When shooting photographs with movement, shutter speed is the most important aspect. There’s three ways to take action shots. In some instances all three ways can be used but often the situations only allows for the opportunity to use one or two. Understanding these ways can help you decide in an instant which is best.
SHOWING MOVEMENT WITH BLUR
In most cases a blurred photo is the one that goes in the trash but, it’s also a neat technique for showing aggressive motion. You see this type of action photography in magazines for all kinds of high intensity sports like mountain biking and car racing. It could also be used effectively on team sports, for example a soccer player kicking a goal and having the movement of the foot and the ball be blurred. The same could be applied to baseball and basketball too.
To really get a good effect with this technique you need to have some sharpness in the image, the background or the persons face. For this you need a shutter speed that’s not too fast to stop the motion, but not too slow for the subject to become a foggy blur. There is no exact formula to get this, just trial and error, simply because different subjects move at different speeds.
One way to get this effect without depending on pure luck is mixing in a flash. Most flashes sync with a shutter speed of 125, which would freeze any motion. But, in order to show blur there is a way to shoot flash called slow sync. To do this all you need to do is engage your flash, then change the shutter speed to slower than 125, usually 60 will work fine, but sometime 30 or slower needs to be used. This can be done by hand holding the camera because when the flash goes off it stops all motion in the frame while the remaining time that the shutter is open will create blur.
I recommend experimenting with this technique only when you have multiple opportunities to photograph the same subject. If you only have one chance to get the shot, I would use one of the next two ways to show motion.
Panning shows speed. Any subject that is going at an incredible rate can be captured using this technique. Skiing, motorcycling and cycling are a few examples when panning may be the only solution. Simply put, this way of capturing motion puts the subject at a stand still with the background in a barely recognizable blur.
If you want to try panning, first you need to get your exposure correct. The slower the shutter speed, the more blurred the background will be, so make sure you consider this when determining your exposure. Next, when the subject is near you and you are ready to click the shutter, click and then without hesitation keep your lens pointed directly at the moving subject. This can be tricky because as soon as you click, your view is blocked in the view finder but you should still be able to follow the subject accurately based on their speed.
The final technique, and most times the easiest, is to freeze all motion altogether. This works great to show drama and intensity in team sports, road racing and other slower paced activities. This can be achieved two ways, by either stopping action with a flash or with a fast shutter speed. The latter can only be used in the prime conditions of direct sunlight or by using a higher ISO film or setting on your digital camera. I would only use a higher ISO as a last resort simply because of the graininess and noise it creates in the images. A shutter speed required to stop motion on its own without a flash unit may be upwards of 500 or 1000, so plenty of light would be needed.
Have fun shooting!
Copyright Catherine Bligh