Whether you're shooting at a youth soccer game or a professional tennis match, these tips will improve your action photography results.
1. Zoom in. If you're using a point-and-shoot, take advantage of your camera’s maximum focal length to zoom in on the action and fill the frame. If you still can't get close enough with your camera’s built-in zoom, use your feet: look for access to locations physically closer to the action.
2. Use the point-and-shoot’s wide-angle capabilities to capture dramatic “overall” shots. So much sports photography is executed with extreme telephoto lenses and the wide-angle view can be a welcome change of pace. Look for strong graphics and interesting light to add interest to the action.
3. Preset focus and exposure. To get around the shutter delay of a point-and-shoot camera, try holding the shutter release button down halfway to prefocus and lock in exposure. Try to anticipate where the action will occur. When the action happens and you press the button fully to make the exposure, the camera’s shutter will trip immediately.
4. Preset to “Sports” mode. If your camera has a preset for fast-action photography, use it. Look for “Sports” mode on your camera-setting menu (On Olympus cameras it’s an ICON of a person running). This setting automatically sets the camera up for fast-action photography where a high shutter speed and maximum apertures are necessary.
5. Turn OFF the flash. Make sure your flash is off outdoors for general photography. Using flash for action photography with a point-and-shoot camera is useless and wastes battery resources.
6. Turn ON the flash outdoors if you're very close and want to add fill light to a backlit scene. This will open up the shadows to provide important detail.
7. Compose carefully: Use the “Rule of Thirds” to frame important subjects off center. Get low – photos are almost always improved by a lower angle. Shooting down on a subject is usually not a good idea.
8. Steady your camera by holding your breath and pressing the shutter release firmly without jabbing the camera. This takes practice but is necessary to obtain acceptable sharpness in low-light conditions.
9. Consider using a small pocket tripod for landscapes in low light. This simple tripod is pocket sized and will vastly extend the capabilities of even the most basic point-and-shoot camera.
10. Pan the camera. Try following the action as you release the shutter instead of keeping the camera perfectly still.
11. Break the RULES. These tips are guidelines. Shoot constantly, experiment and roll with the flow. Don't worry about mistakes – you can delete those later. Shoot lots of images if you want to capture peak action. Watch the pros and you'll realize they watch the action either through the viewfinder on their camera or on the camera’s LCD screen. The more images you shoot, the more “keepers” you'll snag.
For advice on taking action photos with an E-System camera, check out these tennis-inspired tips from Olympus Visionary Jay Kinghorn.