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10 Tips for Taking Great Action Shots of Kids

By Lauren Ambrosio on July 17, 2023

10 Tips for Taking Great Action Shots of Kids

Whether you’re a parent or a pro (or both!), you know that kids are constantly running, jumping, and playing, creating a whirlwind of perfect moments that beg to be captured. With your DSLR camera in hand, you have the power to transform these fleeting memories into beautiful, tangible photos to last a lifetime. But how do you capture these lively scenes? How do you seize that split second of pure joy, that moment of intense concentration, that look of absolute wonder?

This guide is here to help you gain the techniques you want so you can confidently capture stunning action shots of children (pets too!). It’s time to take control of your camera and get the shots you envision. Let's dive in!

1. Use a fast shutter speed

Photo of child running on a beach to illustrate using a fast shutter speed.

The first rule of capturing great action shots is to use a fast shutter speed. This ensures that you freeze the action and prevent blurry images. Kids move quickly and unpredictably, so try shooting at 1/1000sec for optimal captures. To adjust your shutter speed, switch your camera mode to Shutter Priority (S or Tv on your camera dial), then adjust the number accordingly.

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2. Change your settings to Continuous Shooting or Burst mode

Photo of baby being tossed in the air to illustrate using burst mode.

This allows you to take several photos in a row by holding down the shutter button. You'll then have a range of shots to choose from, increasing your chances of capturing that perfect moment. Look for this in your camera’s settings, often symbolized by stacked rectangles.

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3. Try the autofocus (AF) tracking feature

Photo of a group of children twirling ribbons in the air to illustrate your camera's autofocus tracking feature.

When set, this feature keeps the camera focused on a moving subject. In your camera’s AF settings, look for 'AF-C' or 'AI Servo AF'. Once set, focus on your child by pressing the shutter button halfway down, then your camera should maintain focus as your child moves.

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4. Adjust your aperture for better depth of field

Photo of young child in focus to illustrate adjusting your aperture.

When shooting action, you'll want a good depth of field to keep your child sharp against the background. Use an aperture around f/5.6 or f/8. To set this, switch your camera mode to Aperture Priority (A or Av), and adjust accordingly.

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5. Don't be afraid to increase your ISO

Photo of little boy playing with a toy car to illustrate using higher ISO values to improve clarity.

Higher ISO values enable faster shutter speeds, which are essential for action shots. Depending on lighting conditions, you might start with an ISO around 800 and increase if needed. Just remember, very high ISO values can lead to noise (graininess) in your images, so balance is key.

6. Pre-focus your camera where the action will be

Photo of a child on a water slide to illustrate pre-focusing your camera before taking a picture.

If you know where the action is going to happen, such as at the end of a slide or on a swing, pre-focus on that spot. To do this, aim your camera at the spot, press the shutter halfway to lock focus, then wait for the action to happen.

7. Apply the ‘rule of thirds’ composition to your shots

Photo of a child playing the catcher in a baseball game to illustrate the rule of thirds.

Imagine your frame divided into nine equal parts by two equally-spaced horizontal lines and two equally-spaced vertical lines. Try to align your subject along these lines or at their intersections.

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8. Focus on the child's expressions to capture the moment’s essence

Photo of a child laughing in the rain to illustrate capturing emotion in photos.

The concentration when they're building a sandcastle, the joy when they're on a swing, the determination when they're learning to ride a bike - these moments tell a story.

9. Experiment with panning to get some unique images

Photo of children riding a carnival ride in the forefront to illustrate panning.

Panning is a technique where you move your camera to follow your moving subject. It can result in some stunning images where your child is in focus against a blurred background. To try this, set your shutter speed slower, around 1/30th of a second, focus on your child, and move your camera along with their movement as you press the shutter.

10. Keep practicing

Child looking into a camera on a tripod.

Photography is a skill that develops over time. Don't be discouraged by missed or imperfect shots. Be patient with yourself and your subjects, whether they’re your kids or a client’s. Remember, the goal is to capture memories and keep it fun!

Become a confident photographer at the NYIP

Are you ready to develop your skills and take your passion for pics to the next level? Enroll today in our Professional Photography course! This program at the New York Institute of Photography will help you learn how to take your photos from ‘meh’ to ‘OMG.’ Call our Admissions Specialists at 1.800.583.1736 to learn more and enroll.