Photography - Knowledge

Photography Basics: 13 Tips to Venture into the Field of Action Photography

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Photography is an art form that is generally perceived to be fairly easy. This, however, is not the case. Like any other art, photography requires a lot of practice. If it were possible to become a great photographer just by getting a good camera, there would be no dearth of amazing pictures. Sadly, most people tend to think that they can master any type of photography just by clicking randomly. The technique of photographing different objects can be as different as chalk and cheese! Consider action photography for example. Taking a picture in the middle of the movement and imperfect lighting conditions are clearly very different from taking a portrait picture.

Action photography and sports photography are very exciting as they capture some very minute expressions. At the same time, clicking pictures in these events requires a nimble movement of the photographer’s fingers on the camera. As with all forms of photography, action photography requires some specific camera settings for yielding a great action shot. Let us start with the basic camera specifications and settings for action sports photography.

Camera Specifications and Settings for Action Photography

You don’t need expensive equipment to master the art of action photography. You must, however, be willing to stick to the fundamentals about taking sports and action photographs and realise the essence what you want to capture.

Action photography will invariably involve people and objects moving at a much faster pace than normal. There will be a palpable tension in the arena in addition to a cheering crowd and raw human emotions at play. You would want to get the perfect shot in these situations, the shots that bring out the best of the subject. Any good sports photographer would guide you how to take a good picture in sports events. Basically, the key to taking a good picture is to keep the camera settings in mind.

1. Choice of Lens

action photography choice of lens
Go Big or Go Home (Source)

The specifications of the lens you use will directly impact the quality of the picture. In sports photography, you can either get close to the action, like in a wrestling or boxing match; or you have to shoot from a distance, as in football. For sports that involve a large playing surface, it is advisable to get a fast zoom lens. This is because you will be largely shooting from a fixed position and would not like to miss on any opportunity of clicking a great shot. If you are covering an event that is limited to a small area, you will get the opportunity to move around and find your best shot.

2. Wide Aperture

A wide aperture will complement the other settings of your camera and result in stunning action shots. If you choose a fast lens, like the f/2.8 or f/4 lenses that are generally used in the best camera for action shots, then it will not be a problem to capture high-speed events. But if you have a lens with an aperture of f/5.6 or smaller, then you will have to open the aperture as wide as possible.

3. Fast Shutter Speed

Perhaps the most crucial aspect of action photography is the shutter speed of the camera. Action sports camera settings invariably depend on the shutter speed for capturing clear action shots that are not blurry. A good starting point is a shutter speed of 1/500th of a second as this speed will work for most sports events, except extremely high-speed action events like an F1 race. In car races and motorcycle races, one might have to go to a shutter speed of 1/1000th of a second.

4. ISO Settings

Given the high shutter speed you will be working with, it is advisable to have the maximum exposure for the click. Increasing the ISO speed will get you as close as possible to the perfect shot for action photography. This means that you will have to use the lowest ISO setting. Of course, you will have to keep changing this parameter during the progression of the event but always start with the lowest setting.

To understand how F-Stops work and how to use them, Read F-stop in DSLR Photography: Know Which One to Use!

Here's a Aperture-Shutter Speed-ISO Cheat Sheet that can help you:

action photography shutter speed iso aperture cheat sheet
Find the Perfect Balance (Source)

5. Flash Settings

It is a general rule to turn off the flash for action photography because of obvious reasons. If you are too far from the action, your flash will not make a difference to the picture quality. If you are too close to the action, your flash will create a distraction for the subject. Hence, always remember to turn off the flash.

This pretty much sums up the basic settings that are essential for sports photography. Keeping these settings in mind will give you a head start in this area and you will be able to get better pictures every time.

6. Continuous Shooting Mode

action photography burst mode
Never Miss a Perfect Shot! (Source)

It is advisable to shoot in continuous mode, also known as the burst mode. This enables you to capture up to 6 shots at a time, increasing the likelihood of getting the best shot.

Action and Sports Photography Tips for Getting the Best Shot

With all the settings in place, you are set to venture into the field of action photography.We have compiled some tips and tricks to help you get stunning shots.Have a look and thank us later.

Tip #1: Check the Settings before the Event Starts

action photography before the event
Double Check Everything (Source)

No doubt that you have carefully researched and incorporated the recommended settings. Testing these settings before the main event will ensure that these work optimally. It will also save you from last-minute panic if the picture quality is not up to your expectation because you will have time to re-work these settings.

Tip #2: Plan the Photography Set-up in Advance

action photography spot
Pick a Spot (Source)

Don’t wait for the event to begin before you choose the right position and right set-up to click action photography. Depending on the event to be covered, pre-plan the best spot for taking pictures. This will save a lot of time and you will not miss any of those picture-worthy moments.

Tip #3: Master the Technique of Pre-focus

action photography pre-focus arena
Focusing beforehand (Source)

Since sports photography involves clicking pictures rapidly, one great tip for capturing the best shot is to practice how to pre-focus. This essentially means that your camera will focus on the arena before the game begins. As soon as the action starts, you simply start clicking and capturing.

Tip #4: Shoot at Will

keep clicking action photography
Just Keep Clicking (Source)

Not to be taken literally, of course. All we intend to say is that once you find the right spot, the right conditions and the right settings, just keep on clicking. The more shots you take, the higher will be your chance of finding the perfect shot. Don’t’ chimp at the LCD screen after clicking- this counts as a waste of time. You don’t want to risk missing that perfect shot while you are looking at the LCD screen.

Tip #5: Have Enough Storage Space

Given the settings, you will be working with, and the fact that you will be clicking tonnes of pictures, the last thing you want is running short of storage space. Keep in mind that you should have extra and fast memory cards to ensure that you can safely store everything you have captured. And always have a spare memory card with you.

To Know Which Memory card is good for you, Check Out: SDHC vs SDXC - Which Memory Card to Pick for Your Camera?

Tip #6: Pan It Right

panning in action photography
In the Blur of the Moment (Source)

Sometimes, it is a great idea to pan the camera along the subject as it moves. This increases the likelihood of capturing a shot with zero blur and maximum sharpness. If it is a car race you are covering, then you must pan the camera along the moving car. If it is a person you are trying to photograph, try to focus on the face to capture exquisite expressions. In either case, try to zoom in and get the best shot.

Tip #7: JPEG Over Other Formats

As a stark contrast to other kinds of photography where RAW is the recommended format, action photography comes out best if the images are saved as JPEG. It is true that RAW pictures offer the maximum scope of tweaking during post-processing, but in high motion and speed photography, JPEG is most compatible with the fast shooting.

Tip #8: Anticipate Peak Moments

predicting peak moment in action photography
How to Become a Clairvoyant Sports Photographer

There is no doubt that most photographers click continuously during an action event, much to their advantage. But sometimes, it is better to anticipate the peak moment of action and capture it rather than clicking randomly. For example, the final few seconds of a high-tension wrestling match where the players will try their best to get that much-needed extra point, or the few seconds before the goal as the player approaches the goal post.

Tip #9: Look Out for Pauses

click on pause action photography
Take a Break

That’s right. We said pauses. Sometimes the best action shots are captured in the moment of no action. Imagine the momentary pause that a tennis player takes after that match winning serve. No other moment will capture the expression of the player as this magical pause. Similarly, the pause taken by a concert or theatre group as they approach the final sequence offers a lot of things worthy of a photograph.

Tip #10: Focus on the Focus

the focus in action photography
Stay Focused (Source)

In action photography, the high speed of the subject coupled with the wide aperture settings of your camera will leave very little scope for depth in your field. This would mean that you really have to hold your grip on the focus otherwise you will end up with blurred and poor-quality pictures. Your camera will have different focus modes and it is worthwhile to try all them out to figure out the one that works best. Most cameras will offer focus modes for stationary and for moving subjects, so keep on experimenting a bit with it.

Tip #11: Think like the Subject

Many times, it works wonders if you actually think from the subject’s point of view before clicking a picture. Allowing the subject to move freely is one very effective way to get stunning shots. For example, the subject does not always have to be in the centre of your photograph. If you are capturing a diver’s brisk plunge, you may consider positioning the subject on the top of the photograph for a more striking effect. This gives the impression that the subject is going to dive down. In other words, this makes your picture speak.

Tip #12: Find the Right Shooting Angle

all angles in action photography
Cover Every Angle (Source)

The photograph looks way more powerful if the subject is shot from a low angle. In action photography, the subject can appear more intense and powerful if the photographer lies low at the time of taking the photograph.

Tip #13: Balance It Out With White Balance

A fundamental difference between shooting action shots outdoors and indoors is the difference in lighting conditions. While the outdoor event will most likely offer a uniform lighting, indoor events might give you a hard time because of variable lighting. This is why you should get rid of the automatic white balance adjustment of the camera and switch to manual adjustment. Otherwise, you will find a yellowish green tinge in all your pictures.

Summing Up

Now we have shared all the expert guidelines and recommendations with you on how to capture stunning action photography shots. However, one thing that needs to be mentioned is that with any form of photography, it is important to practice as much as possible. Regular practice not only makes you more comfortable while working with a particular kind of settings, it also instigates confidence in you. You shouldn’t wait for a big sports event or cultural evening to start clicking action shots. Even the most mundane activities could be an inspiration for you.

inspiration for action photography
Get Inspired!

Look at the kids playing happily in the park. They run, jump, hop and are constantly moving. A playground with amateurs practicing is an excellent source of finding action shots. Similarly, look at pet lovers happily taking their dog for walking, or kids having fun with their skateboards. Isn’t there a lot of inspiration for your next action photography session? Look around and let inspiration find you.

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