Best camera settings for freezing action

Capturing the peak of the action when you’re shooting fast-moving subjects takes skill, timing and concentration, so you need to be sure that your settings are right before you start.

Things you can pre-set

When you’re freezing moving subjects you need to be in control of your camera’s shutter speed, so start by selecting shutter-priority mode. Then set a fast shutter speed such as 1/1000 sec, although you may need to alter this, depending on the speed of the subject.

To enable you to use a fast shutter speed you’ll also need to set a high ISO in all but the brightest of lighting conditions. The precise setting will depend on the amount of light, but try ISO 800 as a starting point.

When you can’t predict where the subject will be moving accurately you’ll need to pre-set continuous focusing (AF-C) mode on your camera. In this mode the camera will continue to refocus all the time that you half-press the shutter release, allowing it to track moving subjects.

Then you simply press the shutter fully to take your shot. For most moving subjects you should also set the autofocus area mode to single-point, and select the central point where possible.

Although this means that you will have to position the subject in the centre of the frame, this point gives the most reliable and accurate focusing in poor light, giving the camera the best chance of tracking the subject.

With fast-moving subjects you should set the drive mode to continuous, which means that your camera will take a series of images when you hold down the shutter release.

Some cameras have two continuous drive modes, low and high speed – you should choose the high option if it’s available.

It’s also best to set the camera to JPEG file format to ensure that you get the maximum frame rate, and to clear the image buffer quickly when shooting.

Settings to change on the day

No matter how much you prepare, there are always some settings that you’ll need to adjust when shooting. First you need to make sure that your ISO setting is high enough to be able to use a shutter speed fast enough to freeze the action.

So, once you are on location, point the camera in the area that you will be shooting and half-press the shutter release to activate the metering. If the aperture display flashes and the metering indicator shows a minus value it means that there isn’t enough light to get the correct exposure.

Increase the ISO until the aperture stays on constantly, and the exposure display disappears.

You’ll also need to check that the 1/1000 sec shutter speed is fast enough to freeze the movement of the subject. The best way is to take a test shot of the subject and see if it’s sharp.

If it’s not, set a faster shutter speed such as 1/2000 sec. But check the exposure at this faster speed, as you might need to increase the ISO to allow you to use it, depending on the lighting conditions.

If there is sufficient light, you can select one of the off-centre focus points, which will enable you to alter the composition of your shots by positioning the subject off-centre.

Whichever focus point you select, you will need to keep it positioned over the subject 
to allow the camera to track its movement.

Typical camera settings for freezing FAST action

File format

Exposure mode

Set by camera

800 or higher

Shutter speed
1/1000 sec

Focus mode

Drive mode

White balance