For more-effective Action photography, keep these settings at your fingertips

For more-effective Action photography, keep these settings at your fingertips

When photographers discuss the pros and cons of various format cameras, the focus is often on image quality and optics. But especially for shooting any type of action – whether it is sports, people, or ceremonial events – ergonomics can be just as important. In particular, by having a properly set up DSLR or mirrorless (I use Nikon models like my and , but you can do the same with Canon or Sony) I can keep these key functions literally at my finger tips:


Whether you rely on moving your choice of AF sensor with the rear joystick (like I do), or use the “Back Focus” method of having a separate focus button and recomposing, you need someway to focus rapidly on a potentially moving subject without taking your eye from the viewfinder. Alternatively, if you are shooting on a tripod, then your left hand may be well positioned to use the focus ring on your long lens.

Aperture or Shutter Speed

Whether you shoot in Aperture Priority or Shutter Speed Priority (Tv on Canon), you’ll want to be able to change your controlling setting quickly. I tend to shoot in Aperture priority and have easy access to changing it using the front command dial on my DSLRs. If you shoot in pseudo-Manual Mode by using Manual + Auto ISO, then you may want quick access to both Shutter Speed and Aperture, although you may start to run short on dials if you also want easy access to Exposure Compensation.

Exposure Compensation

Since I rely on Evaluative (Matrix) metering most of the time, I need to be able to quickly adjust my Exposure Compensation when needed for particular lighting conditions and subjects. To do that, I turn on Easy Exposure Compensation, so moving my rear command dial instantly affects the compensation. The only downside is that if you accidentally nudge the dial you may alter your exposure without meaning to.


As light levels and the speed of action can change quickly, being able to increase or decrease ISO just as quickly is important. One of the nice improvements in the ergonomics of recent Nikon DSLRs is the move of the ISO button to the upper right near the shutter. That makes it a simple finger move away, instead of its previous location on the top left, which required two hands.

Kill the Flash

Reaching up to turn your flash off and on is both distracting and time consuming, so programming one of your front buttons to temporarily disable your flash makes for a quick solution to capturing fast changing scenes, or experimenting with flash or just ambient light.


It probably goes without saying, but you need to have your shutter ready to go. For this reason I use Continuous High as my shooting mode almost all the time. I also work with high speed cards to maximize the number of frames I can capture without my buffer filling up.

What I don’t need at my fingertips


I almost always shoot in RAW, or sometimes RAW + JPEG, and don’t need quick access to changing the Image Quality.

White Balance

Because I’m capturing and working with RAW images, I typically just leave my White Balance set to Auto and adjust it as needed in post processing. Of course, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to keep your White Balance setting in line with current lighting – at a minimum it will help your previews more accurate – but in the grand scheme of things, I don’t find it essential to have it at my fingertips while I’ve got my eye to the Viewfinder.

What I wish was a little easier to get at

Since the doesn’t have a built-in flash, Nikon has removed the Flash button from the front of the camera to the back left vertical row of buttons. They’re pretty easy to reach while you’re shooting, but it can be hard to know which one you have your finger on without looking. So if I need to make a quick Flash adjustment I find myself needing to pull away from the camera and double check that I have the correct button.

All this is especially important if you aren’t young with perfect vision

Depending on your vision, and whether you wear contacts or glasses (or contacts and sometimes reading glasses like I do) it can be very hard to set things up so you can both get an accurate view through your optical viewfinder to help you see whether your subject is in focus and to read the controls on your camera without needing to mess with looking through a certain part of progressive lenses or flip down a pair of reading glasses. So the more controls that have a unique purpose and position that you can reach and adjust without looking, the better. As I’m fond of saying in regards to adjusting settings on your camera while you’re shooting, “If you can’t do it in the dark, you aren’t doing it enough.”

No matter what camera you use, you’ll benefit from thinking through how you set it up so that the functions you rely on in a pinch are as easy and quick as possible for you to get to.