Best Shutter Speed for Sports and Action Photography

In Sports Photography by Improve Photography15 Comments

Most of us, at one time or another, have tried to take pictures of a sporting event or some other action shot and been very disappointed with the results. Often, the resulting photograph is merely an incomprehensible blur when what we really wanted to capture was some incredible action! Without knowing a few basic pieces of information, it can be hard to get these shots to turn out well. Never fear: this article will help you learn the right camera settings to get those action shots to come out beautifully.

Let's talk basics for just a minute. Remember that the exposure triangle is made up of three elements: the Aperture, the Shutter Speed, and the ISO. Each of these is going to need some tweaking depending on your location and situation. For indoor sporting events or outdoor events in low-lighting, you can expect to use a high ISO (don't be surprised if you're pushing it up to 1600 and higher!) to get a properly exposed picture. Because you're using such a high ISO, you may need to cheat the shutter speed down just a bit to keep the noise down. Try 1/800 and see what kind of results you can get. But in general, to freeze action, a good rule of thumb is to use a shutter speed of 1/1000. A shutter speed this fast will freeze the action for just about any sport (think football, soccer, baseball, etc). However, if you're trying to photograph a particularly fast-speed sport (like racquetball, for instance) you may need an even faster shutter speed.

Sunset Shadows - by Dustin Olsen

Sunset Shadows – by Dustin Olsen

Are there ever times when you don't want to completely freeze the action? Think about the situation of photographing a race car: if you completely freeze all the action, you're going to have a fantastic picture of what looks like… a parked race car. This totally defeats your purpose. Just about anybody (even me!!!) can take a picture of a parked car without having it turn out blurry. But what you're going to want is to capture the feeling of motion while keeping the car in focus. This can be a little trickier, but learning about panning will help you a ton in this situation! This photo Dustin took is a great example of capturing the motion while still getting a nice, crisp, in-focus shot of the car.

modern style dancerSome of the coolest shots capture motion in amazing ways. This photo of the dancer does a fantastic job of freezing the motion and capturing the action – you can just feel the movement in this photo! If you find yourself in a situation where you'd like to freeze motion, practice adjusting your camera settings to allow you to get a proper exposure while keeping the blur off your subject. (We have this handy cheat sheet that you can use to get an idea of a good starting point for your camera settings in different situations.) It will take some practice – don't get too discouraged when your first few action shots don't turn out well. But with practice and some patience, you'll begin to understand the basics of sports and action photography. Before you know it, you'll be taking some really incredible photos too!


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Improve Photography

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Comments

  1. I’m seeking an advice for an upgrade for sports photography, specifically outdoor Ultimate Frisbee. (A lot like soccer, just with a frisbee). I use now the Sony A99 with the Zeiss 70-400 mm f/4-5.6. I’d like better image quality, better autofocus, more fps, and a wider aperture. So, I have to go outside of Sony. Setting money aside for the moment, would you recommend the D4s + the Nikon 200-400 f/4 as an upgrade? Some other combination? I only know Sony, so am just learning Nikon and Canon. (Assume no issues on money, just for the sake of discussion.) I’ve taken your courses and listened to all your podcasts, btw. Keep it up. Kevin

  2. First of all appreciate your photography and then thanks for sharing it.
    Some great moments are captured that provides more happiness to people mind.

  3. I think the shutter speed depends on the camera quality. The more quality full camera you use, you will get more good action picture. Well, you also need years of professionalism to be a good action photographer.

    Thanks for the pictures!! It is really good action photography 🙂 You showed your skill and professionalism too.

  4. In my experience, there is a lot more factors that also effect an exposure. It depends on available light, camera quality, lens quality, and type of lens, as well as different light sources that are in the camera frame effecting the white balance if you are not using flash. A lot of people that give advice never mention any of these factors and how important they are in gaining desired results. Most people just mention camera settings, not even explaining what kind of camera, lens, light source, or any other factors that gave the results of the image they are using as an example. Shutter speed, ISO, white balance, Aperture, lens, camera, light position, sensor capabilities all effect the result, so there is absolutely no set answer to any given result, because in many cases, the result can be obtained the same way by adjusting things differently depending on the speed of the lens and camera sensor sensitivity. So unless you can give advice to people using their camera, and explaining how to use their camera to obtain the same results, which may not be possible depending on their cameras capabilities, then the settings will not match that are given as guidelines, because those settings that are used to obtain the results of an example were the settings used on a different camera and all the rest of the reasons I’ve given.
    My suggestion to anyone is to get to know your camera and it’s capabilities with practice adjusting settings, and trying to buy as good quality equipment as possible for better results. READ tons of articles and books, go onto YouTube and watch tutorials, and keep working at it, because as you experiment, you will learn more by DOING, than by any other means.

  5. I think the shutter speed depends on the camera quality. The more quality full camera you use, you will get more good action picture. Well, you also need years of professionalism to be a good action photographer.

    Thanks for the pictures!! It is really good action photography ? You showed your skill and professionalism too.
    So unless you can give advice to people using their camera, and explaining how to use their camera to obtain the same results, which may not be possible depending on their cameras capabilities, then the settings will not match that are given as guidelines, because those settings that are used to obtain the results of an example were the settings used on a different camera and all the rest of the reasons I’ve given.
    My suggestion to anyone is to get to know your camera and it’s capabilities with practice adjusting settings, and trying to buy as good quality equipment as possible for better results. READ tons of articles and books, go onto YouTube and watch tutorials, and keep working at it, because as you experiment, you will learn more by DOING, than by any other means.

  6. amazing photography and nice and helpful blog ..thanks
    First of all appreciate your photography and then thanks for sharing it. Some great moments are captured that provides more happiness to people mind.

  7. I’m seeking an advice for an upgrade for sports photography, specifically outdoor Ultimate Frisbee. (A lot like soccer, just with a frisbee). I use now the Sony A99 with the Zeiss 70-400 mm f/4-5.6. I’d like better image quality, better autofocus, more fps, and a wider aperture. So, I have to go outside of Sony. Setting money aside for the moment, would you recommend the D4s + the Nikon 200-400 f/4 as an upgrade? Some other combination? I only know Sony, so am just learning Nikon and Canon. (Assume no issues on money, just for the sake of discussion.) I’ve taken your courses and listened to all your podcasts, btw. Keep it up. Kevin

    amazing photography and nice and helpful blog ..thanks

  8. My question because my camera is not fully manual. How do you adjust the light for that fast shitter speed when you are indoor without a flash?

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