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How to Take Super Sharp Action Shots

You are photographing the “big game”. It doesn’t matter if the “big game” is the varsity homecoming football game, your 5 year old’s first little league game, or even your daughters ballet class. You want to tell the story and capture the moment.

You can feel the “big moment” coming. The reason that you brought your camera along. The football leaves the quaterback’s hands and soars through the air to the receiver, OR your little slugger walks nervously up to bat for their first hit, or your tiny ballerina is ready to pirouette across the floor.

You pull out your camera and start snapping. You brace yourself when you pull up your camera to view your images. Three things could happen:

  1. Your image looks like a blurry ghost was playing the sport, and you shrug because, let’s be honest, deep-down you expected that
  2. You are pleasantly surprised that your image looks acceptable and your camera didn’t fail you, phew!
  3. You view your photo at the end of the day. You are confident in the settings you specifically selected on your camera and know that you got the image you wanted

Regardless of what the “big moment” is, there is one thing for sure. You want a clear and sharp action shot. Let’s talk about what you need to know so that you can always be a #3.

Camera Settings are Key

We can’t talk about action shots without talking about shutter speed. Shutter speed is the setting on your camera that controls the amount of movement blur you will see in your photos.

To get deep-dive tutorials into your camera settings, check out my video series here.

Shutter Speed

The faster the shutter speed (ex: 1/500s is much faster than 1/50s), the less time the camera’s shutter is open to take the picture. When photographing sports, use a fast shutter speed- around 1/500s.

Using a fast shutter speed is easy when you are taking outdoor, daytime pictures. However, if you know about shutter speed, you understand that a fast shutter speed (where the lens only opens for a SHORT period of time), only lets in a TINY bit of light. Basically, in low light scenarios, it is difficult to use a fast shutter speed.

For indoor or low-light scenarios, you will want to keep the shutter speed as close to a ‘fast’ setting as you can, but you most likely will have to adjust other settings to allow more light into your camera. This could include:

  • Increasing your ISO
  • Lowering your “f-stop” (aperture or depth of field setting)

Release Mode: Burst Mode/Continuous Mode

Another fantastic camera setting is “burst mode” or “continuous mode” (depending on your camera). This release mode allows you to hold down the camera trigger, and your camera will CONTINUE to take pictures as you keep your finger on the trigger. It takes the guesswork out of timing when that “big moment” will really occur.

Focus Mode: Continuous Focus Mode

For optimal action shots, you want to make sure your camera is in continuous focusing mode. This is also known as AI Servo AF (Canon)/AF-C (Nikon). Typically, when you press the shutter release button, the camera will focus on the subject you select. In continuous focusing mode, if that subject moves, the focal point will also move and follow your subject. In contrast, in other modes, your focal point will not move with your subject; therefore, if your subject moves they could be out of focus.

Are you using the right camera gear?

I have a camera lens that I love for portraits (my 50 mm lens). It takes beautiful pictures; however, it doesn’t zoom and it just doesn’t cut it for sporting events due to the lack of zoom.

Getting a good zoom lens will be a game changer for getting sharp action shots. I took the below two pictures with my Tamron 70-300 mm lens. Not only is it a great lens for beginner photographer’s, you can usually find it for under $150.

I was super far away from my subject in both of these pictures, and I was still able to get sharp action shots!

Video Options

An alternative method to capturing these great memories is using a video recording device. The GoPro is a great option for videoing sports.

The GoPro is a small, easy to use video recorder. My son got a GoPro Hero for Christmas, and we use it to video some of his sporting events. The GoPro is practically indestructible (tested and approved by my wild 7 year old son), completely water proof, and user-friendly. You can typically find them on sale for under $200.

The GoPro is great in low light; therefore it works great for indoor and outdoor videos.

Take a look at my video tutorial on getting clear action shots. It includes a GoPro wrestling video.


Sports and activities are a big part of life. We all want to capture these important, youthful moments in ways that will reflect the way we saw them.

Remember: set the above camera settings, grab the right camera gear, and experiment with video recording!

Join our community for access to all of my free Action Shot Printable Guide – and all of my other freebies!

And print this for an easy camera setting reminder!

Follow these easy tips and stop bracing when you check your camera. Instead, start to feel confident that you captured that “big moment” of the “big game”.

If you found this helpful, share it!

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Enock Ochieng Onyango

Friday 19th of March 2021

Hello, it is wonderfull photography I did'nt know about Gopro. Iam a bigginer in photography, I would like to have one.

Steph Social

Tuesday 23rd of July 2019

It’s been a while since I was into photography, I used to take the photos for the news. I’ve been wanting to get back into it and your site is total inspo and major helpful tips and reminders! I still have my old camera but since I’ve got an iPhone it’s been collecting dust! I’m gonna get it back out soon and see if I still got it:)


Wednesday 24th of July 2019

This is the greatest comment! Please reach out if you have questions!!

The Most Unique 21 Day Photo Challenge - Simply Snapping Mom

Monday 11th of March 2019

[…] Whether a person or thing- try to photograph something mid-air. Note: you will have to increase your shutter speed! For tips on taking sharp action shots, check out my post here! […]


Thursday 31st of January 2019

Oh man awesome tips!


Thursday 31st of January 2019

Wow! This is great! Nice pictures! I have a camera, but never have the time to learn how to use it properly! I am going to have to practice with my continuously moving toddler! :)

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