Get better photos during an active summer

Summer photography means keeping up with the outdoor action, and action shots are the most difficult to capture without the right equipment.  There are so many opportunities to capture terrific summer memories—birthdays, sports, beach gatherings, family reunions, vacations.  I have a few tips on techniques and simple subject set-ups and that will help you save those memories without ending up with a bunch of blurry photos.

I’d like to offer two different approaches to thinking about your subject matter, as I’ll describe in two photo shoots we did right here at Shutterfly. These sessions will help you think about how you might approach your own photography and to ultimately give your more pictures you’ll be proud of.

Summer Pool Party

This photo shoot was what I would call a “contained” shoot. We had many activities going on in a small, confined space. We divided the activities up into separate areas of the yard, and paced their timing over the course of the day. The kids had a great time, moving from one activity to the next and we were able to stick with the action and successfully cover the arc of the day’s “story.” It’s hard to get great shots when you’re running around, but if you organize your movement around the action, you don’t have to miss a thing.

Since ice cream is essential to summer fun, we wanted to make sure it was photographed successfully. The timing for the ice cream serving was right after lunch, when the sun was at its harshest. So we set up the ice cream under umbrellas where we could control the light and placed softened ice cream in bowls to encourage the children to scoop for themselves. Without adults’ arms or hands in the shots, we could focus on the natural expressions of the children and their delight in this simple activity. We “filled” the light with a flash, so even in the shade, the details of their joy was not lost.

We shot the post-piñata candy grab from above to get the full effect, and set up sprinklers the kids could linger in, to get better shots of the water play. For the pool shots, we used a waterproof housing (see Underwater Photography, below). Since kids in action can be difficult to capture, think about ways to stage slower moving activities. You’ll end up with more shots you’ll be happy with.

Summer Fun Shoot

This photo shoot took place in a much more “open” environment. We had an entire park to stage larger activities throughout the day, including baseball and volleyball, running across the field, chasing bubbles and picnicking. We had two photographers to keep up with the action—imagine all the running around you’d be doing if you were the only person documenting all this activity.

If you don’t have the right equipment to capture faraway action shots (see Long Shots, below), you may want to reduce your subject matter down to the details. Instead of shooting the baseball game, shoot the participants resting in the grass or palling around in their uniforms. Or get into a position where the activity is moving towards or by you so you can get closer shots. Arrange activities like card playing or daisy chain making, blowing on pinwheels, assembling a kite, setting the picnic table or making bubbles. Activities like these that involve several people gathered in one place enable you to get great interaction shots without having to chase down action.

Don’t forget simple things, like hello hugs (be sure shoot from the shoulders up), packing up and waves goodbye. These are slow moving, but powerful shots. Again, increase your chance of getting more successful photos from an event by manipulating the activities in your favor, slowing them down, and capturing those quiet, but sweet moments.

On a technical note

Digital delay

If you don’t have a digital SLR, you have to plan for the shutter delay. This is because your camera has to focus and react after you hit the shutter button. If the subject you’re shooting stays mostly in one spot through a series of images, you can press down lightly on the shutter button so the camera will be focused and ready to shoot at the exact time the action is happening.


Bright sunlight puts hard shadows in your shots. If you’re in the noon-day sun, take advantage of mottled light by shooting under trees, or use your flash or a reflective surface to redirect the light onto your subject’s faces and reduce shadows.

Underwater photography

Depending on your camera type, you might want to rent a waterproof housing that allows you to get into the pool and capture the underwater action. These are available for most point-and-shoot and SLR cameras. But unless you’ll be using it often, I wouldn’t recommend purchasing one—they can be expensive.

Get better color

Cameras are often set to AWB (auto white balance). I would recommend turning the setting to “daylight,” which will capture more colors, since the summer sun tends to wash out pictures. Experiment with these settings to achieve the result you’re going for.

Long shots

If you don’t have a long lens and are tired of getting pictures of ant-sized kids running around a field, then why bother with long shots? If you’re serious about capturing field action, try renting a super-fast (ƒ2.8), autofocus 80 to 200 mm zoom lens to see if this works for your style of photography. Otherwise, you can simply hang out on the sidelines and wait for the kids to come close. Or, photograph the players when they’re stationary—on the bench or in the huddle. See our Lacrosse Shoot for some examples of close shoots that capture the essence of the activity.

Hope this helps!



  1. BarbaraJ says

    This is a great article and so true with active activities and kids. Thank you for all the information, it is so helpful.

  2. shannonr says

    Thanks for the article it was informative for me. During activities such as soccer, football, lacrosse I usually try to take much closer shots as the background does tend to become cluttered and at that point it is difficult to see what/who the main subject it suppose to be.

  3. Joey says

    Great article Deborah and very informative. I did buy a beach ball and bubbles for kids to blow – now I’m just waiting for the rain to go away. You had some helpful tips. I’ll be sure and use for futurer shots.

  4. says

    Love the article!! I buy outfits for my graddaughter with photoshoots in mind, ohhh this one will look good with bubbles :):) Loved your tips!!

  5. TonetteB says

    I love all the instructions for different circumstances and photo opportunities! You covered all the bases in this article! Thanks for all the helpful tips! :)

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