Action Photography Techniques for Weddings - dummies

Action Photography Techniques for Weddings

By Amber Murphy

Action photography relies heavily on the use of the correct shutter speed. A faster shutter speed freezes action, whereas a slower shutter speed blurs motion. When the time comes to capture movement on a wedding day, you can choose from one of three techniques: freezing action, blurring motion, and panning for background blur.

How to freeze action

Freezing action is the technique that is used most often throughout a wedding. To determine the correct shutter speed, you need to consider how much movement will be taking place and adjust your camera accordingly. For high action moments, start at a minimum shutter speed of 1/250 and work up from there.

If you’re using a flash, be aware of the maximum sync speed, which refers to the highest shutter speed you can use if you want the flash to fire. The most common maximum shutter speed you can use with flash is 1/250, so be sure to take lighting into account if you think the action calls for a faster speed. As you look over the following list, note that the listed shutter speeds do not take flash into account.

The freeze action technique works well in the following wedding scenarios:

  • Portraits in motion: Sometimes you want to give your subjects an action while shooting the portraits, like walking toward the camera, jumping in the air, or dipping the bride back for a kiss.

    For slower movement, like a couple walking toward you at a normal pace, a shutter speed of about 1/125 will suffice. If, however, you have people running toward the camera, you need to use a speed of 1/250 to 1/500 to freeze the action. To stop action of faster movement, select a speed of at least 1/320, though pushing the shutter speed higher results in a sharper image.

  • Bouquet and garter toss: For these photos, you should use a minimum shutter speed of 1/250 if you want the bouquet and garter to be sharp.

    A good shot captures the bouquet/garter soon after it leaves the bride or groom’s hand. To do this, start shooting continuously as the bride or groom raises his or her arm for the throw.


50mm, 1/320 sec., f/2.0, 125

  • Dancing: Many weddings include people boogying the night away on the dance floor. The shutter speed you choose depends on how fast your subjects are moving. If you’re capturing the couple’s first slow dance, then a speed of 1/125 or higher will work. But if one of the groomsmen starts breakdancing in the middle of the dance floor, you should bump your speed to about 1/250 or higher.

  • Throwing rice: As a couple leaves the wedding, often the guests will line up and throw rice or petals at them as they run toward the car. If you want to freeze the motion of the couple, start at a speed of 1/250.

How to blur motion

Blurring motion is another technique you can use for action shots at a wedding. In contrast to freezing action, motion blur puts an emphasis on the subject’s movement by showing where the action is going. In these shots, the subject is blurry and the background is crisp.

This style of photography uses a slower shutter speed, typically 1/30 or slower, and can be used creatively during a wedding. Here are two examples of how you may want to use motion blur:

  • Groom and groomsmen running: A fun portrait of a groom and his groomsmen can be having them run toward you. If you want to blur some of the motion, try setting your shutter speed at 1/125 or slower.

  • Dancing: The dancing at the reception can be a really great place to take advantage of a slower shutter speed to blur motion. To show the couple’s movement during the first dance, you can play around with the shutter speed throughout the duration of the dance, but 1/30 or 1/15 of a second is a good place to start to get some creative blurring.


50mm, 1/13 sec., f/13, 100

How to pan for background blur

Unlike blurring motion, which shows a blurry subject and a crisp background, panning for blur has just the opposite result: The background is blurred and the subject is frozen. This effect is accomplished by selecting a slower shutter speed and tracking your subject’s movement. Panning can also be used to create unique shots during a wedding, such as an action portrait of someone walking down the aisle.


50mm, 1/40 sec., f/5.0, 100

To pan for background blur, follow these steps:

  1. Select the center autofocus point.

  2. Put your camera into AI Servo (or AF-Continuous) mode so that your camera’s autofocus can track the movement.

  3. Select a slower shutter speed, like 1/30 second.

  4. Anticipate your subjects’ trajectory and position yourself so that they will pass in front of you. Plant your feet firmly facing directly forward and turn your torso toward the subjects.

  5. Frame your subjects and press the shutter-release button halfway down to focus.

  6. As the subjects begin to move, track them continuously and release the shutter when they reach the desired point.

  7. Continue tracking the subject after you take the picture to ensure that you have good follow-through in the photo.

Panning can take a while to master, so make sure you practice this technique before trying it out on a wedding day.