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Manual Focus for Anticipated Action

For most of my photography work, I use autofocus. But with fast-moving subjects, focusing manually can sometimes actually make it easier to get the shot. In Figure 4.8, I knew that my son was going to continue to turn his head and fidget as I attempted to capture a great shot of him. Too often, I found that I was missing the “moment” by less than a second, which is generally how long it takes the autofocus to achieve focus on a moving subject. Since he was standing in the same place, I quickly turned on Manual focus and waited for him to turn and face me. Because I didn’t have to wait for the camera to focus, the photo was taken instantaneously.

Figure 4.08

Figure 4.8. By changing my focusing mode to Manual, I was able to instantly take a photo as my son turned to face me.

A Sense of Motion

When photographing moving subjects, you might not always want to freeze the action in your image. Occasionally, you might want to convey a sense of motion and movement. There are two techniques you can use to achieve this effect: panning and motion blur.


One of the most common ways to portray motion in an image is by panning (Figure 4.9). Panning is the process of using a slower-than-normal shutter speed while following along with your subject as they move across the frame. When done correctly, this technique adds motion blur to the background while allowing your subject to retain much of its focus. The key is to time the movement of your camera with the movement of your subject and with the shutter speed. If you move too quickly or too slowly, the image will not turn out. Another thing that can help keep the subject sharp and crisp is using a flash source to freeze the subject.

Figure 4.09

Figure 4.9. By timing the movement of my camera with the speed of the trail runner, I was able to showcase motion in this image.

Panning photography often involves a lot of trial and error until you get the perfect combination of shutter speed and camera movement. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get it the first time around. The beauty of digital photography is that you can instantly check your images, allowing you to tweak your settings and reshoot a scene to get things just right.

Motion Blur

Another way to give the viewer a sense of movement or motion in your images is to include blur in the image. This blur is less refined than it is in a panning shot, and there’s no specific or correct composition, colors, or way to move your camera to get a desirable effect. Sometimes you might even achieve it by accident. In Figure 4.10, I was attempting to take an artistic photo of a patch of trees in Alaska. By choosing a slow shutter speed and moving my camera vertically along the trees, I was able to add motion blur to a scene that normally wouldn’t have had any movement. This is a great way to get creative with a scene that might seem ordinary.

Figure 4.10

Figure 4.10. Adding blur to a shot can be a fun and creative way to lend an artistic flavor to your images.

Figure 4.11

Figure 4.11. The Magnify button is a useful tool for checking that you achieved proper focus.

To zoom out, simply rotate the Main dial all the way to the left or press the Playback button once again.

Tips for Shooting Action

Give them Somewhere to Go

It is easy to get wrapped up in the fast pace of action or sports photography, but it is important to remember proper subject placement and compositional techniques. A poorly composed shot can easily ruin a perfectly in-focus image.

One of the best things you can do is provide space for your subject to move. Place them on the side of the frame that allows their motion to lead them in the direction they are headed (Figure 4.12). This provides the viewer a sense of anticipation. Unless you are going to completely fill the image with your subject, try to avoid placing your subject in the middle of the frame.

Figure 4.12

Figure 4.12. Give your subjects room to lead the action in a direction.

Get in Front of the Action

Another technique to keep in mind when photographing action is to get out in front of it (Figure 4.13). When you are photographing people or animals, it is usually best to show their faces and expressions, which adds a sense of urgency and emotion to your image.

Figure 4.13

Figure 4.13. Capturing your subject from the front allows the viewer to feel as if the action is coming right at them.

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