Techniques of Freezing Action in Digital Photography

There is a big dilemma when it comes to taking action digital photography. Should you completely freeze the action or should you allow some motion to come through in the image? Actually, it is a combination of the two that will create the most interesting images.

Just how do you take the best action pictures and freeze that action to just the right amount? There are a few things to consider and a few techniques to use.

dslr lens
Macro of DSLR lens via Shutterstock

The Problem of the Total Freeze

When you are taking images of action, your first reaction may be to use an extremely fast shutter speed. However, there is a problem when you do this. For example, if you are photographing a race car and you use an extremely fast shutter speed, you will definitely get the whole car in focus, but you will not see any action. Instead, it will look as if the car was sitting in the spot and all you did was snap a picture. This is a very dull and boring image.

The problem with completely freezing action is that you will end up with a motionless picture. It will seem very dull and it will not capture what you were trying to. Instead, you will need to implement different methods to freeze the action without taking away the sense of motion.

Formula One (F1) races down the streets
Formula One (F1) races down the streets via Shutterstock

The Techniques to Use when Freezing Action

There are different techniques that you can implement in order to freeze action. You may find that you need to experiment with different techniques in each situation that you are in. However, with the tips that you find below, you will notice that it is much easier to choose the right option for the right action shot.

Panning
Panning is a simple term that refers to moving the camera horizontally across a field of vision. Panning can be a very helpful method of freezing action that is too fast for even your camera’s shutter speed. How does this work? If you are following a subject that is moving at a very fast speed and you try to keep the camera still while taking the image, your camera will not be able to stop the action. However, if you keep the camera moving and following the subject, then you will be essentially slowing down the subject. When you take the picture, you will be able to create a very interesting photo with the subject in focus with a great deal of motion in the background.

The Shutter
Of course, if you set your shutter speed very high, then you will be able to stop motion very effectively. Remember that with a high shutter speed, you will need to make sure you have enough light to still get a clear, sharp image. A fast shutter speed can be a great way to freeze action no matter if the action is going away from you, toward you or past you. There is something that you need to keep in mind, though. When you use a fast shutter speed, you will completely freeze action. You will lose any motion, so if you are taking an image that still needs motion, then you would want to consider a different method.

Electronic Flash
In many ways, you can freeze close up action by using an electronic flash. When you take an image with the flash, the flash will fire for fractions of a second. In that fraction of time, that action will be frozen and this will give your camera enough time to get the image. Digital photography has come a long way with the electronic flash, but there are a few things that you will need to remember. The standard flash on your camera will most likely not be strong enough to freeze a subject that is more than a few feet away. You will need to consider a larger flash, which is often referred to as a “speed light.” This flash will connect to the hot shoe adaptor on the top of your camera and it will provide a great deal more light to illuminate the subject.

The Moment when the Action Stops
Have you ever noticed that in many types of action sequences, there is a moment when everything stops? It is a moment that lasts just fractions of a second and you can miss it if you are not careful. However, if you catch that moment, it can be the perfect time to get the right image. One of the great things about digital photography is that you can take images in burst shooting method. When you use burst shooting, you will be able to take numerous images in a second, giving you a better chance of catching that one frozen moment in time when the action stops.

Sometimes, the Blur is Better

You have been taught so strongly that blur is bad that it can be hard to accept this. However, there are times when you actually want the blur. Not only will it create a true sense of movement and action, but it will also create a very artistically appealing image. For example, think of the movement of car headlights along the highway. If you use a fast shutter speed, you will have an image of those cars. However, if you use a slower shutter speed and allow for blur, you can end up with an image full of visually appealing blur and light trails. Always keep in mind that when it comes to action digital photography, blur can be better at times. You may have to experiment with this from time to time, but it is definitely worth the work when you get that one fascinating image.

Digital photography has certainly made it so much easier to freeze action. However, it can be easy to go overboard and end up with a boring image. That means you need to use the right techniques in order to freeze the action without stopping the sense of motion.

Top feature image Sprinter crossing the finish line via Shutterstock

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What Our Readers have to say

  1. Anne says:

    Thanks for all the tips. Really useful

  2. bB says:

    It’s rather disappointing to see an article about photography by seemingly knowledgeable individuals describing how to capture action in digital photography. Like if there is a difference between doing this in digital as opposed to film. Anyone who knows just a little about it knows that the techniques are the same. But you probably know this, right?

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