When it comes to taking great action photos, one of the most important digital photography basics is understanding shutter lag.
Also called "processor lag" this is the time that it takes between the time you press the shutter release and the time the camera actually takes the shot. Press the shutter too early and you'll end up with a picture that's completely different than what you were expecting.
Despite all of their advantages, compact digital cameras are slower than traditional film cameras. This article provides some tips for dealing with this lag, as well as tips for how to take more exciting and memorable action pictures.
1) Be Ready to Shoot - While you can't know if your child is going to make that soccer goal, try to anticipate when things are most apt to happen. Even professional sports photographers with speed-of-lightning cameras try to anticipate the action, just so they can be in the right spot and point the camera in the right direction.
By having a better understanding of what you're photographing, you'll be better able to anticipate the actions and get better shots. So, if you plan to take pictures of your child's soccer match, learn the rules of the game so you'll know what to expect. If your child's performing in the Nutcracker, watch a rehearsal or two.
2) Shop Around before purchasing a new compact digital. Unfortunately, there isn't just one camera spec that will tell you how fast the camera will capture the picture from the time you press the button. Others things like the quality of the sensor and the ISO setting (if in dim light) can also slow down the processing time. So investigate what other people are saying in photography forums and read all of the manufacturer's specs online.
3) Spring for a DSLR (Digital Single-Lens-Reflex). They're more expensive than compacts, but they're FAST. DSLRs don't have shutter lag problems, so if you're taking photos outside, you can increase the ISO without your photos having digital noise like you would with a compact camera.
Digital Photography Basics to Use with any Type of Camera
Whether you have a compact, DSLR, point-and-shoot film camera or camera phone, try these professional tricks.
Zoom in on Faces - Don't always focus on the action. Capture those expressions of determination, triumph and even defeat (especially if it's an opponent!).
Tell a Story - Look for shots that tell a story of the event. For example, begin with a shot of the team's huddle or your fellow paddlers launching their rafts.
Freeze! - To freeze the action, set your camera to sports mode or set your Shutter Speed Priority to a high setting. As an example of different settings, freezing action in a soccer tournament requires a shutter speed between 1/250 to 1/500 while taking photos of your pet sitting still requires 1/125.
Blur the Background - Take a cue from the sports photographers, and blur the background by decreasing the camera's depth of field. If you're using a camera with Aperture Priority, you can do this simply by decreasing the F Stop number. The lower the F Stop number, the more blurry your background.
Pan - This is a good alternative for digital compact users where dim light underexposes photos taken with sports mode/fast shutter speed. Panning works with automatic focus, but it only works when the action is moving in a fairly straight line. Here is how to pan the camera:
Set your Camera to Auto focus. With feet planted firmly on the ground, move the upper half of your body while following the subject with your camera. Just before you think the action will occur, start pressing the shutter release button half way down and continue following the subject until you've pressed the button completely down to get the shot.
Is the auto focus on your camera too slow? Focus on an area of contrast, such as the number on a uniform. Auto focus works faster with contrast.
Play around with panning and see what kinds of different effects you can get. You might want to show some blur in the action to emphasize the speed of movement, such as with a race car.
Whether you are shooting a sporting event or taking photos of your dog playing frisbee, action photos are really a lot of fun once you get the hang of it. And once you understand the digital photography basics like shutter lag, you'll take better pictures and have even more fun.
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