfinder. If you want to show motion and also have the subject appear sharp, use a slow shutter speed and pan the camera to follow the subject while you shoot. You should start tracking the subject through the camera's viewfinder before it gets to the point where you want to record it, release the shutter when the subject reaches the desired point and remember to follow through. When you pan the camera to track the subject, you are "stopping" the subject and causing the background to "move." The result is a sharp subject against a blurred background, which is a great way to emphasize the speed of a car. Again, this isn't easy and takes practice!

Anticipating Action
Peak ActionTo capture subjects in action requires anticipation so you can release the shutter at exactly the right moment. Find the most suitable camera position and then try to interpret how the action will develop so that you can be ready with the camera. This is also considered to be shooting at the peak of action. The law of gravity demands that what goes up must come down and there is a point where it starts going up before it starts back down. Shoot at the point when the subject appears to hang motionless in midair and you will get a sharp action shot.

Staying Focused
AutofocusFocusing on rapidly moving subjects is not easy, even with the auto focus on your camera. You have to keep the subject in the AF target area in the viewfinder or the camera won't focus on it. Practice shooting moving vehicles and you'll develop a knack for focusing on moving subjects and accurately tracking them with the camera. One trick is to pre-focus on a point you know (anticipate!) your subject will cross and then shoot as it arrives there. This is much easier than trying to focus on a rapidly moving subject while simultaneously trying to pan the camera smoothly. Also, the best way to use AF for action is to track the subject with the camera, press the shutter halfway down to activate the AF system, then press the shutter button all the way down as the decisive moment arrives.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Alright, get those cameras ready and practice, practice, practice! Send me some of those fantastic shots and I will grade them accordingly! Have fun!