Center Your Subject for Action Shots

Porsche Battle

We hear a lot about things such as the rule of thirds and not centering your subject for better composition. But there are times when you should actually center your subject to ensure that you get the shot. Action shots are typically a one chance situation. This can include sports, racing, performances, etc.

The problem with these action scenarios is that the main subject is usually moving quite fast and you only have one opportunity to capture a given moment. Spend too much time thinking about composition rules will ultimately result in missed shots. Here are a few reasons why you should think about centering your subject (and some tips for action shots):

  • It’s easier for your AF camera to focus on the subject when centered — nothing worse than a sharp background and blurry subject. The caveat to this is if you have your camera set to spot focus somewhere other than the center.
  • Most manual focus screens have additional feedback at the center of the frame — use it!
  • Center your subject and you won’t miss a shot due to over-thinking the composition.
  • Leave a bit of extra room around the main subject so that you can crop for better composition later.
  • Use continuous AF to track the action — especially when the subject is moving toward or away from you.
  • Get the dang shot!

What do you guys think? Good advice? Bad advice? What would you add to this?

7 thoughts on “Center Your Subject for Action Shots

  1. Steve Berardi

    I think this is critical for photographing wildlife. Plus, you’ll rarely get close enough to any kind of wildlife to fill the frame anyway–cropping is almost always necessary (unless you’ve got a giant lens). So, you’ll pretty much always have that freedom to worry about composition later.

  2. Arka

    Very good advice for wildlife, particularly for birds in flight. AF and focus tracking hardly works for fast in-flight shots unless you disable all focus points other than the one at the center. Birds are small subjects, so there is always enough room all around to crop for composition

  3. kurakensama

    I prefer NOT to center the object. For instance, in a circunstance like the picture above, I’d aim to the former car light, or in a bird shooting, to the head. Of course, if the bird is small, you only can aim to teh center….

  4. mitja

    With the ever-growing number of megapixels will it really matter? Does it matter right now? I personally crop almost every shot I work on. Shoot wider, crop later.

  5. Gavin

    Some great advice, if only I’d read something like this before my trial and error approach to action photography which led me to much the same conclusions! As others have said I think the most important thing is keeping the shots a little wider so that you can re-compose through cropping at a later stage.

    One thing I would add, if you’re making use of continuous auto focus (and you should be) then make sure you have a spare battery or two on hand as it can eat up the power if used extensively.

  6. JIm Goldstein

    An alternate recommendation that I highly recommend is exploring to see if your camera allows you to select a focus point. Some of the more advanced dSLRs allow you to select a single focus point. Knowing or anticipating your subject with the proper focus point selected can allow you to avoid the hassle of centering and cropping an image.

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