Improving Sports Action Photos

Action photos are some of the funnest photos you can take but it takes a few tips to go from simple snapshot to something that really stands out. Usually the problem is with showing motion. As the image to the right shows, a fast shutter speed and the rear side angle doesn’t really do much for this shot. During this article we will look at other images that didn’t work, and others that did so we can learn how to improve our sports action photos.

Learning to Pan

Taking a shot similar to the one above but with a slightly slower shutter speed and moving the camera along with the bikers helps to blur the background and provide a better sense of motion. This technique takes some practice as you need to match the speed of the biker with as little up/down motion as possible in order to get a sharp image. When done well, you get an image that feels like its moving right along with the action. Definitely don’t expect all of these to turn out, you will take quite a few and hope that a few of them turn out good.

Find The Emotion

Sports always have some level of emotion that you can play off of. In this shot we can see the bikers faces that show the grit and determination to stay in first. Shots like this can really pull you in and give you a feel for the action. Using a relatively large aperture of f/5.6 separates the two bikers in front from the pack in the back. The short depth of field focuses the attention on the main bikers by blurring out the people behind them.

Pick The Right Angles

Some angles work well and some don’t work at all. This will vary depending on what sport you are shooting and what else is going on in the scene. In the next two images, you can see that the angle that was used can make a huge difference.

Boring and non-descript side image

Exciting front angle and tighter crop

Leave Room To Move

This may seem odd at first, but you need to leave room for the subject to move within the frame. Using basic composition rules we can often just leave some white space on the side of the frame that the subject will be moving into. These two images demonstrate this. The first one has the biker heading to the right but is too far into the frame and it just “doesn’t feel right”.

Biker to far into the right side of frame

In this next image I used a combination of the techniques above including picking the right angle, getting in tight, and giving room for the rider to go in the frame.

Much Better Action Shot Using Above Techniques


I am far from being the greatest sports shooter around but using a few simple techniques can really help improve the quality of your images. If you have some good sports shots, please share them in the forums.


Kerry Garrison lives in Castle Rock, Colorado with his wife and two dogs. With 10 years of experience shooting products and 5 years of experience in the wedding industry, Kerry brings a good deal of technical know-how and can explain topics in easy-to-understand terms.

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1 Response

  1. Alix says:

    Hello Kerry!

    Awesome article! I find that these are some of the hardest photos to take. I’m that friend that can never get a good photo of everyone jumping at the same time. I wanted to tell you about our awesome gadget that is for photographers of every level. 🙂 The Hufa Holder lens cap clip was designed by photographers after they had, like many other photographers do, lost a TON of lens caps. The nifty little device just clips right on your strap and keeps your cap in place while you're shooting! Turns out, we lose a whole lot less lens caps this way! 🙂 This also works no matter what camera you are using. Here is a video for you to check it out Thanks again for sharing your write-up! Hope you'll check out our gadget when you get a chance.

    Have a great night,

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