I am a mom who is often photographing her kids. And I would love to impress you with tales of my angelic children…how they sit perfectly still every time I bring out my camera. But that wouldn’t even be close to the truth.
Because my kids? They are always on the move. I joke that even when they are sitting still, my kids are wiggling!
And I like this about them! Many of the moments that I most want to capture are at baseball games and playing in the yard and at our Saturday morning dance parties. These are moments where movement is part of the story. So rather than begging my kids to sit still, I use my camera to accommodate their dancing/jumping/running/playing.
Today I am sharing with you all of the things you need to know so that you, too, can freeze this fast-moving memories before they disappear.
There are three variables that affect your exposure: aperture, ISO, and shutter speed. Adjusting any of these will affect how much light enters your camera and thus how well-exposed your photos will be.
Aperture affects how large the opening of your lens element will be. ISO affects the sensitivity of your camera’s sensor. And shutter speed affects how quickly your camera’s shutter opens and closes. This last variable is super important for freezing motion!
If your shutter is open for a longer period of time, your subject is going to move through the frame and look like a blur in the final shot. The faster the shutter opens and closes, the less time your subject will have to move through the frame. And the more “frozen” they will appear in the photograph.
Of course, none of the exposure triangle variables exist alone. You will need to accommodate the fast shutter speed by opening up your aperture and/or increasing your ISO. Likewise, you are going to find that photographing motion where there is a lot of available light will be super helpful. It will allow you to increase your shutter speed without forcing your other settings to be less than ideal.
How fast is fast enough?
In my mind, one second is pretty fast. But in your camera? That’s actually really slow!
Think about it this way: when you do a single jumping jack, that movement takes you about one second. So in that time, you have moved your arms all the way above your head and back down to your sides. In a photograph with the shutter open for a full second, you will see a blur of your arms and legs as they go through that entire motion.
In half of a second, your arms still make it all the way over your head. With the shutter open for just 1/25 second, you will still see your arms and legs moving from the start position to halfway up! If you want to make it look as though you are totally frozen, you will need your shutter to move MUCH faster.
As a baseline when photographing kids, I recommend not letting your shutter speed go any slower than 1/125. This is the speed at which I shoot when my kids are relatively still.
If I am going to be photographing my kids moving slowly, such as picking flowers or walking in the part, I take my shutter speed up to 1/500. This ensures that I still freeze the motion but gives me some wiggle room with my aperture and ISO.
Like this article from Kellie? Check out this member-exclusive tutorial on the Clickin Moms forum: 5 Tips for photographing kids who don’t want to be in front of the camera
Finally, when I want to photograph dynamic movements like running or throwing a baseball or jumping on the bed, I make sure that my shutter speed doesn’t go below 1/800. Even at this speed I might get some blur in their hands, but it’s a good place to start.
Your camera’s shutter speed can likely move as quickly as 1/4000 or 1/8000 second. When possible, I totally encourage you to take it that fast. The faster the shutter speed, the more likely you will be able to freeze all the fun!
Chances are, your camera’s factory settings are such that your shutter release button also controls your autofocus. This means that when you press the shutter button halfway, your camera searches for and locks focus.
However, this also means that as your subject moves about the frame, you might miss freezing the motion. In the fraction of a second between pressing the shutter halfway and all the way, your subject could be on a totally different focal plane, leaving you with an out of focus shot.
OUR ESSENTIALS FOR FREEZING MOTION
I love my Nikon Z7 as it allows me to freeze motion with its super fast shutter speed while also letting me see real time exposure through the electronic viewfinder. Even better, paired with the FTZ adaptor I can use this camera with all of my favorite F mount lenses.
This lens is a beast (it will give you a good shoulder workout!) and the images you can create with it will blow you away. I love the fixed aperture (allowing me to stay nice and wide throughout the focal length range), the versatility (I use this for everything from portraits to baseball), and the consistent performance (this thing never misses focus!) of this lens.
This is the lens I reach for when I want to capture motion with some environmental context. The wide angle allows me to get the whole scene in the frame while the wide aperture and amazing focusing performance allow me to freeze the motion in even the most challenging of light situations.
Instead, I would encourage you to switch your camera to back button focusing in dynamic autofocus mode. With these settings, you can hold the back button focus button on the back of your camera as you shoot, allowing your camera to refocus continually as your subject moves through the frame.
Sports photographers and wildlife photographers have been using this system for ages. It only makes sense that we would need the same settings when photographing wild and crazy kids!
Maintain a generous focal plane
When photographing moving subjects, not only do you have to accommodate the speed at which they move, but you also have to accommodate the direction in which they move.
For example, when my son is on the pitcher’s mound, I am often photographing him from behind home plate. Here, he is actually moving toward me. This means that when I grab focus as he prepares to throw the ball, he is going to move out of focus as he throws the ball if my focal plane is not wide enough.
To keep him in focus throughout the movement, I need to ensure that I have an aperture that allows for a bit of wiggle room. Of course, back button focusing and dynamic autofocus will definitely help here. But closing down my aperture even just a little bit can make all the difference in nailing focus in fast-moving situations.
Your focal plane will be dependent upon your aperture, your focal length, and your distance from your subject, so be sure to experiment with your settings to find what works best for you.
Choosing the right tools for the job
If you are like me, you like to research your gear before you make a big purchase. I read reviews and rent items before buying to ensure that they are going to work for the way I shoot.
When choosing tools for photographing fast-moving subjects, you are going to want to look for some specific features. First, you are going to want a camera that has fast shutter speeds. My favorite camera bodies can go up to 1/8000 and I find that it makes all the difference.
For your lenses, you are going to want to know that they are quick to focus. If you have ever had a “slow” lens, you know the agony of listening to it hunt for focus as you miss your shot. Certain lenses are known for their ability to find focus quickly and those are the ones that I find myself reaching for over and over again.
Finally, you are going to want gear that is capable in lower light situations. Even if you aren’t photographing motion in darker settings, you will want to know that your camera can produce high quality images when you need to bump up your ISO to accommodate your shutter speed. Likewise, you will want lenses that can perform with relatively wide open apertures so that when your shutter speed needs to be fast, your lens can compensate.
In my home, life is all about moving around and having fun. And I love to capture that with my camera! I can’t wait to hear all about what moments you can freeze with these tips.