High motion events such as sports, family parties with kids running around, and occasions where animals are active require very specific settings, strategies, and gear. You can do a lot with a digital SLR kit and even your first upgrade wide angle lenses. But you need to learn the ropes to get good photos, and these tips will help.
You don’t have to start with a big gear upgrade unless you’re sure you want to stick with high-motion sports, but digital SLR kits can’t keep up with your needs once you start trying to take top-quality action shots. The most important thing is a fast, telephoto lens with image stabilization. This lets you get the emotions on faces and fill the frame with the subject in motion, whether it’s a player jumping or an animal lunging. Some people also use a monopod to support it and help with the weight and image stabilization that becomes much more pronounced with longer telephoto lenses.
If you aren’t springing for new gear, you need to learn other work-arounds to maximize the effectiveness of your lens and other gear. Focus on getting the settings right, discussed below, finding enough light, and getting closer to your subject.
Generally you want to let your camera operate with the fastest shutter speed possible, assuming you want to eliminate any image blur. There is an entire field of motion photography that utilizes blur, but for conventional high-motion shots, you want to “freeze” the action. This requires coordinating other settings to let in enough light.
Increase the ISO as much as you can tolerate. The higher ISO settings, above 800 or 1600, may introduce noise and graininess into the shot, so you have to determine what your priority is. Then open the aperture. The more open it is, the faster you can set the shutter speed and still get enough light. This also shrinks the depth of field, which can be beneficial or problematic depending on what kind of shot you want. Figure that out ahead of time with some practice shots so you don’t have to fiddle with settings during the action.
Next, shoot in servo or drive mode. This lets you snap several photos in rapid succession without having to repeatedly press the shutter button. You just press once and it keeps firing until you release, which is a great way to accidently get a good shot. To support this, be sure you have a large memory card and several spares. They fill up quickly.
Take Control of Automated Settings
White balance and focus are two settings typically left to the camera’s computer. However, if you’re shooting an event indoors or are very concerned with camera response, you should set white balance manually. Once it’s set, it won’t ever look weird and your camera won’t have to process it before taking the shot.
Manual focus is something of a bogey man for new photographers. However, many digital SLR kits are slow to focus, and this timing can cost you. Instead, learn to focus manually and get the focus ready before the action happens so you’re prepared and in control for that unique, picture-perfect moment.
Choosing Your Spot
Get close to the action. This is never more important than if you can’t afford a huge, powerful lens. To do this, you have to figure out where the dramatic moments will happen. At a party, kids may range far and wide across outdoor space, so you have to pick your spot perfectly for lighting and emotion. At a sporting event, most of the best shots happen near the goal or scoring area.
Just be sure you also consider getting enough lighting so that your shots aren’t underexposed. And avoid the flash. It’s better to walk around, or better yet, scout available lighting ahead of time, instead of relying on the flash, which can be unpredictable and create harsh contrast.
Prepare for Shutter Lag with Good Timing
Timing is everything with high-motion event photography. Two ways to change your behavior to deal with this are being prepared and pressing the shutter half a second ahead of time, and not “chimping.” If you’re shooting a batter in baseball, for example, instead of waiting and reacting to the contact between bat and ball, press the shutter a little early and hold it down through contact. This way you can’t be late.
“Chimping” refers to checking your LCD viewfinder after every shot. At sporting events this can be dangerous, and it always means you are taking your eyes of the action. That’s the easiest way to miss a once-in-a-lifetime shot. This is good advice at any event. Find the right moment to review your shots so you aren’t always looking away from the subject.
Digital SLR kits provide you with more than enough equipment to begin taking photos at high-motion events. You just need to follow these tips and learn the art of action photography to start taking powerful photos regardless of all the motion.