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.