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How To Take Action Shots Like A Pro for the Technically Challenged

Are all your action shots blurry? Do you want to know how to capture a BIF (bird in flight)?

Is it a mystery to you how photographers can take a shot that shows the water droplets rolling off a ducks back?

Taking an action shot is easy even if you don't know all the settings on your DSLR (digital single lens reflex).

I'm going to show you how to capture that action shot just like the pro's do without having to use the manual settings on your camera.

I'll show you how easy it is to take your photo's.

from this 

to this

Step 1 - Select the right settings

Turn the dial on your DSLR to (TV) Time Value.

If you've read 'Where To Start With A DSLR Camera' you probably already have your ISO set to automatic. If not, go and set it now. If you are comfortable with selecting your own ISO do so.

Generally you will just need to push the button that says ISO and then use the arrow keys to scroll through the options. Every camera has a slightly different menu set up so you may need to check your manual.

That's it, you don't need to worry about any of the other settings like aperture. Setting your Camera to TV takes care of all of that for you.

Now that you've told your camera that speed is the most important setting and to change everything else accordingly we want to adjust the TV to suit action shots.

Step 2 - Adjust your Time Value setting 

Set the TV to about 2000. 

You will see this setting written as 1/2000 on your camera.

Again check your manual but you should be able to roll the little wheel just near the dial and ISO buttons on top of your camera to change the time value.

What you are telling your camera to do with this time value setting is to open the shutter and take the shot really fast, two thousandths of a second fast. You are setting the shutter speed based on a time value of a fraction of a second.

Likewise if TV was set 1/100 you would be telling your camera to open the shutter for one hundredth of a second which is a much, much slower time.

Remember your fractions from school? Don't worry, all you need to remember is a bigger number is faster but in-case you're unsure of how to actually tell someone what your doing you would say something like this:
'The shutter speed was too slow, it was only one over a hundred, increase the time value to one over two thousand.'
When the shutter is open for longer it lets more light in and that is great for lowlight situations but will also capture all the movement that happens during the time the shutter is open and that is why action shots can come out blurry. Like this shot I tried to take yesterday. There wasn't enough light for a fast shutter speed and Freki wouldn't sit still so the shot was blurry.

ISO 6400 (Auto) | f 4.5 | 1/6
lens 17-70mm

By setting the shutter to open and close really fast you won't be able to let as much light in, so good lighting is a must for action shots, however you will be able to capture that moving subject without any blur, so long as you get the focus right.

Step 3 - Pre-focus or Getting the focus right when a subject is moving too fast

I bet you're your wondering how you do this without using manual settings. I promise it's easy.

Lets say I want to take a photo of a bird that flies in and out of a tree in the yard all the time.

I will never get the camera to focus on that bird in mid air, it's just zooming around too fast. But the branch the bird lands on is pretty much the same distance away as the bird is just before he lands on the branch. If I point the camera at the branch and make it focus then I move the camera to where I know the bird will fly in I'm ready to snap the shot when he comes into screen. I pre-focused for the shot.

Make sense?

Here's another example.

Lets capture a moving vehicle at an intersection.

When the cars are driving past you can't get the camera to focus but when the lights are red it's easy to focus on the stationery cars. By getting the focus right using the stationery cars, when the lights turn green and the cars start moving you should be able to snap your action shot no problem.

Lets go over it one more time. 

  1. Turn dial to TV (ISO is on Auto)
  2. Set TV to 1/2000
  3. Pre-focus on something at the same distance as your subject

And now you are ready to capture water droplets, birds in flight and kids on the run! Enjoy =D

ISO 500 (Auto) | f 6.3 | 1/2000
lens 55-250mm

Disclaimer: I am not a professional photographer. I have been slowly learning how to use my DSLR despite myself and I just want to share with you how easy it can be to use your camera without having to get bogged down in all the techy stuff.


  1. Fab tutorial; very easy to follow. I don't know if my bridge camera has TV; I'll have to experiment and see. I really like action shots and I look forward to get it right. I'll also change my ISO to automatic. Thanks :-)

    1. TV might be called 'S' instead on a bridge camera (either stands for shutter or speed) but you should have the option there. I always shoot with ISO in auto unless the camera is getting it really wrong too bright/too dark. Then I'll switch it over if I want the shot.

  2. You made that sound so easy, I will be trying that out. Your shots are awesome.

    1. It is easy! I promise. Let me know how it works out for you. :0)

  3. Wow I learned something new here! Thanks for sharing on Monday Madness link party :)

  4. Thanks for posting another easy to understand tutorial for all of us DSLR newbies! I was wondering what the 'S' setting was. Beautiful photos, btw. Thanks for linking up to the Monday Mash-Up link up!

    1. DSLR's are just so daunting so I wrote the tutorial I wish I had found when I first stated. I'm glad I could help with that 'S' setting mystery. ;)

  5. Great Tips!! Thanks for sharing on My 2 Favorite Things on Thursday!! Hope to see you again your stuff!! Pinned!

  6. Thanks for sharing the great tips:)

    1. You're welcome. I love your little turquoise lady bug btw.


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