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5 Tips for Taking the Liveliest Action Shots

Reading Time: 4 minutes read

If you prefer saying “action” instead of “cheese” before taking a photo, chances are you’re an action shot enthusiast. Even if you’re more of the “say cheese” variety of photographer, it never hurts learning new ways of capturing images. Expanding your photography horizon helps improve all aspects of your photo taking. Here are 5 tips that will have you taking better action shots in no time.  

What Is an Action Shot?

Action photography is an attempt to capture and convey motion in pictures. Our world is constantly in motion, though some things move slower than others. Photography is basically a still medium. Photographers have to employ specific camera techniques to capture shots that clearly convey movement.

Young man boxing at the punching bag

With landscapes or portraits, subjects aren’t moving so a number of different camera settings can get a proper exposure. Action photography requires prioritizing the shutter speed. This will prevent blurring photos, and will help you freeze the action.

The faster your subject is moving, the faster your shutter speed needs to be. When shooting in natural light, try the Shutter Priority mode on your camera settings to dial in a constant shutter speed that works for your subject. From there, cameras do the work of finding the ISO and aperture for action shots. 

Here’s a quick cheat sheet: 

Walking: 1/125

Running: 1/250 – 1/500

Action sports: 1/1000 +

2. Show Movement

shoe movement

Action shots shouldn’t look as if your subject is frozen in midair. Introducing a sense of movement is key to really capturing the action too. In the example above, the woman’s hair shows that she’s moving and it’s not just just shot from different angles. Another way to show motion would be to use negative space to convey where your subject is going.

3. Try Interesting Angles

Young girl playing with hula hoop

We see the world from about five to six feet everyday, so mix things up and shoot from different angles. Get low and shoot up at your subject so they appear to tower over the viewer. Conversely, get up high and shoot down for a bird’s eye view of the action like this hula hooper. Getting out of your usual line of sight opens up new and interesting ways to capture subjects. 

4. Choose Your Background Carefully

Rope swing holding on tropical palm tree , female enjoying sunset swing above beach

After taking the time to set your camera and pick an interesting angle, be sure to check the composition. That also includes what’s in the background. A busy distracting background can interrupt the focus of your image. Scout a clean location to frame your subject, or even better, find a background that adds to the story. In this image, the person on the rope swing is isolated just above the horizon. The beach, clouds, surf and setting sun compliment the subject without competing with it. 

Setting the auto focus on the camera can also blur background to minimize its impact on your action shots. Auto focus tells the camera to isolate focus on your subject and not on the background. 

5. Capture the Peak of the Action

Young man boxing at the punching bag

Because timing is of the essence, pre focus on a spot you anticipate your subject moving to. Your chances of capturing the shot increase tremendously. DSLR and digital cameras also have continuous shooting options that take multiple shots per second as long as the shutter button is pressed. The resulting group of photos contain way more options than you could achieve manually. On camera phones it’s commonly called burst photography.  On DSLR’s, it’s often camera settings called Continuous Mode. Continuous shooting increases your chances of getting the action shots you want.   

What to Do with Action Shots

Once you capture some successful action shots, the next step is doing something with them. Besides posting online and showing them on your camera, printing action shots in photo books, calendars, cards, and even canvas is ideal. Photos have a way of being forgotten as they’re pushed down the scroll. That’s why it’s important to feature your best in print. Make a coffee table book for your home or even as a thoughtful gift. Feature one in a special place in your home, work space, or even a gallery. Motif is the easiest way to make this happen.  

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