Whether you're shooting at a youth soccer game or a professional tennis match, these tips will improve your action photography results.
1. Kneel down and get low.
Whether shooting wide, medium or tight shots, a lower angle creates a more dynamic image. People aren’t used to seeing the world from a low angle so this perspective tends to be new and exciting.
2. Anticipate the Action. Shooting fast-moving sports is challenging. One way to improve your odds is to anticipate where the action will take place. Take a moment to watch the ebb and flow of the match and make note of key areas on the court where players return to repeatedly. For example, you know that serves always occur at the baseline. With this information, you can pre-focus on the baseline. This way, both you and the camera are ready when the action takes place.
3. Try the Rule of Thirds. When you begin moving your subject out of the center, your photos become more dynamic and more artistic. To take this concept one step further, you can begin using the rule of thirds. If you draw imaginary lines dividing a photo in thirds – both vertically and horizontally – the four points where those lines intersect are the most active, interesting spots to place your subject. See how many ways you can divide the photo into the one-third and two-third distribution.
4. Don't be afraid to show motion. When the light gets really low and you're shooting action, try using slower shutter speeds (1/30 or lower) and panning with the action. The resulting blur often imparts a look of action.
5. Frame tightly. Vary your compositions by concentrating on faces and expressions. Telephoto lenses will get you in tight but focus is more critical. Shoot a lot of frames and keep trying.
6. Try not to "chimp" too much (constantly reviewing images in playback mode). At first, use the LCD to check exposure and camera settings. But in the heat of action, resist the temptation to check out your pictures. Pay attention to the game. Save the review process for later.
7. Watch your backgrounds. Pay attention to distracting background elements and strive to simplify your backgrounds as much as possible. For example, watch for objects in the background that don’t fit your shot such as cars or telephone wires.
8. When using long lenses, use wide apertures (the smaller numbers like f5.6 vs. f11). This will blur the background just enough to draw attention to your subject.
9. Use the histogram graph (accessed by pushing the "Info" button several times when reviewing a photo) to check exposure (how light your light areas are, and how dark your dark areas are). Don't rely on just what you see on the LCD to judge exposure. Instead, look at the histogram graph and make sure that it’s not going to extremes of lightness or darkness (high peaks on either side of the graph). Use the exposure-compensation button to tweak your exposures after reviewing the histograms of a few test frames. This will ensure your images are evenly exposed.
For more advice on taking action photos, check out these tennis-inspired tips from Olympus Visionary Larry Price.