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Action Photography: Getting the Perfect Shot

The feeling of exhilaration as you hit the rapids is one of our favorite things. Your adrenaline spikes, you feel the blast of spray on your face, and the sun at your back. That’s Action!

Action is why we love rafting. We also love to remember those moments, which is one reason we have photographers who document all of our rafting excursions.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re rafting on the Middle Fork or celebrating the marriage of your loved ones, getting the perfect picture at the right moment can be harder than it looks. We reached out to some of our friends who do professional photography and asked them for their tips on taking great action shots.

Below is the advice as well as some examples of their work. We have some cool friends!

Find & Frame the Right Moment

A surfer catches a waveWhat I like about this image particularly, is the line of the wave that starts in the upper right corner of the frame and also the surfer’s positioning in the barrel.  One critical thing to look for when shooting/editing any sport or action photography is nailing that peak moment.

While Nathan Petty is mostly known for his portraits and wedding photography, he loves to shoot surfing and ocean images. Most of all, though, he loves to see people smile.

Shutter Speed Is Key

A beautiful San Diego SunsetMy biggest piece of advice for taking an action photo is to make sure your shutter speed is high enough to capture the action.  Otherwise, you will have a lot of blur and that can be frustrating if you are trying to freeze time.  Also, I am usually taking multiple images very quickly to try and capture the best action and later will go through the images to see what I like the best.

Kristin Brown of Kristin Rachelle Photography is a professional photographer located in San Diego who creates heirloom photos as well as lasting memories.

Settle In With the Kids

A boy jumping in a puddleTaking action shots, especially of kids, can sometimes be challenging. The first thing to do is to make sure you know where your kids will be playing and then settle in near them.

I shoot in manual on my camera, so I always make sure that my shutter speed is set to a higher number. The higher the shutter speed the better chance you’ll get of your subject in action. If your shutter speed is lower, then you run the risk of your subject being out of focus.

If you don’t shoot in manual mode, your camera will have a sports mode on it. Choose that mode and start clicking away.

Melissa Koehler has loved photography since she was young and got started using disposable cameras. Today, she loves to capture the perfect expressions and moments while shooting portraits and events. Fine her online at

Keep Them Moving

A ballerina leaps into the airI am always trying to keep the clients engaged. Actions give motion to my photos. I am always having my clients moving and I am constantly giving them examples, so they don’t feel awkward with what they are doing. So whether they are running, walking or laughing, I always do it first. The sillier I am, the more fun they have with it!

Bethann Greenberg is a San Diego-based wedding photographer, capturing magical moments for clients throughout Southern California, as well as destination weddings from Hawaii to New York to Cabo – and anywhere in between. You can find more examples of her work at

Choose the Right Film Speed

a boy tosses another into the air at a beach

A key to getting a good action shot is to make sure your ISO (film speed) is set right for the light you are working with.  This shot is taken at dusk but I still have lots of light and I’m using a fast lens.  My ISO is set at 250.  My F stop is down to 3.5 and my shutter is at 1/1250th of a second.  My shutter speed is fast enough to capture the action and freeze it.  If my shutter was under 1/200th of a sec, I would want to raise my ISO to a higher number in order to bring my shutter speed up to capture and freeze the action.  Shooting with my F-stop at 3.5 allows for lots of light to enter the camera as well.  This F stop number also allows for the blurred background.

Alison Beachem loves to capture the relationships between family members in a relaxed style, capturing the essence of your family and what makes them unique. Visit to see more.

How to Freeze the Moment

A wedding party tosses the groom in the airIf you are having a problem “freezing” the shot and keep getting blurry images, the culprit is most often a shutter speed that is too slow.  As a general rule, your shutter speed should be at least (1/lens focal length) so for example, if you have a telephoto lens and are shooting at 200mm, your shutter speed should be at least 1/200s.

However, note that this rule is primarily used to dictate how steady you can get a handheld photo without blur, when dealing with moving subjects you should use a faster shutter speed to freeze the action.  A subject walking casually might only require 1/100th of a second, while a fast paced white water raft might require 1/500th of a second.

If there isn’t much daylight or you are indoors, using your flash will almost be a necessity to adequately “freeze” your subject since there may not be enough daylight to give enough light through the lens to get a fast enough shutter speed.

Cole Joseph is a professional Photographer who also teaches photography through his online photography tutorials site Cole’s Classroom When not taking pictures or teaching Cole loves to get out on the water and wakeboard, go fishing or pick up one of his guitars and perform with his band Arson Academy.

Keep Things Playful

A couple on the beachFor our engagement session, we always want to have a lot of fun with our couples. We always want to capture them in movements – and if they are not doing anything, we have to tell them to do something! In this photo, we asked the guy to pick up his girl and spin her around, resulting in a really playful moment.

Cindy Daniel Lowe of Orange Turtle Photography loves pretty pictures of people, weddings, nature, and bunnies, and riding a folding bike.

We hope that these tips have inspired you to go out and capture some of the action yourself. Feel free to share your favorites below or on our Facebook Page.

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