Andy Hawthorne

Andy Hawthorne

Projects, photos and running

09 Apr 2020

Photographing Action

Reading time: 3 minute(s) - 500 words


Action photography is tricky but not because of the most obvious factor.

Freezing the action is trivial these days. Even your smartphone will use a fast enough shutter speed to freeze stuff that moves.

If you own a DSLR, you have shutter priority mode. That makes life even easier.

The hard part is composing your photo.

For the photo above, I took about 30 other shots. Each time trying to catch the pigeon in the best position and where the wings were shown against a neutral backdrop.

The photo as shot at ISO 800 f/10.0 1500 sec. It needed the 1500 sec to freeze the movement enough to make the photo work.


While this photo didn’t need a lot of frames - just patience. I waited for the water to kick up at just the right amount to make the shot worth taking.

In some instances, the wind would back off and so the water only splashed up a small bit. When the wind gusted, it kicked the water higher. That’s what gave the me the shot. This one was taken with ISO 400 f/4.0 14000 sec. The fast shutter speed was so I could freeze the water in mid-air.


Likewise, for this photo, I had to be patient. The Jackdaws were having fun flying up and back to the roof again. But to catch the fun element and at least one of them in flight took a while. My arms were aching by the time I got the photo. I used 1640 sec and f/8.0 for this one.


My settings were ISO 400 f/16 1500 sec for this photo. The gull was swirling around but always at speed. I waited for a moment when it decided to glide and then took the picture.

There is a common thread here, have you noticed?

Action photography is still about timing. Stuff can be happening in front of you at a furious rate. But you still need to pick your moment.

I do tend to favour shutter priority mode for action work. Because I can set the shutter speed where I want it. But one thing you have to be mindful of is: what happens to your ISO level.

I always try to keep the ISO setting as low as possible. That’s because higher ISO settings increase the amount of grain the resulting photo will have.

The result of that decision can be limited depth of field. A fast shutter speed and low ISO means you’ll be shooting with a wider aperture. That works well for wildlife. But for other subjects, it may not be want you want. Flying Pigeon

You might have to shoot plenty of photos, but I like action shots. Because when they work, you get a great photo.

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