Taking Action Shots on Your Nikon D3500 Using Fast Shutter Speeds

By Julie Adair King

Your Nikon D3500 allows you to adjust the shutter speed to take action shots. Using a fast shutter speed is the key to capturing a blur-free shot of any moving subject with your Nikon D3500, whether it’s a flower in the breeze, a spinning Ferris wheel, or, as you see below, a racing cyclist.

shutter speed Nikon D3500
Use high shutter speeds to capture action with your Nikon D3500.

Try the techniques in the following steps to photograph action with your Nikon D3500:

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

    In this mode, you control the shutter speed, and the camera takes care of choosing an aperture setting that will produce a good exposure.

  2. Rotate the Command dial to set the shutter speed on your Nikon D3500.

    The correct shutter speed to freeze motion 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 image above was zipping along at a pretty fast pace, so a shutter speed of 1/640 second was used. 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 shots: Rather than choosing 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 used when shooting the carnival ride below. For the left image, the shutter speed was set to 1/30 second; for the right version, things were slowed down 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 more blurry because of the slower shutter speed.

    blurred action Nikon D3500
    Using a shutter speed slow enough to blur moving objects can be a fun creative choice, too.
  3. Consider raising the ISO setting to permit a faster 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, but a little noise is usually preferable to a blurry subject. Raising the ISO may also force the camera to choose a narrower aperture, producing a greater depth of field and making it easier to capture the subject within the region of sharpest focus.

    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, which may not be high enough to capture a quickly moving subject without blur.

  4. For rapid-fire shooting of the action shot, set the Release mode on your Nikon to Continuous.

    In this mode, the camera captures a continuous series of frames as long as you hold down the shutter button. On the D3500, 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.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 on your Nikon. When dealing with a subject that’s moving unpredictably, such as a bird in flight or a soccer player moving the ball across the field, you can typically rely on autofocus, using the following two autofocus settings:
    • Focus mode: AF-C (continuous-servo autofocus).
    • AF-area mode: Dynamic Area.

      At these settings, the Nikon D3500 sets focus initially on your selected focus point when you press the shutter button halfway but looks to surrounding points for focus information if your subject moves away from that selected point. Focus is adjusted continuously until you take the shot.

      However, if you know where your subject will be when you want to capture the action shot – for example, the finish line of a marathon – another trick is to set focus on that spot ahead of time. That way, you can capture the shot the instant the moment occurs, without spending any time focusing before releasing the shutter. If you use autofocusing, you need to use different settings: Focus mode, AF-S; AF-area mode, Single Point. With that combination, focus is set on your selected focus point when you press the shutter button halfway and remains set at that distance as long as you keep the button halfway down. You may find it easier to switch to manual focusing in this scenario, however, so that you don’t have to keep the shutter button pressed halfway or use other autofocus-locking techniques while waiting for the subject to hit its mark.

  6. Compose the subject to allow for movement across the frame of your Nikon D3500.

    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.