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Shooting For Action

For sports with movement that’s less predictable, by using zone focusing, you can set up your aperture and focus to cover an area where your subject will most likely end up.

There’s nothing more thrilling in sports photography than nailing the climactic moment in a still image. For an athlete, those moments might only last a second, but when a great image is captured of it, it can last forever. Just as in sports, a successful image often can come down to practice and being in the right place at the right time, and by refining your photographic skills, having the right equipment and learning how to position yourself and your lens, you can make sure that your images are consistently touchdowns.


When shooting action shots of sports with swiftly moving subjects, your most important teammates are shutter speed and aperture. Shutter speeds give you the ultimate control over sharpness, and for the quick and erratic movements that you find in most sports, you want to use a very fast shutter speed indeed. In general, a shutter speed of ½50 sec. is the bare minimum for freezing action, though most photographers recommend going much higher.

The advantage to using a wide aperture is twofold. Large apertures of ƒ/2.0, ƒ/2.8 and ƒ/4 are considered “fast” apertures because each stop lets in twice as much light as the previous, gaining you a single shutter speed for each stop. Lenses with wide apertures are worth the extra investment.

The wider your aperture, the shallower your depth of field will be. This will keep the background and foreground surrounding your subject out of focus, which helps to bring your viewer’s attention to the subjects in your image. The flip side of a shallow depth of field is that your subject will fall out of the area of focus more easily. So keep it tight for visual impact, but give yourself enough leeway for movement.

Panning or tracking with your subject is a good way to get a sharp shot against an out-of-focus background. By using a slower shutter speed and following along at the same relative speed as he or she is moving, the athlete will stay clear but the rest of the scene will have motion blur. It will take a lot of trial and error to perfect, but it’s an exciting way to give the impression of movement in a still photo.

Autofocus on modern DSLRs is incredibly quick and accurate, even with rapidly moving subjects. Still, sometimes there will be situations where manual focus will work better, especially when working with the incredibly fast speeds of car racing or bike racing. In these situations, panning with or following the subject will give you great focus.

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