Never Miss a Beat: 10 Tips for Taking Better Action Shots

Who doesn’t need tips for taking better action shots? No matter how hard I try to capture the perfect shot, it always seems to result in a blurred image of what used to be my child when I look at the image on the monitor. I’ve tried all the different settings and still struggle to capture those moments in time. After years of trying to perfect things, I think I’ve finally managed to take some pretty great shots.

Tips for Taking Better Action Shots-Kids Are A TripHow to Take Action Shots with Your Camera

Whether you are a professional sports photographer, a soccer mom, or trying to catch some good shots while on vacation taking “action” shots i.e. where the “subject” is moving can be very challenging. We put together a list of tips that can be great refresher for those familiar and a good starting point for a beginner.

1. Learn your camera’s manual settings

The most important tool in your kit is knowledge of your camera’s manual settings. An action photographer must know how to maximize the light and depth of field and ensure fast action is caught clearly by choosing the best aperture and shutter speed.

Shutter speed ensures you capture the action and should be the highest priority setting. All other settings can be adjusted around the desired shutter speed. The faster the shutter speed, the sharper the subject will be.

Slow vs Fast Shutter Speed
Comparing Shutter Speed (Slow on Left, Fast on Right)
Photo credit: J. Triepke on Flickr

2. Maximize your time with shutter priority

It can be tough to adjust settings on the fly. Reduce guesswork by selecting shutter priority on your camera. This will ensure that you can choose the best shutter speed for your subject – from team to extreme sports – and know that the image will be properly exposed.

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3. Get familiar with ISO

When the light is challenging, it pays to know ISO. A dim fluorescent-lit gym can be a nightmare for most, but if you know that a higher ISO will allow a fast shutter speed in poor light, you are already ahead of the game.

ISO Bethany Cleg

4. Invest in effective gear

The best camera body for the job is a DSLR with interchangeable lenses. A point-and-shoot camera will not be adaptable enough for a fast-moving situation. In addition to a DSLR, a quality wide aperture zoom lens is invaluable to the action sports photographer. Pair the lens with a monopod to stabilize your shots. Since equipment can get expensive, check out a camera rental to rent a suitable camera body or lens.

5. Level with your subject

Don’t be afraid to get creative when trying to get the perfect angle on the action. Often shooting from the ground up or finding a high vantage point creates a more dynamic image. This is very commonplace among performance photography, photographing musicians and stage performers from the ground up make them seem larger than life. Most of the photos coming from a concert similar to mega-fest Coachella are from above looking down or the ground looking up.

If it works over and over for them, it will work for your vacation picture or your kids sports pics.

6. Get up close

The closer you are to your subject, the more exciting the image will be. Convey motion with panning as the subject moves. This will blur the background and capture the subject and its action.

7. Shoot for success

A handy feature on most DSLR cameras is the ability to rapidly take a set of photos. Most camera will allow you to set the speed of the shots as well as how many in a burst. This may necessitate large memory card while working, but it will increase the likelihood that you get the perfect shot.

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8. Protect your gear

Make sure you protect your camera gear from the elements. Action shooting can take the photographer into all kind of weather. Ensuring equipment stays dry and stable should be a top priority. Invest in a waterproof case if photographing around water.

9. Learn basic post-processing

Post-processing will take an image from good to “wow!” Invest in good software or try some of the free tools online to apply the finishing touches on your image. Adjust exposure, color balance, increase saturation and more for a professional image. Cropping the image can be very important too – crop close to the subject for maximum impact.

10. Shoot RAW

Storing photographs in RAW file format guarantees that all data from the scene is captured. In some post-processing programs, you can make adjustments directly to the file. This keeps the quality of the photo high and allows mistakes in exposure or color balance to be quickly fixed.

Shoot Raw
Why you should shoot RAW: Before and After
Photo credit: Severin Sadjina via Flickr

Following these 10 easy tips for taking better action shots will have you improving your camera skills in no time. They are so easy to follow, I wish I had known all of these long ago. A huge thanks to Bethany for sharing these tips.

Bethany Cleg is a founder of Bethany Cleg Photography. She is an avid writer on all things photography. When she’s not writing or taking pictures you’ll find her at the lake with her family. You can also finder her on Twitter.