Back to Basics: Five Tips to Freeze Action and Motion

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Freezing action or motion in a photograph results in an image in which the subject and the background are “frozen”, sharp and in-focus. This is accomplished by using a fast enough shutter speed to stop the action, while using an aperture that is both tight enough to keep the entire scene in focus, but wide enough to let in enough light. This is a different concept than panning on a moving object and having it focused while the background has motion blur (which I will discuss in a forthcoming article). Here are a few tips to keep in mind when freezing action.

One: Zoom in. Fill the frame with the subject, while leaving enough background to provide context. Shoot portrait as well as landscape, and get shots from above and below the subject.

Two: Pre-focus. Fix your focus in manual mode and then leave it – don’t rely on your auto-focus. Pick the focal position and focus on the area in which the motion is going to enter into the frame or occur. Pick a spot on the track, a point on the field, or a position in the studio. Then after taking your series of shots, reposition yourself and pick a different vantage point from which to focus.

London Parkour

Three: Use flash or strobes. The light will enable a faster shutter speed, which will “freeze” the motion. It will also isolate the subject and pull the subject out of the background while really accenting the action. Put strobes on full power to freeze action, or on a lower power to allow for some motion blur. Use multiple lights to add depth and dimension. Play with it!

Four: Use a long lens. A long lens narrows the field of view, so remember to increase the depth of field to around f/16 to f/22. When changing the depth of field remember to adjust the shutter speed and/or ISO accordingly. Remember the rules of the exposure triangle.

Five: Practice with jumps. Find a likely assistant who will be willing to hop up and down like a fool for an hour or two, so you can try your hand at stopping motion. Or, as with the subjects of the photos in this article, find a public event in which a lot of motion is happening, and practice with that. The first photo featured was taken at 1/800th of a second at f/5.0 and ISO 200. The photographer used exposure compensation to increase the exposure by 1/3 of a stop. In the second photo was taken at 1/640th of a second at f/3.5 and ISO 640. Again, exposure compensation was used.

We’d love to hear about your experiences with this kind of photography, and if you choose to try your hand at it please show us your results on our Facebook Page or Flickr Group.

Photo credits (all): JB London on Flickr Creative Commons.

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  • Don Stratton

    FYI, tip 3 is slightly inaccurate as stated. Flashes have a longer burst duration when at full power, and usually a dramatically shorter duration on lower power. For example, I have a flash that does 1/500th at full power and a stunning 1/40,000 at minimal power! So it isn’t a question of using lower power on the flash to get blur, it is you assumption that the shooter will have to use a longer exposure to compensate for the reduced output of the flash. Nitpicky perhaps, but a very important distinction when ambient light will not contribute significantly to the exposure (such as at night).

  • Actor Headshots

    Wow! excellent shot! Ti looks so good when take shots like this..

    Actor Headshots
    Headshot Photographers
    Actor Headshots

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