Capturing Creative Action Shots

Photographing action often requires fast shutter speeds, especially if you want to freeze the movement. But what if you want a more creative effect?

In this photography class, Karl not only shows you how to take more traditional action shots. He also shows you how, working in manual mode, you can get more interesting and creative images using techniques such as panning.

You’ll learn all you need to know about action photography, how to compose your shots, which focus mode to use and how to use different shutter speeds to get different creative effects.

In this class:

  • How to photograph action shots
  • Using fast shutter speeds to freeze motion
  • How to use a slow shutter speed for panning
  • Camera focus modes – How to focus on fast moving subjects
  • Shutter priority mode
  • Exposure compensation

Questions? Please post them in the comments section below.


  1. Just beginning my photography journey. I’m interested in shooting basketball and cycling races, events and rides. I shot an indoor Bball game with my 24-70 kit lens Sony a7iii I was about to freeze action but some of the action I was too far. I’m wondering if there is a middle ground lens I can improve on before I invest in a 70 -200 f1.4. Will an extender work? Or is that only for macro?

    1. Hi Timberly, 2x extenders work but they aren’t really suited to lenses such as a 24-70, they are usually designed to perform best with lenses such as 70-200. I’ve not seen a 70-200 f1.4 but am aware of plenty of excellent 70-200 f2.8, with a 2x convertor then it would become 140-400 at f5.6. In all honesty if you are talking about shooting baseball games from the stands then I think 400mm is going to be needed, unless you’re close, in which case the 70-200 may be suitable but I’d imagine you’ll be looking at a 70-200 and 2x convertor before long.

  2. Karl ,new to the site and its brilliant,so many thanks. Can I ask if continuous focus using the back button technique is as good as manually pre- focussing on a particular point ?
    Many thanks.
    Ken W

    1. Hi Ken, using the back focus button is no different to using the front capture button to do it, it obviously just puts it in another place if you prefer it there. The continuous AF on cameras has kept improving over the years and is appropriate to many situations but I have to say that the way I work is more predetermined in that I like to figure out what is going to happen where and aim to get that shot but as you watched in this tutorial there are times when the AF is useful.

      1. Hi Karl,

        The back button focus is the same as the half button focus, I agree, but isn’t it true that if you hold the back button down continuously then you don’t have to refocus with each shot? Thanks.


        1. Hi, my guess would be that you if you have it set in continuous or AF-servo mode then holding the back button will allow continuous focus. I actually shoot about 90% of my shots in manual focus though.

  3. I found the focus tracking on the Nikon patchy too Karl. It`s fine if covering fairly slow moving things like runners coming straight on – other than that you get lots of blurred images among the few good ones.
    I had the opportunity of shooting small birds of prey, in flight, in Wales. Like you I figured out setting a higher ISO (which also helped with longer focus lengths) depending on the ambient light, cranking up the shutter speed and setting a pre-defined focus area. You do get a few blurry shots but its spot on when subject comes into focus area. I set the format to jpg, rather than RAW, as the buffer doesn’t fill quite so quickly at 6fps and the files are smaller to write.
    Many thanks.

  4. Thanks Karl: I often photograph mountain bike events, but after watching this video I decided to try my hand at photographing motocross as well. Surprisingly the motor bikes seem to go at much the same speed as the crazier mountain-bikers but have the advantage – for a photographer – that they do fun stuff going up the hill as well as down ! Thanks for giving me the idea.

  5. Were you using the Continuos Focus Mode? And lastly would you consider using or are you using continuos shooting for higher frame rates per second?

    Thank you

    1. Hi Edmond, yes for part of this I was using servo focus and continuous shooting, but please be aware that this is not 100% accurate the camera can make mistakes and not always keep up with focus. In other situations I would prefocus manually where the action is expected to happen.

    1. Hi Kevin, no I never use auto ISO simply because I wouldn’t have full control over the exposure. See the introduction course to understand how and why I almost always work in Manual only.

  6. Just curious if you have some examples of indoor action – what would vary in approaching indoor sports ?

    1. Hi Peter, in the Light Source course I cover models jumping and to freeze that action I need to use flash with a fast duration. This can also be done with speedlites. I’m guessing you still want to freeze the action indoors and if so then you would have learnt from the ‘Introduction Course’ in the ‘Essentials’ section that this will require fast shutter speeds. As you increase the shutter speed you also lose light and indoors you have already lost light, so your only choices are to increase the ISO or add artificial light (or both).

      1. Hello Karl,
        Thankyou. Ill go back and review some of that essentials content.

        For the sports in mind, I’m too far away for flash lighting. I have an 70-200 F4 zoom but may need to upgrade to maximise the light capture along with ISO – indoor fluorescent lighting most likely at the venue.

        I was thinking freezing the action with the telephoto ( as is the norm ) BUT having watched some of the other content and knowing the sport, mixing it up presents some interesting thoughts – the action tends to be explosive and centred – time lapse up to a second or two might capture something entertaining.

        If I can get close enough, some portrait options also present. not sure how these will work with the lighting available.

        tjhank you again

        1. Hi Peter, as an example a rugby or football game shot in a floodlit stadium requires the photographers to use higher ISO to freeze the action. With your action being indoors and under fluorescent lighting then it may need a combination of high ISO capability and even faster aperture lenses such as a f2.8 although this gets more expensive!

  7. Hi Karl, for such action shots, some people also use cobra flash (or bigger flash) to help freezing action. Do you use such technics for action shots and if not what do you think of using flash for action shots ? Thank you for all your learning technics that improve a lot our photraphy skills.

  8. Persistence paid off Karl as it doesn’t matter about the ones that don’t work because you got a few crackers which are the ones that you have in the bag and can show off ☺

    1. Exactly David, and as with most photography you give yourself the best chance of success when you understand more about your subject, i.e. what it might do, where it might be, what the likely conditions will be etc, this is why researching and pre-visualising really help your success rate.

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