It’s a huge drag. You just want to get the shot, but every time you press the shutter, there’s a delay. Your friend does something amazing, and you keep missing it because you can’t line your shot up with the action. What is going on?
The digital cameras of today are much more complex than their film cousins. In the old days, the shutter button was directly linked to the shutter mechanism. If you wanted to take a picture, you pressed a button and, snap, it was done. These days, pressing the shutter sets off a cascade of electronic events that finally leads to taking the actual picture. If you want to avoid delays, you have to learn how to sidestep some of these processes.
The one mistake everyone makes
Let’s start with the most common digital SLR action shot mistake. Have you ever pressed the shutter button to take an action shot and heard a repetitive clicking noise while the camera takes an entire extra second to take the shot? If this sounds familiar, you have the following problem. Your camera is trying to focus before taking a picture.
This is exactly what I mean when I’m talking about the “cascade of electronic events.” Your shutter button connects to an electronic system that “tries” to automatically focus the shot before it actually opens the shutter. It won’t take the picture until it “knows” the camera is focused.
There is a simple solution to this problem. Pre-focus your shot where the action is about to occur and then use your camera in manual focus mode. There are good and bad ways to pre-focus a shot. It’s best to use your automatic focus to find a spot, focus on it, and then switch back to manual mode before taking the actual shot. When looking for a spot to focus on, try to find a place where you are 100% sure the action will occur. This is really easy for sports like mountain biking and skateboarding, but it can be complicated when you are shooting team sports and don’t know where the action is going to take place. Focus on areas like goal posts and use your intuition when you aren’t totally sure.
Always take action shots in manual focus mode. If you don’t, your camera will “try” to focus before taking the shot. It also helps to set your camera to continuous fire. This setting is usually under the main menu and depicted by a little icon with multiple frames. If your camera can take shots at 3 to 5 frames per second, you can simply hold the shutter down while the action is happening. You won’t miss a thing.
Don’t let your camera fall asleep
This is the second most common mistake. Many digital SLR and point and shoot cameras have a built-in sleep function that shuts down some of the electronics in order to save battery power. Whenever you wake a camera from its slumber, it’s likely to add a few extra seconds before taking the shot.
What’s the solution? Simple. Just press the shutter button every now and again to get the camera out of its sleep mode. If you are about to capture an action sequence, and you know it will happen soon, press the shutter halfway down. Your camera will be ready for you when the action happens.
Always hold the shutter halfway down
It’s also a good idea to hold the shutter halfway down before taking every shot. This primes the camera to release the shutter. If your camera is still on automatic focus mode while you are shooting, it will find a spot, attempt to focus, and then it will take the picture when you press the shutter button completely down.
As a last bit of somewhat grandmotherly advice, be patient. Every camera model is a little different. They all have their quirks, and you will be the best at capturing the shot when you know everything there is to know about yours. After having used my digital SLR for years, I have a very intuitive understanding of its little delays. When you know the length of the delay, no matter how short or long it is, you will always get the shot.
If you really feel like the delays are too much to handle, you might want to upgrade your camera to a model with faster electronics. The cameras at the highest end are designed to minimize delays so you can pick up your camera and take a shot whenever you want.
Good luck out there. I know you’ll nail that next great shot!