When using a point-and-shoot digital camera, or the type of camera that comes built into your smartphone, taking an action shot is simple—you do exactly as the type of camera suggests you would do, point and shoot.
With smartphones there are plenty of filters and built-in editing software that may help enhance the photo to help it look like a high quality image after the fact, but ultimately these post-production tricks are the most that can be done with this sort of camera.
If you really want a high quality action shot—one that is honing in on someone at work, whether that is an athlete, people celebrating, or any other sort of event where there is plenty of action happening—then using a digital SLR camera is the right tool.
The biggest difference between using a digital SLR and point-and-shoot camera, of course, from a users perspective, is that prior to setting out to start taking pictures for the day with your DSLR you need to make sure you have your settings right, otherwise your pictures won’t come out right at all.
For this post, we’ll be talking about which settings are best for you camera. Specifically. What are the best camera settings for action shots?
1. Single Shot Or Continuous Shot Drive Mode
For the best quality image you will want to select single shot drive mode. This is going to slow down the shutter speed and provide a higher quality image. It is going to prevent you from being able to click pictures at top speed, so you’ll have to be deliberate in what you are snapping pictures of. Depending on your camera there may be several seconds between when you can snap pictures with this setting.
Alternatively, if you think you need to snap quantity over quality you can switch the setting to continuous drive mode, but the image quality may suffer depending on the model of camera you have. Continuous drive mode allows you to hold down the shutter and take multiple photos in bursts.
The amount of images your camera can take during these bursts will vary from camera to camera and how fast it can write to the memory card.
Continuous drive mode will also likely start eating up the space on those memory cards faster because you’re taking that many more photos. Which actually leads to my next point.
2. Shoot In JPEG
This allows for your photos to be saved to your memory card faster if you’re shooting in continuous drive mode. Also if you’re covering an event where you need to quickly submit your images, this allows for a quicker turnaround. Since you won’t have to convert RAW images to JPEG in post and the files are much smaller and easier to work with.
3. Shutter Priority Mode
For action shots you want to put your camera in shutter priority mode, which will help to reduce blurring. The camera will automatically pick the rest of the settings based on what your shutter speed and the available light.
Try not to shoot below 1/200 for your shutter speed as the image will likely come out a little blurry. Ideally 1/500, 1/1000 or even faster would be good for action photography.
4. Or Choose Aperture Priority Mode
You can put your camera in Aperture Priority mode and pick you lowest number’d aperture. Or the widest aperture your can lens can go. Maybe f/2.8 or f/4 depending on the lens. The camera will pick the best shutter speed and ISO settings depending on the available light. This works best when shooting outdoor photography. When indoors you’ll want to go Shutter Priority or even in full manual mode.
Shooting with a wide aperture or “wide open” is what gives you bokeh. The lower the f-stop number, the more background blur you get! F/2.8 will have more bokeh than a f/4 lens.
5. Select a long focal length
Select a focal length of 100mm or longer. This will allow you to get the feeling of being very close to the athlete in question without actually being part of the action, which is very helpful as a photographer.
6. Image Stabilization
If your lens has an image stabilization feature use it! Some Nikon lens have ‘VR’ (Vibration Reduction) that reduces camera shake and can help produce sharper images.
7. Single Point Focus & Track Your Subject
Set your camera to a single focus point as well as continuous drive mode. Then move the single focus ‘box’ to the face of your subject. Activate the shutter button by pressing it halfway. Hold it down just a bit to see the image in question come into focus.
Then move along with the subject, trying to keep the focus box on their face, aka tracking. Your camera will adjust it’s focus as you track the subject while holding down the shutter button halfway. Hit the shutter all the way to snap the shots.
Some entry-level cameras might not be able to focus as fast on moving subjects though. While advanced cameras can automatically pick out someone face and track the subjects movement. It’s best to test it out a few times before the big event to see what your camera can do.
Additional Photography Tools
In addition to making sure that you have the above settings ready to go on your camera, it is also a good idea to be prepared with a few select tools.
A wide-angle lens is a must-have when you are shooting from a stadium or another situation that puts you at a distance. The wide angle will accommodate for the distance and can help create unique action shots that makes the viewer feel like they’re there in the stands.
In addition, with so much movement in the shot it is a good idea to make sure there isn’t movement on the device. A tripod is an essential tool to have wherever you are set up. Or even a monopod (single legged tripod) for just a little bit of stability but faster tracking.
The trick to pushing your photography skills to the next level is learning the settings on your DSLR or digital camera. These are the best camera settings for action shots to ensure that you are going to get top quality action shots that highlight your subject without any blur.
Now get out there and get those shots!