How Pro Photographers Capture Fast-Moving Action

BY: Groupon Guide |Jul 10, 2015
How Pro Photographers Capture Fast-Moving Action

In San Diego, photography is pretty much always in demand. The beautiful scenery, the near-perfect weather, and the popular pro sports teams keep local photographers busy throughout the year. San Diego wedding photographers in particular never run out of brides and grooms to photograph amid the city’s natural, beachy beauty.

Of course, shooting weddings in San Diego requires an entirely different set of skills than capturing the ultra-quick motion of a football player mid-tackle or a ballet dancer as he leaps into the air. Read on to find out more about how a good photographer armed with a good camera can freeze motion into a breathtaking action shot.

How a Lens Works

To understand how a stationary photographer can capture a cheetah in mid-stride or the expression on its face as it dunks a basketball, it’s helpful to first consider how any camera works. When a picture is taken, the camera's shutter opens and closes in front of the lens, letting in a precise amount of light for a set amount of time, depending on the exposure setting and the shutter speed. The lens lets in the light from anything that’s in front of it, which is then recorded on film or digital sensor.

The Human Connection

A camera’s inner workings are not so different from how the eye and the brain process images. As on a movie camera, moving bodies register on the eye as a series of still shots that decay and are “refreshed” at imperceptibly small intervals, about 1/30th to 1/50th of a second. This can be considered analogous to the eye’s shutter speed. If the shutter speed of a camera is set around this range, it will capture motion in a way that looks natural to the human eye—that is, sharply if the image is a person ambling down the street but perhaps more blurrily if it’s a tiny UFO speeding through an alley. If the shutter speed is slower, it will produce a blurred image, and, if it is much faster, it has the chance to capture instants that the eye can’t register clearly.

How Fast Is Fast?

To catch fast-moving action, a shutter speed of at least 1/1000th of a second is usually required. The lighting, too, must be extraordinarily bright, since the quicker the shutter speed, the less light gets in. Accordingly, a photographer will widen the aperture to let in more light, and for long-distance shots, an electronic flash unit is required. As quick as the shutter speed may be, the photographer is eventually limited by the speed of the reflexes in the human hand. To overcome this barrier, systems have been invented that cause the subject to effectively take its own picture by crossing a triggering infrared beam or even making a loud sound.

Other Tricks

There are a few other tricks in the action photographer’s bag. If you’re stuck with a slow shutter speed or dim lighting, you might have better luck aiming for the quick moment of stillness, or peak action, when, for instance, a figure skater stops being propelled upward and is about to sink back down. Another option is to set the camera itself in motion, smoothly panning in the direction of a racing cyclist, who will appear less blurry than the background.