Photo Tips

Shutter Speed for Sports in 5 Simple Steps : Beth Wendland

Elizabeth Wendland

As promised, this week we’re going to talk about how to choose your shutter speed for sports.  Great sport plays take place in a fraction of a second, and so do the pictures that capture them.

So how do you get it right?

The first question you need to ask yourself when choosing a shutter speed for sports is, “Do I want to completely freeze the action?”.  Wait…don’t jump to conclusions, the answer isn’t always yes.  Some of the most amazing sports photos ever taken aren’t stop action shots.  The right kind of blur can accentuate the feeling of speed or action.  When shooting sports you have three choices: Stop-action, Blur-action, or Pan-action.

There are five steps in deciding how to choose your shutter speed for sports. You will use these same steps for each of the three types of action.

1.  choose your starting shutter speed

2.  shoot your subject

3.  review the result on your LCD screen

4.  adjust your shutter speed if needed

5.  repeat until you have the shot you want

Learn how to choose shutter speed for sports in 5 simple steps on


Let’s start with freezing the action.  If you want a sharp photo with zero blur, your shutter speed depends completely on how fast your subject is moving.  But, aren’t all sports pretty much the same?…after all, people can only move so fast.  It’s true that an athlete’s speed doesn’t change much, but the items they’re playing with (or on) changes drastically.  A football travels much slower than a baseball, and they’re both snails compared to a hockey puck!

To get a stop-action shot, start with a shutter speed of at least 1/250.  This is the lowest shutter speed that will “freeze” people when they are moving toward you.  If people are moving across a field or moving past you, you need to start at 1/320.  From this point you need to finesse the shutter speed to get the results you want.  To see if your shot is truly sharp, there are a few key areas to check for blur: hands, feet, balls, stick/bats.  If you see blur in any of those high-motion areas, bump up your shutter speed and try again.

Learn how to choose shutter speed for sports in 5 simple steps on


Blurred images are an excellent way to create a feeling of movement in a photo.  By allowing just a small amount of blur, especially around the high-motion areas we just talked about, you feel the energy associated with the movement.  To get some lovely blur in your shot, start with a shutter speed around 1/160.  Check the key areas (see above) for blur and decide if you want more blur, or less.  If you want more, just keep lowering your shutter speed until you get the shot you want.  If you want less, increase your shutter speed!

Learn how to choose shutter speed for sports in 5 simple steps on


Panning is one of those photography techniques that sounds fancy, but really isn’t.  It does however take practice to get it right.  Panning simply means that you move your camera to match the speed of the subject you’re photographing.  The result is a relatively sharp subject with a blurred background.  This technique is excellent at imparting the feeling of speed, and you most frequently see panning used when photographing cars because, think about it, a car photographed at stop-action speed might as well be sitting still.  Boring.  To try a pan-action, start with a very slow shutter speed, about 1/60 or 1/30.  If you want to see an awesome example of pan-action, check out my friend Tina’s shot of a black sports car for the Dream Car Sprint.

Now that we’ve talked about intentional blur in your photos, what about when you don’t want blur but get it anyway?  The main cause of blurry photos is a shaky hand, and the longer focal lengths we shoot sports at accentuate that problem, so here’s a little rule of thumb.  You cannot hand hold a lens without shake-induced blur at less than 1 over the focal length of the lens.  Are you confused?  Congratulations – so is every photographer who has ever read that sentence for the first time!

The Key!

What it means is that if you are shooting your lens at 200mm you can’t drop below 1/200 shutter speed, or you will see blur from your own unstable hands.  If you are using a DSLR crop frame camera (which most consumer DSLR’s on the market are) then you need to change that to 1.5 over the focal length.  So now your 200mm lens needs a 1/320 speed (there is no 1/300) to be stable.

This weekend will be a great time for experimenting with shutter speed for sports.  Try one (or more!) of these techniques and post your picture results on my FB page or Me Ra’s, we would love to see what you’re capturing!

Play hard, and have fun!


 Pssst!  Did you miss the first part of this series?  Check out these posts for some more helpful tips!

How to Photograph Kids Sports

Kids Sports Photography Lighting: 5 Types

How to Shoot Sports in a Gym or Stadium With Artificial Light


  1. Thank you, Beth! Great post. My next goal is to perfect panning! Thanks for another great installment in your series.

  2. […] a series of great web articles on shooting sports by photographer Beth Wendland and this week, she goes over what shutter speeds to use. This is the third installment but don’t worry, you catch up by clicking here and here. This […]

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