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Action Photography

Stop It

Written by Irma Gabbard

The most common way to capture a subject in motion is to use stop-action, which freezes the moment. Stop-action shots are great for seeing facial expressions clearly or for showing details in mid-action.

For this type of shot, you'll want a fast shutter speed, such as 1/400 second or 1/500 second, and fast film (ISO 400 to 800 and above) or digital ISO equivalent. To catch her daughter in mid-slide, left, Heather Melzer set her shutter speed to 1/500 and used a 400 ISO setting.

You also can use your camera's Action or Sports setting. If your camera lacks an Action setting, using the flash in bright daylight will force the camera to use a faster shutter speed.

It's all a Blur

Sometimes a slow shutter speed provides a creative way to convey motion.

For the best results, choose a slow shutter speed, such as 1/30 or 1/40 of a second, and a slow film (ISO 100) or digital ISO equivalent. As the shutter stays open longer, your subject's movement will appear as a blur and give the impression of speed. Use a tripod to steady the camera at that slower shutter speed so the background stays in focus.

I used blurring to contrast my kids' "speeds." In the first image, bottom right, a shutter speed of 1/800 caught my daughter in action, but didn't show the contrast between the two subjects. The slower shutter speed, right, catches her running through the shot while my son stands still, making it a more interesting image.


Panning is a creative technique that allows you to show a moving subject in focus but convey the sense of movement with a blurred background. Lock your focus when you frame the subject.

Then as the subject moves, keep her in the frame and press the shutter release. Be sure to keep up with the moving subject. When I tried photographing my daughter on the swing without panning, above, she was a blur. With panning, I caught her in focus and the background was blurred, which gives the shot, left, more energy.

It takes practice to keep your camera trained on your subject -- particularly if she's moving fast. Follow the subject in one smooth motion by twisting just the upper part of your body.