Once you have selected a subject you must decide how you wish to convey the motion to your viewer.
The two main ways of conveying motion are:
- Freezing Obvious Motion
Freezing motion is most effective when you capture a moment that is obvious motion. For example, a person captured in mid-jump with their feet off the ground or a surfer frozen in the middle of a breaking wave. When the event is obviously something that does not happen without motion, freezing the motion is a great way to show a fleeting moment in time we might not otherwise get a good look at.
- Blurring Motion
Blurring motion helps to remind a viewer that motion is taking place. Blurring motion works well with less dramatic action such as flowing water.
Shutter speed is the main tool photographers have for controlling motion capture and blur. Shutter speeds needed to freeze action differ greatly based on the subject and the subject's relation to the camera. For example, to freeze splashing water you may need a shutter speed of 1/1000 of a second or faster while to capture a dog running towards you a shutter speed of 1/250 of a second may be all that is required.
Once you have decided whether you will freeze the action, blur the action, or blend the two styles you must determine the subject placement in your image. While compositional tools such as leading lines, the rule of thirds, and centering still apply to action photography - the main consideration in action photography is not stopping the motion with the frame. If you have an image of a runner and the runner is literally running into the frame of your image, the visual impact is to box in the runner and stop the motion. Your goal in action photography will be to place the subject so that the motion is given room to continue. Make sure the action is far enough away from the edge of the frame that it has room to create a visual sense of continuation. Now, there are exceptions to this rule. If the motion is a short burst motion, like the karate image included with this article, you can place the action focal point where it is near the frame so that the eye stops its motion there. By using this technique you can focus extra attention on the action focal point. Again, this only works well with short burst actions that have a logical point of focus. For the karate image example, the breaking the board is the action focal point, we don't care where the hand goes after that moment.
With action photography there is very often only one tiny sliver of time in which to capture "the moment" we are wish to record. Although many cameras now have a burst feature (where the camera can take multiple images within a second if the shutter button is held down), this feature is not always a good choice with action photography. Burst images are taken at a steady rate and lull a photographer into a false sense of security. It leads to a habit of pressing the button earlier than you expect the "good" action, and hoping the camera will get the right shot. This type of shooting only works with continual action. For example, a duck might shake a captured fish repeatedly for several seconds. In that type of situation, burst mode will give you several different points in the action for you to select keeper shots from. However, in short action events (such as fruit falling in water or motorcross jumps), burst mode is your worst enemy. These action events happen in short bursts that do not allow the camera to "find" a good shot. In these types of action you must learn to anticipate the action and press the shutter just as it begins to happen. Once the action shows up in your viewfinder, its already gone and can not be captured.