How to Capture Action with Your Nikon D3300

By Julie Adair King

A fast shutter speed on your Nikon D3300 is the key to capturing a blur-free shot of a moving subject, whether it’s a flower in the breeze, a spinning Ferris wheel, or, as in the case of this figure, a racing cyclist.

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Try these techniques to photograph a subject in motion:

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

  2. Rotate the 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 should you choose? It depends on the speed of your subject, so you need to experiment. But generally speaking, 1/320 second should be plenty for all but the fastest subjects (race cars, boats, and so on). For slow subjects, you can even go as low as 1/250 or 1/125 second.

    The subject in the previous figure zipped along at a pretty fast pace, so the shutter speed was set to 1/640 second. Remember, though, that when you increase shutter speed, the camera opens the aperture to maintain the same exposure.

    At low f-stop numbers, depth of field becomes shorter, so you have to be more careful to keep your subject within the sharp-focus zone as you compose and focus the shot.

    You also can take an entirely different approach to capturing action: Rather than choose a fast shutter speed, select a speed slow enough to blur the moving objects, which can create a heightened sense of motion and, in scenes that feature very colorful subjects, cool abstract images.

    This approach was taken with the carnival ride featured in the following figure. For the left image, the shutter speed is set to 1/30 second; for the right version, it’s set to 1/5 second. In both cases, a tripod was used, but because nearly everything in the frame was moving, the entirety of both photos is blurry — the 1/5 second version is simply blurrier because of the slower shutter.

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  3. In dim lighting, raise the ISO setting, if necessary, to allow a fast shutter speed.

    Unless you’re shooting in bright daylight, you may not be able to use a fast shutter speed at a low ISO, even if the camera opens the aperture as far as possible. Raising the ISO does increase the possibility of noise, so you have to decide whether a noisy shot is better than a blurry shot.

    Why not add flash to brighten the scene? Well, adding flash is tricky for action shots, unfortunately. First, the flash needs time to recycle between shots, which slows the capture rate. Second, the built-in flash has limited range, so don’t waste your time if your subject isn’t close by.

    And third, remember that the fastest shutter speed you can use with flash is 1/200 second by default, which may not be high enough to capture a quickly moving subject without blur.

  4. For rapid-fire shooting, set the Release mode to Continuous.

    In this mode, the camera captures a continuous series of frames as long as you hold down the shutter button. On the Nikon D3300, you can capture as many as five images per second. Here again, though, you need to go flash-free; otherwise, you get one shot per press of the shutter button, just as in Single Frame release mode.

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    The fastest way to access the Release mode setting is to press the Release mode button on the back of the camera.

  5. Select speed-oriented focusing options.

    For fastest shooting, try manual focusing: It eliminates the time the camera needs to lock focus when you use autofocusing. If you use autofocus, select these two autofocus settings for best performance:

    • Set the Autofocus mode to AF-C (continuous-servo autofocus).

    • Set the AF-area mode to Dynamic Area.

    At these settings, the camera sets focus initially on your selected focus point but looks to surrounding points for focus information if your subject moves away from the selected point. Focus is adjusted continuously until you take the shot.

  6. Compose the subject to allow for movement across the frame.

    Frame your shot a little wider than you normally might so that you lessen the risk that your subject will move out of the frame before you record the image. You can always crop to a tighter composition later. It’s also a good idea to leave more room in front of the subject than behind it. This makes it obvious that your subject is going somewhere.

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