Capturing moving subjects with pin-sharp images that are well composed requires a certain degree of know-how. Here are some tips that will help make your action shots look truly professional.
- Change your autofocus mode. To shoot sharp action photos, you'll need to switch your autofocus mode to continuous (AI Servo on Canons, and AF-C on Nikons). In this mode, the camera constantly adjusts focus as it tracks a moving subject. Continuous mode is also a predictive mode, as it sets the focus on where it believes the subject will be after the split-second delay caused by the mirror rising and the shutter opening in the camera.
Know when to use manual focus. In some sports, you can pretty much determine where a player is going to be (for instance, in cricket, the batsman will always be in front of the stumps). And if there is a very fast moving object (such as a cricket ball), the camera's autofocus can get confused and struggle to keep up as it "searches" for focus. In this case, it's a good idea to set your focus on a preset point (such as the player or the stumps in cricket) and use manual focus for quicker shooting.
Use your AF points. If you're shooting on continuous autofocus mode, then you're better off leaving the camera with multiple AF points activated, so that it can chose its own focusing point. However, if you're using manual focus, you may find that choosing a single AF point will give you more accurate images.
Use a fast shutter speed. To freeze action so that it is pin-sharp requires a fast shutter speed. I always aim to use a shutter speed of above 1/500, although some sports will require a minimum of 1/1000. When experimenting, try putting your camera in TV / S mode so that you can chose the shutter speed, while the camera sorts everything else out for you.
Try to use a small depth of field. Action shots often look stronger if only the subject is sharp, leaving the background blurred. This gives a greater feeling of the speed of your subject. To achieve this, try to use a small depth of field by adjusting your aperture.
Use fill-in flash. Your camera's pop-up flash can be put to good use in action photography. First, it can be used to help illuminate your subject and to give you a wider range of apertures to play with. Secondly, it can be used to create a technique called "flash and blur," where a slow shutter speed is used and the flash is fired manually at the beginning of the shot. This freezes the subject, while creating blurred streaks in the background.
Consider your ISO. If you've tried everything else, and you still aren't ending up with enough light entering into your camera, you can increase your ISO. Be aware, however, that this will create more noise within your image.