Shoot Photos Like a Pro: Action Shots

Learn when to stop the action or pan along for the best shot.

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When you’re dealing with a subject in motion—a hiker, cyclist, or falcon in flight—you have two choices: Stop the action or pan along with it for a blurred effect.

Stop action

To snap a trail runner in midstride or to freeze the water droplets around a paddler, increase your shutter speed to at least 1/500 of a second (make it 1/1,000 of a second or more for faster subjects, like cyclists or your friend leaping into a swimming hole). Set a point-and-shoot camera to action mode for a similar effect. For the best results, scout out the location beforehand. “Try to hone in on the most photogenic 10 feet in the whole area,” says Patitucci. Set up, then wait for your subject to enter that spot.

Blurred pans

To catch your subject in focus against a blurred background (see below), slow your shutter speed to between 1⁄30 and 1/2 a second. Holding the camera as steady as possible, follow the moving subject with your camera. Release the shutter as you pan along. “It creates a neat painterly effect,” says Zuccareno.

Blurred pans work especially well when the subject is backlit, notes Stableford, because the brighter background emphasizes the difference between the crisp subject and the blur. Use this technique when basic point-and-shoot cameras struggle in low light.

Take control of the action

» Don’t wait for action shots to present themselves. You’ll miss fleeting opportunities, and never create the kinds of shots the pros imagine—then make happen.

» When you know photo ops will come fast and furious—fording a river, scrambling a cliff band—set your camera on program. Carry it in your unzipped chest pack, turned on, with the lens cap off and the neck strap around your neck.

» “Take cool angles—get down on your knees or scramble up on a rock and look down,” advises Zuccareno. “If somebody’s jogging, maybe it’s a shot of his foot leaving the frame.”

» Use a wide-angle lens and get close, with the action coming toward you, for a sense of movement and immediacy. Or walk just behind and to the side of your subject, shooting over his shoulder and including the terrain ahead.

Pro Tip: Shoot More

“When something cool is happening, let it rip and delete the junk,” says Dan Patitucci. Set your camera to its fastest frame rate (at least three frames per second) and shoot until all of the action has stopped.