How to Capture the Perfect Action Shot as a Novice Photographer
When it comes to taking photographs, there’s nothing more challenging than getting the perfect action shot. Whether it’s capturing the moment a runner crosses the finish line or getting that gorgeous photo of a duck as it’s taking off, action photography can be demanding. Thankfully, knowing how to get those great action shots is really just a matter of knowing how to optimize your settings and lots of practice.
Before getting started with knowledge and practice, it’s important to talk about equipment. Choosing between all the different types of cameras available on the market can be confusing. A novice photographer can choose between film, digital, SLR, point-and-shoot, and anything in between. Thankfully, there are some fantastic guides available to help someone decide. In general, however, a good digital SLR will be the top choice.
Once the equipment is chosen, the next step is learning how the various settings work and how to tweak them to allow the best action shots. To understand the settings, it’s necessary to explain how a digital SLR camera works. SLR stands for Single Lens Reflex. There is a single lens in the entire camera assembly, so what you see through the viewfinder is what you get in the photo. When you press the shutter release button to take a photo, three basic settings control how the photo turns out: shutter speed, aperture, and ISO.
The first setting is the shutter speed. This determines how long the shutter is open when the picture is taken. Learning how to change your camera’s shutter speed is essential to ensuring your photos capture action without blur, even with a digital SLR. You can’t rely on your camera’s automatic setting either; in low light, it can slow down the shutter speed to allow more light so the picture is adequately exposed. These slower shutter speeds mean action shots can end up blurry.
Working closely in conjunction with shutter speed is the camera’s aperture, commonly referred to as the f-stop setting. This is the size of the hole in the lens that lets light through. In older film SLRs, this was actually a mechanical iris that opened and closed as you twisted the setting ring on the camera’s body. The f-stop is indicated by a reading that says something like f/1.8 or f/16. An f/1.8 is a larger opening than an f/16, so it lets in more light. The aperture setting also controls the focal depth.
Focal depth is how much of the subject’s surroundings are in focus on the picture. You’ve seen photos where the focus is strictly on the subject in action while everything behind is blurry. That’s due to the focal length being short. The smaller the aperture, the shorter the focal depth is. An f/16 will have a much larger focal length, so more is in focus compared to an f/1.8, where only the subject will be in focus.
ISO is a setting that determines how light or dark your image will be. Back in the days when the film was still used, the ISO rating determined how sensitive a film was. Higher ISO numbers indicated a more responsive film, which required less light to create a photo, so you could use faster shutter speeds. Lower ISO numbers required longer exposures. The trade-off is higher ISO ratings create pictures with more grain or noise. Modern digital cameras continue to use ISO settings to lighten or darken a photo and still suffer from the same grain and noise tradeoff.
Combining the Three
Creating that perfect action shot requires finessing all three settings and knowing what type of photo you want. A high ISO setting allows a faster shutter speed and smaller aperture but means that large prints may be grainy. A larger f-stop means a faster shutter speed and a lower ISO, so large prints will still be sharp. You also need to consider light sources; a shot taken at high noon means you can use a tighter f-stop and lower ISO than you could with something done at dusk. Taking action shots is one of the most challenging aspects of photography. With practice, you can be taking action photos of whatever you desire.