Action Sports Photography

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action photography

“Skateboarding” captured by Yan G. (Click Image to See More From Yan G.)

In general, the term action or motion picture is associating with shooting at sports events. It is undeniable that capturing participants in sporting events is challenging, but action photography requires more than that.

Any situation where people or objects in motion, including spending time with a child, traveling with a car or train, is a potential exploit for this technique. In the next lines you will be presented with some useful tips that will help you improve your action photography skills.

Exposure time

The action can be immortalized in the photo in two ways: the first version implies a lower shutter speed and the second is represented by a time of exposure that creates a blur effect and a feeling of movement.

Moving the camera in the desired direction is relatively easy if you want to “freeze” the moving object, which can be captured even with lower values of exposure time, generally between 1/250 sec and 1/500 sec. In the event that the subject is moving at an angle of 45 degrees from the camera, freezing it at the above mentioned values is more difficult.

Thus, to be sure that the picture is successful, it is recommended to choose a value between 1/500 sec and 1/1000 sec. But the worst situation is when the subject is located at an angle of 90 degrees from the camera. In these conditions exposure should be reduced to values close to 1/1000 sec most of the times and if you are shooting subjects moving at high speed, such as cars or running athletes, you are required to choose values of approximately 1/2000 sec.


One of the most important aspects in action photography is synchronization, which is anticipating the right moment for the photo. If the start was made too early, the camera will not capture anything spectacular and if it was made too late, that time is of the utmost importance was missed.

sports photo

Photo captured by Stevie Mc Teague (Click Image to See More From Stevie Mc Teague)

For these reasons this type of photography is important to know how to anticipate moments of maximum intensity. However, you will often not have to wait for a special event to practice your skills because movement can be found everywhere around us.

The necessary equipment

Freezing a subject in a photograph can be achieved by triggering the flash. In terms of objectives used for everyday actions you can use just about any kind of objective, but when it comes to shooting sports activities telephoto lenses are mandatory. If the action takes place near the camera, lenses with focal lengths between 200 mm and 300 mm are sufficient. But for the action that takes place on a runway, stage or stadium, which implies a rather large distance between the camera and the subject you need lenses with a focal length of 400 mm, 500 mm or even 600 mm in certain situations.


Besides the use of devices that will help capture the subject and setting a proper exposure time, camera positioning is another important factor contributing to the success of action photography. Its location must coincide with the person who will view the picture.

how to take action photos

“Hawks in the Pass” captured by Barry Price (Click Image to See More From Barry Price)

If you manage to transpose the viewer into the atmosphere and set the scene your picture will be even more spectacular.

For further training on action photography:

Here is a helpful video from Canon.┬áBy combining his passion for photography and sport, Craig Golding has become one of Australia’s best sports photographers. In this sports photography tutorial, Craig highlights the best techniques for high speed sports photography as well as photography tips for how to take action photos.

Best of luck with your action photography efforts, a very fun & challenging type of photography.

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One Comment

  1. mary says:

    Go check out this guy’s sport photos which are all manual focus using Pentax gear.

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