How to Take Action Shots with a Nikon D90

Taking clear photos of fast-moving action is easier than you might think with your Nikon D90. A fast shutter speed is the key to capturing a blur-free shot of any moving subject, whether it’s your tennis-playing teen, a spinning amusement ride, or a butterfly dancing from flower to flower. While you can use the camera’s Sports mode, following these steps will capture an even better series of action shots with very little extra work.

1

Set the Mode dial to S (shutter-priority autoexposure).

In this mode, you control the shutter speed, and the camera takes care of choosing an aperture setting that will produce a good exposure. If you aren’t ready to step up to this advanced exposure mode, try using Sports mode—but be aware that you have no control over many other aspects of your picture (such as white balance, flash, and so on) in that mode.

2

Rotate the main command dial to select the shutter speed.

After you select the shutter speed, the camera selects an aperture (f-stop) to match. What shutter speed do you need exactly? Well, it depends on the speed at which your subject is moving, so some experimentation is needed. But generally speaking, 1/500 second should be plenty for all but the fastest subjects (race cars, boats, and so on). For very slow subjects, you can even go as low as 1/250 or 1/125 second.

3

Raise the ISO setting or add flash to produce a brighter exposure, if needed.

In dim lighting, you may not be able to get a good exposure without taking this step; the camera simply may not be able to open the aperture wide enough to accommodate a fast shutter speed. Raising the ISO does increase the possibility of noise, but a noisy shot is better than a blurry shot. Adding a flash is tricky, unfortunately. If you use the built-in flash, you must bail out of Sports mode. Instead, use an external flash head that supports the Nikon Creative Lighting System options.

4

For rapid-fire shooting, set the Release mode to one of the Continuous settings.

In both modes — Continuous High and Continuous Low — you can capture multiple images with a single press of the shutter button. As long as you hold down the button, the camera continues to record images. The exact number of frames per second depends on your selections in the Shooting Display submenu of the Custom Settings.

5

For fastest shooting, switch to manual focusing.

Manual focusing eliminates the time the camera needs to lock focus in autofocus mode.

If you do use autofocus, try these two autofocus settings for best performance: Set the AF-area mode to Dynamic Area. Set the Autofocus mode to AF-C (continuous-servo autofocus).

6

Turn off Image Review and Active D-Lighting to speed up the camera even more.

Turn off Image Review via the Playback menu. This reduces the time your camera needs to recover between shots. (To access the Playback menu, use the Menu button.) Active D-Lighting also increases the time the camera needs to record the image; you can turn off this feature via the Shooting menu or through the Quick Settings display. (To get to the Quick Settings display, press the Info button twice.)

7

Compose the subject to allow for movement across the frame.

The view must be wide enough that the subject won’t fly out of the frame – at least, not too quickly. You may need to zoom out to achieve this.

Action-shooting strategies also are helpful for shooting candid portraits of kids and pets. Even if they aren’t currently running, leaping, or otherwise cavorting, snapping a shot before they do move or change positions is often tough. So if an interaction or scene catches your eye, set your camera into action mode and then just fire off a series of shots as fast as you can.

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