Photographing a Fast-Moving Subject

Updated on August 15, 2018
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Chris is a photography enthusiast and blog writer. He enjoys learning new photography techniques and practicing old ones.

How to Get a Sharp Photo of a Fast-Moving Subject

Among my favorite things to photograph are my dogs. We are a dog foster family and at any one time have a number of these special animals running around the yard and house. I get ample opportunity to take photos and practice fast-moving photography.

These photography tips to freeze motion can apply to just about any activity where you are trying to stop action in your photo. I just like dog photography the best.

Shutter Speed

To capture a fast-moving subject you will have to use a high shutter speed. For dogs running or people on bicycles, the minimum setting would usually be 1/500th of a second. Most modern cameras can support a higher shutter speed and it will likely be used.

One thing to remember is that speed can be relative to your location. A car may be traveling at 55mph and can easily be photographed at 1/500th of a second heading straight toward you. That same car photographed from the side will be blurred. In fact, there probably isn’t a shutter speed fast enough on your camera to capture that shot blur-free. In that event, you would have to necessarily “pan” with the subject.

Panning is where the camera is moved with the subject keeping it in the center of the frame. With some practice, you should be able to capture the subject blur-free. Of course, the background will be blurred, which is what you want.

Aperture

When you increase your shutter speed you will have to adjust the amount of light entering the camera. If your photos appear dark them you know you have two choices: Increase your aperture or increase the ISO. You may have to do both. Of course, adding light like a flash will also solve the problem but the vast majority of my high-speed photos are outside so I rely on the ambient light.

Open up the aperture to f5.6, f11 or higher and more light will enter the camera. Your depth of field will also be higher which will result in more of your photo in focus. This is great when you need the landscape to be in focus across the image. This is not so great when you want separation of your subject from the background by getting smooth blurriness or bokeh.

Depth of field is why I use fast glass like my Panasonic 35-100mm f2.8 Lumix lens. I can typically dial the shutter speed to 1/1000 of a second to start and leave the aperture at f2.8. This makes for the optimal setting for getting in focus photos of my dogs.

Focus Accuracy

However, this also brings up another issue and that is focus accuracy. If the aperture is set at f11 then a much larger area will be in focus. If f2.8 is used only a very small area will be in focus. This will cause you to possibly miss the shot as the subject goes by.

I solve this problem by putting my camera in burst mode. Post-processing hundreds of photos won’t be a lot of fun, but the possibility of having a good number of in-focus images are far greater than if you were simply trying to time the scene with a single shot.

Another tip for focus accuracy is to pre-focus on a single spot and wait for the action to come to you. Instead of chasing a dog around the yard trying to get a shot I will have a partner work with the dog to encourage it into the area I am focused on. If photographing bicycles is your thing, then setting up at a location where you know cyclists will pass by and pre-focusing will make your work much easier.

ISO

If you are still struggling with dark photos, then your other option is to increase the ISO. The higher the ISO setting on your camera, the more digital "noise" will be introduced. Some cameras handle grainy artifacts better than others. I use a micro-four-thirds camera and typically keep the ISO under 3200 at all times. A full-frame camera has no such limitations in low light.

I try not to let it be an issue and simply shoot in good ambient light. I set the ISO around 400 in the shade and set it at the lowest setting in the sun. I don’t let the camera make the decision for me when I’m shooting fast moving subjects. Auto ISO is great; I just don’t use it for this type of photography.

Conclusion

One of the most under-appreciated tips for photographing fast-moving subjects is having patience. There will be times when you are constantly trying to get the setting right on your camera. In fact, one could argue that a novice photographer would get more practice working to get the fast moving image than any other type of photography.

Whether a pro or novice, practicing your technique will bring results when trying to capture a moving object. Blurry photos are bound to happen but the more images that you take, the better your photos will ultimately be.

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    © 2018 Chris Morris

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