In on the Action

In on the Action

Caplette, Jenna
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Here's the deal with photographing action: if you don’t get it right, you can't save it later with Photoshop. Out of focus is out of focus. Kathy Eyster, who teaches digital imaging and has created a specialized website (essentialdigitalcamera.com) with helpful information for learning to create digital images, has a few tips to help you take good action photos, even with a point-and-shoot camera.

Use the sports mode or a similar setting that uses a fast shutter speed.

Shoot in continuous-shooting or burst mode. You'll get as many frames as your camera can take for as long as you hold down the button, increasing your odds of getting a great picture. Your flash usually won’t fire in these modes, so be careful in low-light situations.

Photographing the action closest to you will give you the best shots.

Use a technique called focus-lock. Imagine you're at a race and you want to photograph your sister crossing the finish line. The finish line isn't going to move. Set your camera up and frame the shot that you want to get using the finish line as your point of focus. Press the shutter halfway down and then release it just as your sister crosses the line. This allows the camera to pre-focus on the spot where the action will be, giving you a crisp, clear image.

Anticipate the action and start shooting ahead of time.

Try a technique called panning. Track your subject with your camera. When a cross-country skier glides by, focus on the skier and press the shutter in continuous shooting mode. The skier will be sharp and the background blurry, expressing speed.


A large part of action photography is timing, which requires observation and strategy. The more you know about the pattern of activity, the better your images will be. However, it's difficult to both watch an event and photograph it. If you decide to photograph, prepare to take a lot of pictures. Pack a spare battery and an extra memory card so you don't run out of power or memory before the event ends. You may take hundreds of pictures and only get a few you like. Toss the bad images; celebrate the good ones.

Jenna Caplette writes with the expert assistance of Kathy Eyster, a member of the instructional staff at Bozeman's F-11 Photographic Supplies.
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