Shooting action shots is a critical skill for any photographer, whether you’re looking into action sports photography, youth sports photography, shooting your kids’ games or just want to be able to capture those exciting fast paced moments in life. We aren’t all trying to be a photographer for the NFL but some basic skill breakdown will make the difference between blurry pictures of your son’s first home run hit and crisp clear images really showing the essence of the moment.
For any shot composition is the key differentiator between a good shot and a great shot. Pay attention to the rule of thirds, the background and try not to cut off too many limbs in the shot. For sports photography, the most important thing to pay attention to is your positioning. The closer you can get the better. Instead of trying to shoot from the stands, walk down to the side of the field. Also try to be weary of where you need to be to get the best shots. For soccer for instance, being closer to one of the field ends will allow you to get a lot of great shots as they close in on the net but you’ll trade off a lot off a lot of action shots at the far end of the field and mid field. Try to stick to the middle field and then bias a bit one way or the other as you get a feel for where more of the action is. Of course if it’s your kid’s’ team, you will want to be closest to where they will be for the majority of the game.
Capturing The Moment
This can be a little trickier than you may think. By the time you recognize the moment and hit the shutter, it’s already passed. Try not to rely on multi shot either. You’ll waste a ton of time going through all your images and you still might not capture the perfect moment. You have to have the foresight to anticipate the moment and have your settings already ready to go. We’ll go over camera settings a bit later but make sure everything is preset and you’re not fumbling through your settings while you’re trying to get the perfect shot.
Make sure you avoid chimping, that is checking how an image turned out on the screen right after you take it. You could be missing a ton of other great shots by wasting all that time staring at the screen.
To avoid motion blur you want to keep your shutter speed high and you can do that two ways in a given lighting condition: pumping up the iso or making sure you have a fast lens. If you pump your iso up you’ll risk noise. Although you shouldn’t be afraid of a little noise as it’ll have a fairly minor overall effect on the shot and can even add an artistic touch to some shots, it can be a pain, if you’re pushing the iso too high. Moral of the story is, you can pump the iso but you are better off having a faster lens. That is a lens with a bigger aperture or lower f stop number. An f2.8 lens will open up a lot wider that an f5.4 lens but will also cost a pretty penny more too. You’ll want to try and get a fixed aperture lens for zooming lenses, so you aren’t fiddling around with your settings as you change your zoom. Instead of buying a f3.5-f5.6 lens, you’re better off buying a fixed f3.5.
Depending on what you’re shooting, you will want a fairly large zoom. For smaller fields I typically like the Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 VRII but if you’re shooting on a larger field you may want to look into higher focal length lenses such as the Nikon 300mm f2.8.
If you aren’t planning on shooting every week, I’d recommend renting lenses. If you find you are renting a certain one continually, invest in buying one.
I’d recommend shooting in manual and getting your settings adjusted shooting the field prior to game play. Be wary of changing light conditions and adjust as needed. Be aware of your depth of field and adjust your iso and aperture as needed. If you have to shot in auto use the shutter priority mode and set the shutter speed according to the sport. If you’re shooting curling, you can use a lower shutter speed but something higher paced like soccer or football, you will want something faster.
Make sure to use continuous focus for your focal setting. You don’t want to be waiting for your camera to lock in focus prior to shooting. Also be aware of your focal point. Lock it in and adjust your composition accordingly for most shots.
Make sure you prioritize your shutter speed and work to master timing and composition. Of course the most important thing is always to enjoy shooting and keep practicing. If you’re looking to find a paid gig, check out our becoming a photographer post.