Photographing action is quite challenging, but can also be very rewarding.
The keys to success are knowing your camera, knowing your subject...and LOTS
of practice. You have to be able to set focus and exposure quickly (or monitor
them quickly, if using an automatic camera). In short, you can't be fumbling
around trying to figure out how to apply exposure compensation or switch from
single-area AF to multiple-area AF or vice versa while the action is happening.
Camera operation must become second-nature.
fast shutter speed "freezes" motion. Here, 1/5000
even froze the water droplets.
All photos by Mike Stensvold unless otherwise indicated.
It's also very helpful to know as much as possible about your subject,
be it an animal or a sport. The more you know about your subject, the better
you'll be able to anticipate photo ops, and be ready when they occur.
Learn as much as you can about your subjects from books, online, and other sources,
and by watching them yourself.
There's a lot of luck involved, too, of course. But you'll find
that the more you practice and the more you learn about your subjects, the more
often you'll get lucky.
TIP 1: Shutter Speed
There are two basic ways to deal with action subjects: freeze them sharply,
or blur them. Using a fast shutter speed will sharply freeze the subject, while
using a slow shutter speed will blur it. How fast a shutter speed it takes to
freeze the subject, and how long a shutter speed you'll need to blur it
effectively, depend on the subject's speed and distance from the camera,
the focal length of the lens you're using, and the effect you want. The
faster the motion, the closer the subject, and the longer the lens, the faster
the shutter speed you'll need to "freeze" the motion.
With the foregoing in mind, it's a good idea to try a variety of shutter
speeds each time you encounter a new action subject, to see which one(s) produce
the best results for that subject. You'll soon learn what speeds will
produce the effects you prefer.
A slow shutter speed blurs motion, which can be an interesting effect.
Tip 2: Panning Techniques
If you use a slow shutter speed and keep the camera still, the subject will
move through the frame and come out blurred. This is fine for subjects like
hovering hummingbirds, where the body will be sharp and the wings blurred, but
subjects moving across the frame will just be blurred. A better way to deal
with such subjects at slow shutter speeds is to pan the camera--track the
subject with the camera, moving the camera to keep the subject in the same spot
in the finder. The result will be a sharp subject and a very blurred background,
emphasizing the subject's speed.
Panning to track the subject while using a slow shutter speed will
result in a blurred background but a relatively sharp subject.
Track your subject through the viewfinder, press the shutter button halfway
down to activate the AF system, continue tracking the subject, press the shutter
button all the way down to make exposure, and continue tracking the subject
(follow-through is important: if you stop tracking the subject when you take
the shot, the subject will blur and possibly even move out of frame by the time
the camera makes the exposure). Like all action techniques, this one takes practice
to master, but the results are worth the effort.
Shooting at the peak of the action, when an ascending subject briefly
hangs motionless before starting back down, you can get sharp images
even at slower shutter speeds.
Photo by Ron Leach