It doesn’t matter if you are a photojournalist, a sports shooter, or just a regular photographer that would just like to capture the action, this kind of photography deserves to be explained more in-depth.
In contrast to other types of photography, shooting action scenes, whether it is a football match, riots in the streets, or your own dog running through the park, your goal as the photographer is to “take a picture” rather than “make a picture”. This means that you have very little or no influence on what is happening in front of your lens. The only thing you can do is to capture it correctly and position yourself correctly in relation to the subject. However, this is also what makes or break a great action photo.
This article will show you, what to do, and how to approach shooting different activities, that are unpredictable, fast-paced, and independent of your will. Treat it as a broad introduction to shooting sports, because every sport has its own set of rules and ways it can be photographed.
Know your gear
Different equipment produces different results and tells the story in a different way. These days, even entry-level DSLR cameras can provide excellent results in capturing fast movement, hence, it is not about the camera, it is the settings where it is all about.
Which Shutter Speed To Use For Action Photography?
It Is a common myth that you need twelve frames per second to shoot sports, or anything that is faster than your toddler running around. Faster shutter speed is the key to this kind of photography.
A shutter speed of 1/250 will stop slower moving objects, 1/500 will stop most, while 1/1000 will stop anything you come across. That is unless you are shooting Formula 1, of course, which is a world for itself. Remember, if the object is moving towards you, or away from you, you could get away with slower shutter speeds. If the object is perpendicular to you, the required shutter speed should be faster.
Photoshop create action : Choose The Right Lens For The Job
Your choice of lens is more important than what kind of DSLR body you have. This is important because different focal lengths provide a different feel and look of your pictures. It is often heard, the famous saying of Robert Capa, ’If your photos are not good enough, you are not close enough‘. Use of wide-angle lenses is very common because they allow you to get very close to your subject, and make the observer feel a part of what is going on in the picture. Wide angle lenses allow more elements to be added to the frame, providing for deeper context that is behind the photo. But this is also a curse because we often see wide-angle photos being crammed with too much going on, and the observer gets confused and does not know where to look.
Fisheye lens is commonly used when photographing extreme sports, such as skateboarding and downhill cycling, because of added dynamic that these lenses provide. What is important with fisheye lenses is that your subject must be in the middle of the frame, in order not to be distorted too much. Since fisheye lenses distort everything, it is good practice to keep your horizon level, just to have one less thing to correct in post processing.
Longer lenses can also be used, going from 50mm and longer, just remember that same rules apply here, composition and context must be included. Of course, you won‘t be as close as you would be with a wide angle lens, but your frame will be neater and added compression from these lenses can help you in separating the object from the background. Longer lenses, telephoto lenses, in particular, are used when creating detail shots, little snippets of clothing and equipment used by the sportsmen.
Being able to compose a picture correctly goes without saying, because your pictures will look more natural and be more pleasing to the eye, and will effectively tell the story you are trying to tell. The rule of thirds still applies, as are all of the other basic composition rules.
One of the more important things to note is, if your subject is moving, for example, from the left to the right side of the frame, you will need to leave more space in the direction of travel. In this case, the subject will be more on the left, with more empty space to the right, so the viewer can “feel” the movement through space.
On the other hand, the next example shows just how the goalkeeper‘s body can be supplemental to the composition of the shot. His body is drawing a diagonal across the frame, which is aesthetically pleasing and interesting. Of course, we can see the ball (a must in shooting sports), as well as opposing team players who expect to score.
What is also important to note here, is that in most cases, just filling the frame with the footballer, or skateboarder jumping through the air is not enough. Your frame must tell, where the action came from. For example, where did the skater jump from, and where will this action, this movement in the photo end. This is what we call context, or the real story behind the photo.
Even if a single photograph is just a moment of time captured in a 1000th part of the second, what is happening in the frame must be able to give the viewer a hint of what happened before, and what will happen in the next moment.
How To Work With Clutter In The Frame?
Try to keep the background clutter to a minimum so nothing will draw the attention of the viewer from the action. This can be helped by using a lens with a large aperture setting, so the background would fall out of focus and leave only the foreground in focus. Shooting against single colored background can also help, this can be a mountain, overcast or a clear sky.
A different way to approach clutter is to incorporate it into the shot, so it gives more information about what is happening in the frame, like opposing team players, other sportsmen, different buildings, rural or urban setting, just as long nothing is highjacking the attention from your primary subject.
Know your sport
Before you even pick up your camera, you must do your homework. Different sports have different rules of the game, and photographing them is, obviously, different. In some sports wide angle lenses are rarely used, because photographers cannot get close to the action. Different standards apply also, in terms of the aesthetics of photographing different sports.
One more thing to notice is, try to get to know the game you are shooting. This means knowing the rules, and observing before you shoot, see the dynamics of the scene that is unraveling in front of you. This means trying to predict where will the ball land, and being prepared for the moment the player will try and score.
Avoid The “Spray and Pray” Technique
Try to avoid what is called ‘spray and pray‘ which means shooting in continuous mode as fast as possible for as long something is happening in front of you. This is even more important if you have an entry-level camera, with slower fps count. The crucial moment you could capture with a single image would slip between your two slower uncontrolled shots.
Faces Are Always Important
Your action shots are better if you can see the players face. Action will get a character of its own, and the observer will stay connected to the picture longer. Shock, awe, sadness, and joy are the things we take pictures for. Balls are also important, all sports that are played with balls are shot in such a fashion that the ball must be always visible. This principle applies to skateboards, cars, bicycles, snowboards, etc.
Want to learn more?
Practice makes perfect, gear is not crucial, it is how you use it, and how well you know to position yourself and wait for that moment. In order to know how to recognize it, study the game, choose your spot and frame according to what gear you have at your hand, and what kind of stories you want to tell with your frames.
Do not be afraid to make mistakes, it the only way to learn. Use this article as a starting point, from which you will expand your experience and knowledge, so you can take your photos to a different level, and tell stories you could not before.
Freelance photojournalist based in Niš, Serbia, always on the hunt for a story, not being afraid to end up hunted by one. Loves shooting music concerts, feature stories and whatever moves fast. Works for different media outlets (BBC, Vice Serbia, Balkanrock, Media Reform Center, Media Research center…etc.). Shoots digital as well as film photography, tools are not important as long as the story is told.