Digital Photography Taking Moving Action Pictures

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Digital Photography Taking Moving Action Pictures

Photographing fast moving action, such as sports events or children/pets playing, can be difficult. A fast shutter speed is essential to capture a sharp image without any blurring due to motion.

To accomodate a fast shutter speed, a larger aperture exposure (lower f-stop number) needs to be used. This is where a good lens makes all the difference between a washed out blurry image, and a crisply focused action photo. Cheap lenses have a lower maximum aperture size (higher f-stop number), which limits the amount of light that (or this, or whatever) can pass onto the digital SLR's CCD photo sensitive sensor. A faster shutter speed is not possible in this case, which could prevent a sharply focused image and/or washed out detail.
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At a high shutter speed, motion is "frozen" in the image, a soccer ball being kicked, for example, can be captured with the subjects foot and the ball in mid air. As a shallow depth of field results from using a high shutter speed with a larger aperture opening, backgrounds are usually blurry or lost. But in action or sports photos that is actually a good thing, since it eliminates background distractions and brings attention to the captured motion in the photograph.

Most DSLR cameras offer a "continous" frame mode, where pictures are taken consecutively as long as the shutter release button is held down. High end Digital SLR cameras can even take 5 or more frames per second (fps) in continous mode. This allows the photographer to capture nuances in motion that would otherwise be impossible with just a single frame click. Unlike old fashioned film which would be "wasted", unwanted digital photos can simply be deleted from the camera or memory card at no cost.
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Some professional photographers use manual focus lenses for sports or action photography. While the high end auto-focus lenses are able to manage a reasonable job in locking on moving subjects or objects, the system can get fooled and lock onto the wrong part making for an out of focus shot. It is often better to switch to manual focus, or lock the auto-focus on the subject before it begins to move and then switch to manual mode, which will retain the focus setting. Note this can only work if the relative distance from the moving subject remains the same. For further distances, simply locking the manual focus on "infinity" or maximum will keep the subject without needing any adjustments.

Good lighting is essential when using a fast shutter speed, since the image has less time to form on the CCD photo sensor in the DSLR camera. Sunlight is often the best illumination, especially with outdoor sports, but the photographer should try to place the sun behind the camera, or at an angle, to minimize harsh shadows.

Flash usage is not recommended for motion, since the recharge time between flash discharges is excessive and you may lose the shot. Most flashes also do not have the range for sporting events.
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The camera ISO film speed setting can be increased to allow for faster shutter speeds. That being said, the lowest possible ISO speed should be used to retain quality in the digital photos. For most sports, a shutter speed of 1/1000sec should be sufficient to capture motion. Depending on available light, the ISO should be set to maintain at least this high shutter speed. Increasing the ISO setting will allow for faster shutter speed, but it does so by decreasing sensitivity. This can cause "grain" in the image, which is dots or flecks that can mar a sharp image. However, some grain is to be expected for high speed action photographs.

Some professional photographers are able to use slower shutter speeds because they "pan" the camera while capturing frames. Panning, simply put, means to move the camera by hand following the moving subject. This keeps the subject in sharp focus and blurs the background, a beautiful effect for an action photograph. It takes considerable practice and experience to be able to pan with a moving subject, so don't expect great results on the first attempt.

Another technique related to photographing moving subjects is "motion blur". For this, a slower shutter speed is used and the background is captured in sharp detail, while the subject is captured in motion (blurred). Often only a part of the subject is moving, for example a ball being thrown, this will have a sharp background and every part of the subject will be focused, except for the arm and ball being thrown. Deliberate motion blur is also a difficult technique to master, don't try to palm off a blurry photo as motion blur.

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