9 Secrets to Taking Perfect Action Shots

Adventure and action photography is about telling a story. It’s about capturing a singular moment in time, one that isn’t posed for or deliberately styled. Unlike other types of travel photography, whether it is portraits, landscapes or sunsets, action shots require you to work with the spontaneous and unexpected. 

So what’s your story? Will you be parachuting over the desert in the American Southwest or climbing a glacier in New Zealand? No matter what your adventure is, get the best shots of it with these action photography tips and tricks: 

Cheetah running [Africa]

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GENERAL TIPS

Learn the basic know-hows to create images that are sharp and focused, even when your subject is a running cheetah.

  • Change your autofocus mode. Switch it from the preprogrammed auto mode to continuous. This way, your camera will constantly be adjusting to its surroundings as it follows a moving subject. It even tries to tell the future, predicting where it believes the subject will be after the short delay caused by the mirror rising and the shutter opening in your camera. It then sets the focus to that.
     
  • Recognize the right times to use manual focus. If you’re familiar with a sport, you may be able to guess yourself where a player will be going to next. If a baseball player is up to bat, first base is their logical next destination. If there’s a very fast moving object involved as well, like the baseball itself, it can really confuse the camera as it tries to follow and adjust. This is when it’s a better idea to set your focus on a predetermined point, and utilize the manual focus.

  • If you’re jumping between autofocus and manual, make the proper adjustments. For autofocus, leave multiple AF points activated. If you’re using manual focus, a single AF point will result in more accurate photographs.

  • Utilize a snappy shutter speed. To freeze action with pin-sharp quality takes a speedy shutter speed. Try one that’s above 1/500, but you may find some of the more agile and quick sports need a minimum of 1/1000. Test the different variations out while in shutter priority mode. This way the camera will set the appropriate aperture for you and you can focus on adventure pictures of wildlife.
     
  • Strengthen your action shots with a small depth of field. The element of motion is emphasized when your subject is crystal clear, but the background is blurry. This highlights the speed at which the subject was moving. Adjust your aperture to a small depth of field, making the main subject look defined. For the f-stop, a small number is what you want, like an f1.4.
     
  • Try the flash and blur. Illuminate your subject with your camera’s pop-up flash, while simultaneously using a slow shutter speed. This freezes the action mid-motion, and creates a background of blurred streaks for a fun effect. 

Extreme Skier [Utah]

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HIKING, BIKING AND BACKPACKING TIPS 

Now that you’ve got the tips and tricks of the trade mastered, here’s what you need to know to adjust to any action photography scenario.

Your main concern when tackling a mountainside or long journey will be the weight and bulk of the equipment you want to bring. Plan out a bit of your story ahead of time. What moments will be the ones you most want to capture? While not the most advanced of its kind, a compact point-and-shoot variety that fits in a shirt pocket might be your best bet if you truly want to be ready for anything.

For biking, store the camera on top of your hydration pack to keep it within easy reach. On hiking trips, utilize a small pack around your waist or loop the strap over your neck. Be ready to click the trigger in early morning and late evening, these hours are often the best for the nature-based shots.

If you’re conquering a drier and desert terrain though, keep lenses and cameras packed in Ziploc bags instead of out and about. Try not to change lenses or open any part of the camera while sand is blowing about and might get in.

WINTER SPORTS TIPS

Speed is of the essence in skiing and snowboarding photography, as your subject is whipping down the mountainside with ease. That means keeping your camera in a pack puts you behind the game. Instead try a hip pack that can be worn around the waist or shoulders. Don’t be tempted to where it around your neck, though. A fall could end disastrously if your camera strap was to wrap around you. 

To get the best adventure pictures, go ahead of your subject to scout out some likely shooting locations. Then snap away as the skiers hit the powder and snowboarders shred.  

White water rafting on the Patate River [Ecuador]

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WATER ACTIVITIES 

No matter if you’re kayaking, paddle boarding, surfing, swimming or rafting, your first consideration for photographing water sports is protecting your camera. Water will ruin your technology from the inside out should a splash reach it. If you haven’t invested in a waterproof bag, now is the time. If you’ll be around salt water, dry and clean your camera even if you only had it out for a little bit. The salt from seawater is suspended in the air thanks to ocean surf, and can infiltrate the nooks and crannies.  

Wait until the waters are calm, but do make the most of your amazing vantage point. If you’re shooting from a boat, the best lens is a wide-angle one with a 17 to 35 zoom. Add an element of creativity to your shots by incorporating an element you can’t find in other environments, the reflection off the water. 

Take some time to sit still and enjoy the scenery. Here’s How to Capture the Perfect Sunset Photo

 


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Alyssa Derby

Passionately curious about the world around her, Alyssa Derby is a self-proclaimed wanderlust aficionado. She’s tallied a count of seven countries visited, with New Zealand, Greece and Bolivia next up on the bucket list. To reminisce about past trips, s