Take your action photography to the next level
Set the right mode
If your camera has them, the best modes to use are Shutter Priority AE (Tv) or Sports. The first lets you choose the shutter speed; the second automatically chooses for you.
Tip: When someone is moving at high speed towards you, it’s tough to track them. Try pre-focussing on the spot where you think the action will happen, and half press the shutter with your finger. When the action hits the spot, simply squeeze the shutter to take the shot.
It’s simpler to capture dynamic sports if you use Sports mode. You can then keep the shutter pressed while snapping high speed sequences. The camera uses tracking focus and dynamically changes to the best AF point to follow the action – while ensuring every frame stays sharp.
Storage and battery
Use a high-speed memory card for shooting long sequences of continuous frames. Standard memory cards fill up too fast, because the camera uses its buffer for temporary storage. Continuous Shooting Drive mode uses up battery power too, so make sure yours doesn’t run flat. If you don't have a spare battery, make sure you have the power turned off when you’re not using the camera or you activate Auto power off.
Track your subjects
Check your camera menu for SERVO AF feature. When this is active the camera will continuously track moving subjects and keep them in sharp focus. It’s best to start tracking just before the subject is in the ideal spot.
If you’re too far away and need to make your subject bigger, then it’s best to zoom in manually and keep digital zoom as a last resort because it can make the shot more pixelated. In large venues, such as stadiums and arenas, the flash will only light the two or three rows in front of you – so turn it off.
Narrow your focus
In sports images, the background and foreground often feature colourful and contrasting objects. To keep the subject focussed amid these busy scenes, try selecting the smaller AF points zone. It takes skill to keep them on the subject, but the result will be worth it.
Tip: Check your camera menu for the AI SERVO AF feature. When AI SERVO AF is active the camera will try to track moving subjects continuously to keep them in sharp focus. It helps to choose the subject a little early and start the tracking before they are in the ideal spot.
Optical viewfinder keeps both eyes on the game
Use the optical viewfinder auto focus to track and follow your subject, being sure to keep one eye open, so you don’t miss any action.
Tip: Practise keeping both eyes open, with one looking through the viewfinder and the other at the overall scene. You’re less likely to miss important moments.
Timing is key
The best shots are taken at precisely the right moment. For instance, if you get into the rhythm of a tennis match, you’ll see the players briefly slow as they serve – this is ideal, because the ball is stationary.
Tip: Use the focus to lock on to the finish line, keeping the shutter half pressed. Then, as competitors make that dramatic last push, all you have to do is lightly touch the shutter.
Adjust shutter speed
Turn your Mode dial to Shutter priority AE (Tv) and select the correct shutter speed. Racing cars moving towards you, for example, would need 1/1000s or more, whereas kids playing football in the garden would need 1/500s. The camera will then automatically select an appropriate aperture. The key to Shutter priority is anticipating what kind of action you’ll be shooting. At fast speeds, use the Auto ISO setting and you will be able to capture your subject even in failing light.
Tip: Keep people in focus when they’re approaching your camera: use a faster shutter speed to capture the action. This is ideal for use on the side-line, when a high-speed football tackle is approaching.
Panning is when you move the camera lens to follow a subject that’s moving parallel to you. It’s often combined with slower shutter speeds, so the subject is sharp while the stationary foreground and background are blurred. To practise, use the optical viewfinder and pivot from your hips to keep the motion smooth. If your lens has an Image Stabilizer (IS), check the side of the lens for an IS Mode switch and set it to IS Mode 2.
Great sporting shots aren’t just about winners. It’s all the little details – the match ball, the ref, the emotion of a single fan in the crowd – that add richness and depth to your portrait of the event. In these cases, your standard or Auto settings will do the trick.
Sporting triumphs can make great movies. Here are some tips for good storytelling too.
Pick out narrative points to help construct your story, starting with the venue and crowds (and focussing on interesting details). When you’re filming running races, capture the start and end, including warm-ups and post-race celebrations. Shoot leading competitors at different places on the track. Include shots of scoreboards, lap charts, last lap bell and so on – they make great transitions between action shots when you’re editing.
Tip: Vary your shots – from wide to medium to tight. Avoid zooming while filming: frame the shot first then press the record button. Lots of short clips are usually better than one long clip.
Present shots at their best
Not surprisingly, the greatest sports images are exciting and impactful – like the sports themselves. High performance glossy paper like Pro Platinum will show them at their best.
If you capture pictures of an arena from different angles, you can use a photo-editing program afterwards to create a dramatic composite image of the whole scene.