Shooting Subjects in Motion

To seize that perfect moment before it's lost forever, timing is all-important. We give you 20 tips on how you can achieve just that.

We've all experienced the frustration of being just a fraction late in catching that magic moment on camera. Being quick and incisive enough to capture these fleeting moments can be quite a challenge, be it a memorable stroke in a cricket match or a stunning shot on goal on the football pitch. To seize that perfect moment before it's lost forever, timing is all-important. We give you 20 tips on how you can achieve just that.

Whether you aspire to be a professional sports photographer, or you simply wish to shoot some great photographs of your child’s school sports events, all it takes to master the art of action photography is a thorough understanding of what you are shooting. Combine that with the knowledge of equipment and technique, hard work and practice, and you can significantly improve your action photographs.

Shooting Subjects in Motion
Image Courtesy: Vipin Pawar

Learn to Anticipate the Moment
A photo-opportunity comes by as quickly as it goes. So you have only a fraction of a second to make the shot. Before you set out to shoot any activity, study the nature of the action or understand the basic rules of the sport and research what you should be specifically looking out for. It will help you anticipate moments before they come, giving you enough time to trigger the shutter.

Look for the Peak of Action
A photograph of the precise moment when a boxer is landing a punch on his opponent is more impactful than when he is about to land the punch. In the case of ball games like tennis, cricket and table-tennis, there will always be one brief moment when the ball can also be captured in the frame.
If you are shooting a race, then the moment the lead runner reaches the finish line and raises his/her hands in jubilation is the moment to look out for. Stay alert and look for dramatic moments like these.

Focus on Emotion
Emotion and energy are essential to capture great action shots. Whether it is professional or galli cricket you are photographing, look for emotion-filled images. For instance, a bowler celebrating a wicket with unbridled aggression on his face, or a dejected batsman walking back to the dressing room. If it is a team game, then in the final few minutes, you may find stress or confidence visible on the faces of the players, depending on how their game is going. Make such scenes the central focus of your photographs to maximize the visual impact.

Image Courtesy: Vipin Pawar

Tell a Story
A person viewing your photographs should be able to understand what you saw at the actual event. For instance, if you are shooting your children running a three-legged race, ensure that you include their faces clearly. Their camaraderie and unspoken communication will be reflected in the way they try to support each other. That presents a more wholesome story than a photograph of just your child.

Image Courtesy: Vipin Pawar

Find the Right Angle
A good position is one that gives you a clear view of the action, keeps you out of harm’s way, provides a pleasant backdrop, and also works with the lighting of the scene. Make it a point to visit the location prior to a game, walk around and identify places you can shoot from. You may not be able to get access to the best spots at professional events, but that doesn't mean you can't shoot great pictures.
At motorsport races, there is generally more action at the corners, where the drivers slow down for a turn and tend to clutter together. Practice shooting at local events like boat races or a kabaddi match to build up your portfolio. Present it to a local newspaper and get yourself a shooting pass.
Look for Unusual Perspectives
To heighten the inherent drama of action shots, look for perspectives other than straight-on views. If a person is jumping on a trampoline, shoot from a low vantage point. If people are cycling through a busy street, go up on a nearby terrace to shoot from a high vantage point. Thus, your choice of perspective depends on the kind of action that is taking place.

Follow the Action
Since most action is over in a matter of seconds, it is advisable to use that time to focus solely on the action. The best way to achieve this is to train your ‘shooting’ eye to use the viewfinder. Follow every movement of your subject, simultaneously triggering the shutter at opportune moments.

However, consciously learn to use your peripheral vision, especially with the eye that is not looking through the camera, and teach yourself to pay attention to what is going on around you. You will get used to receiving visual inputs from both eyes and you will be able to ensure that you do not miss out on any exciting photographs.

Image Courtesy: Vipin Pawar

Keep Simple Backgrounds
Clean backgrounds work best for action photographs. There should be no distracting elements or
clashing colors, as they tend to take the focus away from the main subject. Choose a shooting position that gives you the perfect background. If a cluttered background is unavoidable, use an open aperture to throw the background out of focus. With the foreground too, if an element results in a ‘break’ in the action, you will need to find ways to avoid it.

Include Elements for Excitement
Apart from the action, it helps to include other elements related to the action. Whether it is the medium of action (a car or a horse), or a prop used in it (ball or bat), use framing that shows them being used. The captured images help you complete a visual story that covers the events surrounding the action.

Look for the Perfect Light
The sun is the primary source of light for most action. Harsh, direct sunlight is ideal for colorful action shots and it is bright enough to freeze action as well. Shooting early or late in the day will give you an opportunity to experiment with backlighting. It works best when you have water as an essential component in the scene, may be in the form of sweat dripping off a player or as splashes of water in activities like river rafting, boat races or at an amusement park. Observe how light falls on your subjects and the effect it has on them, and accordingly, choose the appropriate metering mode and exposure settings.

Image Courtesy: Santosh Harhare

Think Creative
Action photography does not always have to be about sharpness, details, perfect colors and the perfect frame. You can take some effective photographs by shooting silhouettes of the action, including dramatic skies, or using creative crops. Not only do they make aesthetically pleasing pictures, but they also help engage the mind of the viewer. Implied action is also a powerful way of portraying action. For instance, if you shoot just the muddied shoes of a footballer, it conveys the high action of the game without actually showing it.

Be Technically Sound
Bringing out movement in your photographs is essential for action photography. Whether you wish to freeze motion, introduce blur, or pan the camera with your subject, you need to be familiar with the techniques and know which one will work with what kind of subject. Analyzing the speed of a subject and the action, the distance from the camera and direction in which the subject is moving will help you decide the required shutter speed.
Pack Only What You Need
The kind of camera and lenses you need depends on what you are going to shoot. If you wish to shoot action on the streets, a basic 35mm camera with its kit lens will suffice. For a school sports event, a super-zoom lens or camera should be more than enough. If the action is limited to a defined area, then a wide-angle lens is your best friend. A flash will be needed only if you plan to shoot indoors, or if the light levels are too low. The smart thing to do is to understand the action. Pack only what you need, as carrying too little or too much equipment can be an

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