Action photography –

It is extremely difficult to shoot great action photography without an SLR and long FAST lenses…however it gets easier if you have intimate knowledge of your subject.

As an example…the many disciplines of clay shooting are of great interest to me, as i used to enjoy shooting skeet, DTL, and sporting 3 times a week. This gives me an intimate knowledge of this type of sports action, i know precisely where the clays are coming from…where the gun is and where the gun will hit the clay. This knowledge will help me to get closer to the subject and position myself to get the best out of my action photography.

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Another tip you can do successfully (especially with shooting) is to exaggerate…for example, it’s pretty impressive when you break your first couple of clays consistently…however…say you are shooting skeet…you will be using a skeet gun, which is designed for maximum shot spread…so to exaggerate killing the clay, swap guns for a trap gun…with 32 inch barrels that are fully choked, this is my Miroku Trap gun.


Because of the restriction or choke in the barrels, the clays will be smoked…which, at the end of the day,results in some really impressive action photography.

Here is an example of smoking clays, whereby these ladies are using discipline, accuracy and precision shooting, over brute force…the clays are travelling that fast, i bet you struggle to see them before they are smoked!

Position your self at different heights, low angles, get access to a ladder to get above any crowds can make a difference to any action photography. Just before i move on, here is a video for those of you that enjoy “the kill”…a slowed down version of smokin clays…you can actually SEE the shot hitting the target…full screen of course…volume FULL.

Action photography can be one of the most daunting types of photography, even to the advanced shooter. The slightest mistake can ruin a shot. Having said that, it’s also important to remember that with action photography, you get a lot of chances to get a shot with great impact. There’s a built-in drama unlike any other subject I’ve come across.

Looking to capture the perfect shot but maybe the lighting isn’t great? Trying to stop the action at a little league game and needing a higher shutter speed? Raising the ISO on your camera will allow you to shoot at a higher shutter speed, giving you a better chance of getting the perfect shot.

For professional action photography, use a shutter speed of around 1/1000 of a second to stop motion. During the day this is simple. At night however, you may need a faster F Stop than your lens is suited for. To compromise, you increase the ISO (what used to be film speed) of your camera. This now allows your camera to see more light.

action photography

So, how high do you go? If you are shooting with the latest and greatest cameras, such as the Nikon D800 or Canon 5d Mark II, you can actually use ISO up to its highest levels (3200 ISO) and your action shots will still look good. In the past, higher ISO meant more noise in your photos. With newer camera systems, though, pictures look great at any level.

 Shoot at 1600 ISO. It provides a good happy medium between 800 ISO and 3200 ISO and allows you to shoot at a much faster shutter speed for action photography.

Depending on the camera, you may also want to use Auto ISO to allow your camera to automatically choose the best ISO settings for you. The one unique feature about this is that the auto system doesn’t change your ISO at full steps, such as 400 ISO to 800 ISO, instead it can change your ISO from 200 ISO to 210 ISO. Consider this setting if you are just starting to use ISO settings for improved night shooting.

You don’t have to be shooting professional sports to try something different. Even when you photograph high school football, always look for new angles and ideas.

The key to capturing the perfect shot in sports comes down to relatively few things. One of the most important things is glass. Action photography, unlike any other type, occasionally requires the biggest and most expensive equipment available. This allows you to shoot from anywhere around the stadium, including the end zones in football, creating the perfect head on shot.

I say occasionally for a key reason. As we mentioned earlier, cameras now can do cool things with high ISO settings. This now allows people to use slower lenses for shooting sports, such as an f/4.

When looking for good glass for action photography, consider these factors:

Rent a lens for your action photography.

Powerful Prime lenses are hugely expensive…but DO NOT let this become an obstacle. Don’t think down the lines of “Oh i can’t DO THAT SHOT because i don’t have a 500mm lens…RENT IT ! I know this sounds like i am plugging rental places…but i’m not…i am merely suggesting that it is “do-able” especially if you split the cost with a couple of your photographer mates…think of the fantastic action photography you WILL have. You could be sitting on very profitable image for your gallery/portfolio.

Soooo, consider a long lens such as a 300mm or 400mm if you can afford it. If not get a 70-200mm….second thoughts…get BOTH….no, get all three.

  • Choose a lens with an f/stop of f/2.8 of f/4. Try and avoid f/5.6 like the plague.
  • The bigger and heavier the lens, the better it usually is.
  • Make sure the lens has a tripod mount built in.
  • Look for lenses that have stood the test of time: there is a reason Nikon and Canon don’t change their lens line up often.

When buying good glass, it’s not like buying a new camera body. A good lens will last at least 10 years with proper care and maintenance.

The pressure of action photography can lead you to “chimping”. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, this definition will clear everything up.

Essentially, chimping is when you check every photo you take on the LCD. Why is this bad? It takes your eye off the action and puts it on the camera. This is bad for two reasons: (1) you can get hurt more easily when you are not paying attention, and you may miss a good shot.

When you chimp, you take your eyes off the field and the action. If you’re shooting football, you can easily be run over on the sideline if your mind is elsewhere.

While reviewing your pictures is ok, there is a time and a place to do so. With action photography, after the shutter clicks there’s no second chance. Move on to the next play.

Along with trying something different you should try a different shutter speed sometimes. If you’re shooting tennis or golf and want to capture the swing in a perfect silhouette, I don’t suggest shooting at 1/60 of a second. If, however, you want a cool blurry background shot, it works great.

 Shooting at 1/100 of a second or 1/80 of a second allows the player to be in focus and sharp but the background to be very blurry and creates a cool effect.

Thanks for looking at todays action photography blog and have a great week…G

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