Shooting action scenes can be a lot of fun, and you can get some amazing images captured in that split-second, but how do you take them so that they are crisp and sharp?

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If you’re lucky enough to have pro lenses, that’s great, but you can shoot good action shots with a cheap kit lens too. Take two zoom lenses with you, then you have one such as a 70-200mm zoom, and a wide-angle zoom like an 18-55mm so you can get a variety of shots. This is especially important if you’re shooting for a client, as no-one likes just the same old shots taken at one focal length. Using a wide-angle zoom will give you more of the surroundings in your shot, and you can get creative with this.

Camera Settings

While you can shoot action shots in manual mode successfully, when you’re just starting out it’s probably best to set your camera to Aperture Priority. This means that you decide on the aperture, and the camera works out the shutter speed for you. This saves you from having to constantly change the shutter speed manually and maybe miss potential good shots while you’re fiddling around.

Choose a large aperture that will let the most light in. Often with kit lenses f/5.6 will be the largest aperture you can get at long focal lengths, but if you can get lower, set your lens to that setting.

If you are shooting on a bright, sunny day, set your ISO to 100 or 200. If you are in low light conditions you will have to increase the ISO. Why? Because when you shoot in Aperture Priority, the camera will slow the shutter speed right down in poor lighting conditions.

To capture sharp action shots, you need to be shooting at around 1/500th second or more. If your shutter speed is showing as slower than that, you will have to increase the ISO to let more light in so that the shutter speed can stay higher. The downside of that is increased digital noise in your images, but that’s the price you will have to pay to shoot sharp action shots in low light levels. You can always use a de-noise program in post-processing to reduce any noise you may get.


This is important to nail if you want crisp action images. You’ll need to set your camera’s focusing mode to Continuous or Servo, so that it can constantly track your subject and adjust the focus when you hold your shutter button halfway down. If you don’t know how to change your focus mode on your camera, have a look at the instruction manual or find out online.

(You may also be interested in reading How to Take Sharp Photos)

A lot of photographers also change their shooting mode to burst or continuous when looking to capture moving objects. This means that as long as you hold your shutter button down, the camera will continue to fire shots rapidly. This means that you capture lots of images of the moving object, so you’re not missing any of the action.

If your images are coming out with the focus in the wrong place, like the background is in focus but the moving object is not, then you will probably need to change your focus point.

The focus point on the camera is changeable. This is the little red square in the viewfinder which tells you where your focus point is going to be in the image, and this is where it will be sharpest. If you are set to all-points focus, the camera will decide where the focus should be, so try setting it to single-point focus. If you don’t know how to do this, check your camera manual.

Try moving your focus point to where the most important part of the object you’re shooting is; such as a person’s face. If the face is in focus in an action shot, it doesn’t really matter if the rest of the shot is blurred. This can look really great, and adds a dynamic sense of movement into the shot.

Try Some Classic Shots First

The easiest action shots are the ones with the moving subject at around a 45-degree angle, because at this angle you can see most of your subject and it can be more interesting than side-on or directly facing shots.

Once you are in a good position, try to smoothly follow the action with your camera. You may find it easier to use a monopod, or to crouch down, whatever suits you.

Switch to using a wide-angle lens, and try some more creative shots, such as shooting low down or from up high. Often, when you’re shooting moving objects, it’s best to frame your image so that the subject has space to ‘move through’ the image. This means leaving space at the far side of the image, so they look as if they are about to move into it. This looks far more natural to the human eye than having the space behind the subject, where they have just moved from.

Does that make sense to you?

Try it both ways, and see which type of framing you like best.

Final Thoughts

As usual, the best way to learn how to shoot moving objects is to get out there and do it. If you have children or pets, they make the ideal subjects to practice on when they are running around. Once you get confident doing this, try going to sporting events or races, and capturing the action there.