Beginner Tips for Shooting Action Photography

Digital camera owners who are not that experienced in taking photos often find it hard to capture the action scenes they so desire. With their subjects being mobile, they may not be aware of what to do with their camera to take the best action shots.

photographing a rodeo

photo by Emil Kepko

Indeed, it can be quite a challenge to engage in sports and action photography. Movements are fast and unpredictable, so you need to be quick in clicking your shutter. Whatever type of digital camera you have, you really need to take the extra effort to take clear pictures of people and animals in motion. It’s also best to learn the right techniques so you won’t get frustrated with your photos.

In action and sports photography, the most important factors to keep in mind are pre-focusing and timing, especially for very fast moving or far away subjects. It pays to be alert and ready with your camera so that anytime you see an action worth capturing, you can do it instantly.


Pre-focusing means locking the focus of your camera to the scene where you want to take your shots (consider using AF to lock onto the spot, then simply switch to manual focus so you say focused on that spot). This technique will lower the lag time between the pressing of your shutter release button and the actual taking of the image. This step will also help you plan your shots well.

jumping dancer

photo by torbakhopper

Shutter Lag

In terms of timing, you will need to learn the shutter-lag delay of your own camera. Shutter-lag delay remains a fact despite the advancement in digital camera technology. Some DSLRs still have an issue with this.

To determine your camera’s shutter-lag delay, first take a test shot and observe the lag. Take note of how long it is so that you can pre-shoot to compensate for that lag. Normally, it’s only a matter of seconds but then in action photography, keep in mind that time is gold if you want to take the best shots possible.


Panning is another way of capturing great action scenes. Think if it as following your subject, such as a football player, a cyclist, or race car, with your camera as you snap the photograph. Some of you may be surprised to know that panning actually helps in taking clearer photos of a subject in motion than when photographing it while you’re holding still, because it helps capture subjects in which you are matching the speed of their movement. Having an optical viewfinder will be very helpful for this purpose.

car race panning

photo by darren price


Using your camera’s flash is also a great tactic to capture unique action shots. It’s best to use the flash when you’re closer to the subject and when the scene is dark. This technique helps to freeze the action and highlight your subject more. As the light is focused on the subject, the background will usually become blurry resulting in a beautiful effect. Just remember to always plan your shot, pre-focus, and pan to capture wonderful photos with your subject standing out from the scene.

About the Author:
Kalyan Kumar writes for 42Photo, a camera store in business for 40 years.

Now that we have the basics figured out, let’s head out to the motocross track and see some real world examples in this video. Keep the action alive in your photographs; it’s not always just about freezing the action, it’s about expressing it:

Panning is very simple. Just set shutter speed and aperture, hold your camera and pan along with moving subject (tracking motion with your camera). Guess what you’ll get? Bingo! A sharp subject with blurred background. Of course, you might think this is easy, but it can be a little tricky. For further training head over to our next lesson on panning photography.

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