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How To Capture Action Shot - Photography Explained

Level: Beginner - Intermediate

Ready, Camera…Action

We’ve all seen a thousand images of gorgeous bikes in exotic locations. You know the kind of shot, a lone rider sits on his or her bike at sunset, atop a high mountain pass. These are the bread and butter adventure shots that always provoke emotion. But let's be honest, the drool worthy bike shots we all really love are the action shots. Bikes are about speed, energy, lean angles and defying the pull of gravity with the twist of the throttle. Freezing a moment of time, when a bike and rider are totally in synch, now there’s your money shot. Right, so let me tell you how to get that shot.

How to use Exposure Compensation
Simon playing with the big GS on the beach in Goa, India.

Technical info:

Camera body: NIKON D300

Lens: 80.-400.0 mm f/4.5

Focal Length: 142 mm

Focus Mode: Auto

AF-Area Mode: Single


Aperture: f16

Shutter Speed: 1/640

Exposure Mode: Manual

Exposure Comp.: -1 EV

Metering: Spot

ISO Sensitivity: ISO 200

Film Emulation: none

Sharpening: 0

Contrast: 0

Brightness: 0

Saturation: +1

Hue: 0

Photographer: Lisa Thomas


Capturing great actions shots are all about speed. The speed of the bike, how fast you can get set up for the shot, and of course, how fast your camera can fire off a series of photographs.

But speed is the natural enemy of photography. Without the proper set up, photographing anything at speed just creates a blurry image. However, with the right settings dialed into your camera, capturing ‘speed’ and more importantly your mate on his or her bike can create some of your best shots.

Camera set up

Most cameras have a number of different shooting modes. Put your camera in speed mode, (normally signified with ‘S’). In this mode, you're going to select how fast your camera’s shutter fires and the camera will work out all the other complicated stuff like exposure. Use your camera's on-screen menu or dial to select the exposure speed and set the speed to 1/500 of a second.

Now, bear in mind you are probably going to make several practice runs at getting this shot, and with each run, you’ll need to check your shots on your cameras rear screen. If the shots are too dark consider either lowering the exposure speed (if you lower it too far your moving subject might appear soft or blurry) or increasing the ISO setting (increasing the number will increase your camera's sensitivity to light).

Lastly, most cameras these days have a setting that will allow your camera to shoot consecutive photos as long as the shutter button is pressed down. Most manufacturers call this ‘burst mode’. So put your camera into this mode. You're now ready to go.

Shot Set Up.

Speed and movement are always the issue with photography, so we need to eliminate as much movement as possible. If you have a tripod, now’s the time to pull it out. If not, then brace yourself against something solid.


If you’re using a tripod and your lens or camera has ‘vibration reduction’ turn it off.


Lens Type.

If you have a zoom lens, that’s the one to use. If you’re using an automatic (point n’ shoot style) then zoom in using the zoom button. Give yourself between 30-60 feet between you and the rider. This will give you a nice soft out of focus effect to whatever is behind your rider. Trust me, it’ll look great.

Chose Your Focus Point.

The next bit’s pretty cool. Looking through the viewfinder, identify the spot on the road or track where you want to photograph your rider. Now, with Autofocus turned ‘on’ press the shutter release button half way down to set the focus. Release the button and turn your cameras autofocus off. The focus is now locked in. You're good to go!

Getting ready for the shoot.

Give your rider the signal to set off and get yourself ready to create great photos.


TIP: anticipate your subject/mate/ riding into the focus area and make sure you press the shutter release button a few seconds before your rider hits the sweet spot. Make sure you hold for a second or two after they leave it too..


Check your images and make sure you zoom into 100% to make it sharp. If there’s any blur, do a rerun. This time increase the shutter speed and or increase the ISO.

You’re going to get some great shots.

Good luck and have fun.

Please leave a comment or a like if you found this article useful.


Professional photographer and motorcycle adventurer based in Wales, United Kingdom, and founder of LIVING LENS PHOTOGRAPHY and 2 Ride The World. Simon, with his wife spent 17-years travelling the world by motorcycle, exploring some of the most remote and beautiful location on earth across 6 continents. His editorial and photographic work has been featured in publications all over the world, and his commercial clients include brands such as, BMW Motorrad, Adobe and SENA.



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