Using Flash in Action Photography

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When shooting outdoor action shots like mountain biking or skate boarding one great tool to keep in mind as you experiment is your flash.

While an outdoor setting might not conjure images of brightly lit scenes in your mind the flip side of bright sunlight is that you can also end up with fairly dark shadows.

Using a flash in these fast moving environments can help you achieve both well exposed images (using both the light of the flash to fill out shadows as well as the natural light in the scene) as well as some pretty cool effects if you shoot with slower shutter speeds.

If you have control over the output of your flash (some point and shoots and most flash gun units allow this) experiment with a variety of different levels of output.

You probably won’t need a full flash burst so pull it back a stop or two to get a more natural look.

4 Creative Techniques for Capturing Action with Your Flash

Check out some of the following 4 techniques which are illustrated in the shots above and below:

1. Slow Sync Flash
Experiment with flash plus a slower shutter speed (slow sync flash) for shots that capture the movement of the moment in it’s natural ambient light as well as some frozen details and you could end up with some ‘wow shots’.

2. Try Panning During Exposure
Combined with slow sync flash try panning along with your subject as they move by and you’ll capture some interesting effects with blurred backgrounds but an in focus main subject frozen by the flash.

3. Try Zooming During Exposure
Similarly, try zooming your lens in or out during the exposure to get a sense of movement in the shot while still capturing it still during the flash.

4. Experiment with Off Camera Flash
If you want to get really creative try some off camera flash techniques to light your subject as they travel by from different angles.

Some of the shots in this post have combined the above techniques for some pretty spectacular results.

Examples of Flash Shots Using These Techniques

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

  • Amber

    Thanks for this – I have a camera assignment due this week and the class is on creative use of the flash – so it is perfect timing

  • I love flash. Used it all the time.

  • The top shots are fab! If I didn’t read this I would have been wondering how those shots look as they do. Very cool post.

  • Daniel

    Great post, I recently got an external flash. They are so much fun.

    I also found a blog the other day that specialises in flash photography. strobist.blogspot.com. Its not bad, but of couse its not as good as DPS

  • I accidently took a photo similar to these at a ski comp last season. I was just fooling around with the settings on my point and click to get a good shot.

    Check it:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/focusfreeski/364287113/

  • AL

    Good techniques & the 1st photo is really awesome.

  • Ann

    Thanks – this info and pics are fantastic.

  • thanks this site has given me lots of knowledge.bot i want to know more about table top photography.

  • Good article. However the majority of those shots looked like the flash was off camera.

  • Wow I love all these action shots! Beautiful. I don’t own a flash at the moment, so I can’t experiment yet. Thanks for the tips.

  • I do want to get more creative with my flash shots, but mostly use flash for photography still objects as I don’t have the chance to use it for actions shots. Maybe I’ll just have to settle for trying it out with my puppy running around instead of something cool like a skateboarder.

    One thing that would have been more useful is actually labeling which technique is shown in each photograph.

  • The first one is really awesome!

  • I must buy a flash unit because these photos are great! Thanks for sharing them

  • vaaern

    yes, figured it out myself. its awesome!!! not only in sports!

  • Very nice tips

  • really awesome snaps. you gave a new area to experiment with. but i think all of it evolves from experience.

Some Older Comments

  • pixelshots January 15, 2010 09:22 pm

    really awesome snaps. you gave a new area to experiment with. but i think all of it evolves from experience.

  • Swiss JHG Photo December 16, 2009 06:51 am

    Very nice tips

  • vaaern October 24, 2009 03:34 am

    yes, figured it out myself. its awesome!!! not only in sports!

  • sbunting108 October 23, 2009 07:45 pm

    I must buy a flash unit because these photos are great! Thanks for sharing them

  • Radityo Pradipto October 23, 2009 02:33 pm

    The first one is really awesome!

  • Jason Collin Photography October 23, 2009 02:09 pm

    I do want to get more creative with my flash shots, but mostly use flash for photography still objects as I don't have the chance to use it for actions shots. Maybe I'll just have to settle for trying it out with my puppy running around instead of something cool like a skateboarder.

    One thing that would have been more useful is actually labeling which technique is shown in each photograph.

  • Mei Teng October 23, 2009 10:33 am

    Wow I love all these action shots! Beautiful. I don't own a flash at the moment, so I can't experiment yet. Thanks for the tips.

  • mark October 23, 2009 10:33 am

    Good article. However the majority of those shots looked like the flash was off camera.

  • alps August 26, 2007 12:03 am

    thanks this site has given me lots of knowledge.bot i want to know more about table top photography.

  • Ann July 22, 2007 06:55 am

    Thanks - this info and pics are fantastic.

  • AL July 20, 2007 01:20 am

    Good techniques & the 1st photo is really awesome.

  • Flip July 19, 2007 04:12 pm

    I accidently took a photo similar to these at a ski comp last season. I was just fooling around with the settings on my point and click to get a good shot.

    Check it:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/focusfreeski/364287113/

  • Daniel July 18, 2007 09:19 am

    Great post, I recently got an external flash. They are so much fun.

    I also found a blog the other day that specialises in flash photography. strobist.blogspot.com. Its not bad, but of couse its not as good as DPS

  • Adrienne Brand July 18, 2007 07:38 am

    The top shots are fab! If I didn't read this I would have been wondering how those shots look as they do. Very cool post.

  • Tuan Nguyen July 18, 2007 05:20 am

    I love flash. Used it all the time.

  • Amber July 18, 2007 12:52 am

    Thanks for this - I have a camera assignment due this week and the class is on creative use of the flash - so it is perfect timing

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