Taking Action Shots on your DSLR

photo-1445251836269-d158eaa028a6Sports photography, wildlife, and even snapshots of the kids, there are many occasions when you will want to stop action in your photographs.

Capturing moving subjects with pin-sharp images that are also well composed requires a certain degree of know-how. Here are some tips that will help make your action shots look truly professional.

Change the Autofocus Mode

To shoot sharp action photos, you will need to switch your autofocus mode to continuous (AI Servo on Canon and AF-C on Nikon).

In this mode, the camera constantly adjusts focus as it tracks a moving subject.

Continuous mode is also a predictive mode. It sets the focus to where it believes the subject will be after the split-second delay between the mirror rising and the shutter opening in the camera.

Know When to Use Manual Focus

In some sports, you can pretty much determine where a player is going to be (for instance, in cricket, the batsman will always be in front of the stumps).

If there is a very fast moving object (such as a cricket ball), the camera’s autofocus can get confused and struggle to keep up as it “searches” for focus. In cases like this, it is a good idea to use manual focus.

To do this, switch the camera to manual focus and focus on a preset point (such as the player or the stumps in cricket). You will be focused and ready to press the shutter as soon as the action is right.

Use AF Points

If you are shooting on continuous autofocus mode, then you are better off leaving the camera with multiple AF points activated so that it can choose its own focusing point.

When using manual focus, you may find that choosing a single AF point will give you more accurate images.

Use a Fast Shutter Speed

A fast shutter speed is required to freeze action so that it is pin-sharp. Begin with a shutter speed above 1/500. Some sports will require a minimum of 1/1000.

When experimenting, set the camera to TV / S mode (shutter priority). This allows you to choose the shutter speed and lets the camera to sort everything else out.

Use a Shallow Depth of Field

Action shots often look stronger if only the subject is sharp and the background is blurred. This gives a greater feeling of the speed to the subject.

To achieve this, use a small depth of field by adjusting your aperture to at least f/4. This adjustment will also help you get those faster shutter speeds.

Use Fill-In Flash

Your camera’s pop-up flash can be put to good use in action photography as a fill-in flash. First, it can be used to help illuminate your subject and to give you a wider range of apertures to play with.

Secondly, it can be used to create a technique called “flash and blur.” This happens when using a slow shutter speed and the flash is fired manually at the beginning of the shot. The result is that the subject is frozen while the background is filled with blurred streaks.

If relying on a pop-up flash, keep its range in mind. The flash may work well on a basketball court, but it may not reach to the other side of a baseball field. Also, watch to make sure that you do not get shadows while using a telephoto lens with the pop-up flash. It is more ideal to get a separate flashgun.

Change the ISO

If you have tried everything else and you still do not have enough light entering the camera to stop action, you can always increase your ISO. Be aware, however, that this will create more noise within your image.

How to Create an HDR Photo in Gimp

High-dynamic-range imaging (HDRI or HDR) is a technique used in imaging and photography to reproduce a greater dynamic range of luminosity than is possible with standard digital imaging or photographic techniques. The aim is to present the human eye with a similar range of luminance as that which, through the visual system, is familiar in everyday life. The human eye, through adaptation of the iris (and other methods) adjusts constantly to the broad dynamic changes ubiquitous in our environment.

In other words, make some really stunning and dramatic photos that POP! Using HDR techniques might seem a little complicated at first, but once you get the hang of it you will find it an easy way to create some amazing photos.

The tutorial below is another one using GIMP. You can apply the same techniques to Adobe Photoshop if that is your editor of choice.

Taking Minimalist Photos: When less is more

I’m not taking about less photo compression, though in that case too, the less you compress your photos the better they will turn out.

I’m talking about less is more when it comes to photo composition. Sometimes as you plan a photograph you will want to take in the entire scene, no matter how cluttered, or busy, it looks. Take a breath, step back, and consider focusing your attention on one particular subject, such as a particular tree, building, person, or animal.

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There are many guides on the web on how to capture excellent minimalist photography, so here we’ll just briefly mention the main rules:

Take care about subjects. You should accentuate your shot on one or few similar objects. It’s the first step to make your object dominate.
Pay attention to the background. You should choose plain backgrounds without any distraction elements (their influence can be eliminated with zooming).
Don’t afraid to use colors. You can choose contrasting or similar colors. Bright juicy splashes will make your shots look more impressive and your subject stand out from the background. At the same time if you choose different hues of one color you can also gain great results.
Delete unnecessary elements. If you think that there are some distractions on your shots you can safely crop or remove them. All the attention should be reverted on the main subject.
Take several shots of the same object. Don’t restrict yourself by taking one or two photos. Try different lighting, angles, focal lengths, exposures, etc.

Note that this is not a hard and fast rules. For example, when taking photos of urban areas, you may want to step back and take wide-angle photos consisting of several skyscrapers. This is fine and good, but also consider photos that focus on a particular building’s architectural features.

10 Basic Thoughts When Taking Pictures

1. Look your subject in the eye
Direct eye contact can be as engaging in a picture as it is in real life. When taking a picture of someone, hold the camera at the person’s eye level to unleash the power of those magnetic gazes and mesmerizing smiles. For children, that means stooping to their level. And your subject need not always stare at the camera. All by itself that eye level angle will create a personal and inviting feeling that pulls you into the picture.

2. Use a plain background
A plain background shows off the subject you are photographing. When you look through the camera viewfinder, force yourself to study the area surrounding your subject. Make sure no poles grow from the head of your favorite niece and that no cars seem to dangle from her ears.

3. Use flash outdoors
Bright sun can create unattractive deep facial shadows. Eliminate the shadows by using your flash to lighten the face. When taking people pictures on sunny days, turn your flash on. You may have a choice of fill-flash mode or full-flash mode. If the person is within five feet, use the fill-flash mode; beyond five feet, the full-power mode may be required. With a digital camera, use the picture display panel to review the results.
On cloudy days, use the camera’s fill-flash mode if it has one. The flash will brighten up people’s faces and make them stand out. Also take a picture without the flash, because the soft light of overcast days sometimes gives quite pleasing results by itself.

4. Move in close
If your subject is smaller than a car, take a step or two closer before taking the picture and zoom in on your subject. Your goal is to fill the picture area with the subject you are photographing. Up close you can reveal telling details, like a sprinkle of freckles or an arched eyebrow.
But don’t get too close or your pictures will be blurry. The closest focusing distance for most cameras is about three feet, or about one step away from your camera. If you get closer than the closest focusing distance of your camera (see your manual to be sure), your pictures will be blurry.

5. Move it from the middle
Center-stage is a great place for a performer to be. However, the middle of your picture is not the best place for your subject. Bring your picture to life by simply moving your subject away from the middle of your picture. Start by playing tick-tack-toe with subject position. Imagine a tick-tack-toe grid in your viewfinder. Now place your important subject at one of the intersections of lines.
You’ll need to lock the focus if you have an auto-focus camera because most of them focus on whatever is in the center of the viewfinder.

6. Lock the focus
If your subject is not in the center of the picture, you need to lock the focus to create a sharp picture. Most auto-focus cameras focus on whatever is in the center of the picture. But to improve pictures, you will often want to move the subject away from the center of the picture. If you don’t want a blurred picture, you’ll need to first lock the focus with the subject in the middle and then recompose the picture so the subject is away from the middle.

Usually you can lock the focus in three steps. First, center the subject and press and hold the shutter button halfway down. Second, reposition your camera (while still holding the shutter button) so the subject is away from the center. And third, finish by pressing the shutter button all the way down to take the picture.

7. Know your flash’s range
The number one flash mistake is taking pictures beyond the flash’s range. Why is this a mistake? Because pictures taken beyond the maximum flash range will be too dark. For many cameras, the maximum flash range is less than fifteen feet—about five steps away.
What is your camera’s flash range? Look it up in your camera manual. Can’t find it? Then don’t take a chance. Position yourself so subjects are no farther than ten feet away. Film users can extend the flash range by using Kodak Max versatility or versatility plus film.

8. Watch the light
Next to the subject, the most important part of every picture is the light. It affects the appearance of everything you photograph. On a great-grandmother, bright sunlight from the side can enhance wrinkles. But the soft light of a cloudy day can subdue those same wrinkles.
Don’t like the light on your subject? Then move yourself or your subject. For landscapes, try to take pictures early or late in the day when the light is orangish and rakes across the land.

9. Take some vertical pictures
Is your camera vertically challenged? It is if you never turn it sideways to take a vertical picture. All sorts of things look better in a vertical picture. From a lighthouse near a cliff to the Eiffel Tower to your four-year-old niece jumping in a puddle. So next time out, make a conscious effort to turn your camera sideways and take some vertical pictures.

10. Be a picture director
Take control of your picture-taking and watch your pictures dramatically improve. Become a picture director, not just a passive picture-taker. A picture director takes charge. A picture director picks the location: “Everybody go outside to the backyard.” A picture director adds props: “Girls, put on your pink sunglasses.” A picture director arranges people: “Now move in close, and lean toward the camera.”