The Art of Shooting Moving Objects
Taking good action pictures basically requires three things: having the right equipment, being in the right place at the right time, and knowing the photographic techniques that will allow you to capture the moment.
The equipment part is relatively easy. The other factors can be a little more difficult to master, but the challenge is not insurmountable. Like all types of photography, taking good action pictures requires some practice. And, as is the case with most types of photography, the best shots are often the result of careful planning ahead of time.
Getting Equipped for Action
One of the most difficult aspects of action photography is the distance at which many of these shots have to be taken. It can be extremely tough to get close enough to the action to fill your frame with it, which makes shooting with a long lens essential. Low light situations will also call for a telephoto with a wider maximum aperture unless you decide to use slower shutter speeds to blur the action.
If the telephoto or zoom lens you already own isn't long enough, consider punching up its focal length by using a teleconverter. If you're serious about action photography, a fast, medium-range telephoto lens with a maximum aperture of at least f/2.8 or an 80mm–200mm zoom lens with as large a maximum aperture as you can afford will be a worthwhile investment.
Wide-angle lenses have their place in action photography, too, especially if you want to show more of the surroundings.
Lenses with long focal lengths not only increase image size, they also increase the effect of the subject's movement. If a shutter speed of 1/250th of a second freezes the action when you're using a 50mm lens, you'll need to double the shutter speed to 1/500th of a second to achieve the same results with a 100mm lens.
Other essential equipment for action photography include the following:
Tripod: Helps you keep the camera steady while panning and lets you follow the action when using slow shutter speeds.
Electronic flash: Useful for freezing action both indoors and out.
Lens hoods: Shade your lenses from the glare caused by bright lights.
Scoping Out the Action
One of the reasons professional sports photographers get such great shots is because they usually know in advance the conditions they'll be shooting in. While they can't control the weather or the lighting when working outdoors, they do know the best vantage points for capturing the action, whether indoors or out. This lets them get their equipment set up in advance so they'll be ready to shoot when the action comes to them.
Being able to anticipate where and when the action will take place is a major factor in being able to shoot it well when it does. If you're photographing a soccer game, you might want to position yourself near the goalie's net. Getting close to where points are scored will also help you catch the peak of the action at football and basketball games. A classic spot for shooting car races is at a bend in the track.
When choosing a shooting location, keep in mind that the angle you're shooting from will greatly affect the types of shots you'll get. Action that moves directly toward or away from you is the easiest to stop, and you'll be able to use slower shutter speeds to capture it. Subjects moving at right angles to your camera are more difficult to stop and will require the fastest shutter speeds you have. It's also easier to stop the action at a distance than when it's close up.