We’ve all experienced the frustration of being just a fraction late in catching that magic moment on camera. To seize that perfect moment before it’s lost forever, timing is all-important. Here’s how you can achieve that.
Anticipate the moment
A photo-opportunity comes by as quickly as it goes. 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.
Focus on emotion
Emotion and energy are essential to capture great action shots. Look for emotion-filled images. 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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
Keep simple backgrounds
Clean backgrounds work best for action photographs. There should be no distracting elements or clashing colours, as they tend to take the focus away from the main subject. If a cluttered background is unavoidable, use an open aperture to throw the background out of focus.
Look for the perfect light
Harsh, direct sunlight is ideal for colourful 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.
Action photography does not always have to be about sharpness, details, perfect colours 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. Analysing 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.
Check camera settings
When the light is constantly changing or the action is extremely erratic, you will need to monitor camera settings like focus, ISO and metering mode to ensure that you get your shots right. Spare a moment to ensure everything is in place, because you could accidentally change settings while shooting. That will simply mean that you may lose out on great shots because of wrong camera settings. Remember to check the status of battery power and memory cards, and always keep spares.
Quick reflexes help
When you have only seconds to lift your camera, find your target, focus, and shoot the image, it helps to have quick reflexes.
Patience is the key
Sometimes, an entire day of shooting may not give you that one perfect shot. Other times, just a few minutes can give you what you are looking for. Rather than getting disheartened, continue looking for photo-opportunities and put in the best of your abilities to make that great shot. The elusive great moments will come by eventually.
Practice makes perfect
Techniques like panning take several rounds of practice before you can begin to actually predict how your shots will turn out. Spend some time with subjects closer to home. Visit local parks, attend local sports activities, and try out the techniques that you have read about or you think you need to improve on. Eventually, you will find ways to execute them with flawless perfection.
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