How to Take Action Photos

Taking Action Photos in Low Light

When you venture out in the sun to take photos, light is helpful, but what if you're inside at a sporting event or dance show? Or what if that sun sneaks behind a cloud cover? In this case, you'll be facing a low light situation.

Here's the issue with low light for action photos. In low light, you need to adjust your camera to let enough light in. If you'll recall, that means you need to either use a slower shutter speed or a larger aperture. Well, if your goal is to freeze action, you've learned that you need a fast shutter speed. That leaves you with using your aperture setting for light -- but even at the largest aperture setting, you still might not be letting in enough light.


Don't worry, though. There are a few photo tips to help. Consider the following:

  • Try a fast lens, which allows for a fast shutter speed and very wide aperture. Some telephoto zoom lenses come as large as f/2.8. Even some fixed lenses come as large as f/1.2 to f/2.8.
  • Don't have enough light? Add your own. Keep in mind that indoor events may have strict rules about using a flash. Also, your onboard flash may not be powerful enough; you may need an external flash. If that isn't an option, and you're allowed to shoot with a flash, check the specs on your camera to see the range for your onboard flash and stay within it -- if you can get that close.
  • Increase your ISO to 400 or even 800. Note, though, that with higher ISOs, you'll sometimes see more of the grainy dots that make up an image. This is called noise. Higher-end SLR digital cameras have a noise-reduction option that can help cut down on those dots.
  • Try overexposing by one or two f/stops. This may work, but you'll increase your chances for noise.
  • Help your camera out when it comes to focusing in low-light situations. Focus on something the same distance away from you, but in better light. Lock the focus, return to your subject and take your photos.

You've learned a lot about techniques in this article, but the best way to refine your action photography skills is to practice. Soon, you'll be capturing action like a pro -- storing family memories, highlighting your favorite sports and pausing powerful moments for safe-keeping.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • Eodice, Lynne. "How to Shoot Action." July 2004. (Jan. 10, 2010)
  • Grossman, Debbie. "How to Show an Action Sequence." July 2, 2007. (Jan. 10, 2010)
  • Hatcher, Bill. "Action and Adventure Photography Tips." National Geographic. August 2007. (Jan. 10, 2010)
  • Lepp, George D., and Lepp, Kathryn Vincent. "Keeping Your Camera Steady." Outdoor Photographer. Oct. 1, 2008. (Jan. 10, 2010)
  • Miller, Peter Read. "Ultimate Sports-Action Tips." Digital Photo. (Jan. 10, 2010)
  • Monkman, Jerry. "Risking Gear to Get the Shot." Outdoor Photographer. Sept. 22, 2009. (Jan. 10, 2010)
  • New York Institute of Photography. "Boat Photos." (Jan. 10, 2010)
  • New York Institute of Photography. "How to Take Great Skiing and Snowboarding Pictures." (Jan. 10, 2010)
  • Photoxels. "Low-Light Indoors Pictures." (Jan. 10, 2010)
  • Resnick, Mason. "Winter Sports Action Photography Tips." Adorama Camera, Inc. Dec. 23, 2009. (Jan. 10, 2010)
  • Sammon, Rick. "The Need for Speed." Digital Photo. (Jan. 10, 2010)
  • Schaub, George. "Exposure Basics II." Photographic. December 2008. (Jan. 10, 2010)
  • Sheppard, Rob. "Trick Shots: Actions." Digital Photo. (Jan. 10, 2010)
  • Shutterbug. "Action Photography." August 2003. (Jan. 10, 2010)
  • Star Valley Photo Club. (Jan. 10, 2010)
  • Stensvold, Mike. "Three Tips for Shooting Action." Photographic. September 2005. (Jan. 10, 2010)
  • Tulin, Philip. "Kayaking Photography Hints and Tips." Outdoor Eyes Xtreme. (Jan. 10, 2010)