Photography: Exposing for Fast Action


Artistically freezing the action is easy with a few action photography tips. Even beginners, with a little practice, can take jaw-dropping action photos; it is a matter of understanding the basics of exposure and using an artistic eye.

Understanding exposure heads the list of sports photography tips. Exposure is defined as how much light hits the film or the chip in digital cameras. The more light that passes through the lens, the more exposed the film or chip will be. There is a proper amount of exposure for every photograph; too much and the photo will be too light; too little and the photo will be too dark. However, there is a difference between correct exposure and artistic exposure.

Exposure is balanced artistically with the use of two mechanisms: aperture (how much light is allowed to hit the film or chip), and shutter speed (the duration of time light is allowed to hit the film or chip). Once correct exposure is gained, it is possible to artistically balance the nature of that exposure by stopping down or opening the aperture and slowing or speeding up the shutter to compensate. The rule is: for an open aperture, use a fast shutter speed; for a stopped down shutter, use a slower shutter speed.

When attempting to stop the action, as when shooting a sporting event, it is best to increase the shutter speed and open the aperture to compensate. Think of shutter speed as a strobe light. If a blinking strobe light is set up a dark room full of dancing people, the flashes of light momentarily illuminate snips of action. This gives the illusion of stopping the action. The fluidity of the dancing people gives way to quick glimpses, almost like a series of still photographs.

Like a strobe light in a dark room, the shutter opens and closes quickly to take a momentary snip of reality. The faster the shutter opens and closes, the less movement is captured. Burred motion is the result of a shutter that is left open enough to capture motion. Stopped action is the result of a shutter that opens and closes so quickly that no motion is captured during the duration of the image.

Shutter speed is measured in fractions of a second. For example, shutter speed can be set to 1/45th of a second, 1/60th of a second and so on. A good guideline when stopping action is to have a shutter speed of at least 1/250th of a second. To stop down the shutter speed to this setting, you must open the aperture or the iris to compensate. To stop the action of a running man on a cloudy day, a shutter speed of 1/380th of a second with an aperture setting of f5.6 might do the trick. Of course, to adjust exposure on this level, a robust SLR camera with full manual mode must be used.

However, It is not necessary to be a photography geek to understand stop action photography. Most SLR cameras have a shutter priority mode. This grants the ability to set the shutter speed at a preferred setting, say 1/250th of a second, and the camera will automatically set the aperture to a suitable setting to get correct exposure.

Stopping the action during a dance recital or sporting event is not complicated. With just a couple of action photography tips-increasing the shutter speed and compensating with an open aperture-crisp, action-stopping images can become a reality.

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