Action photographers like to draw the viewer in to their images to convey the experience of being courtside, sitting in the safari truck or flying alongside a bird of prey.
A popular way to achieve this is to fill the frame with the action, showing the subject close up in detail. There will be occasions where you can position yourself just metres from the action. However, typically you will be pushed back behind barriers or a fence and have to shoot from distance. In these cases it’s best to use a long focal length lens to transport your images into the heart of the action.
Focal length is measured in mm and the larger the number the greater the magnification on your camera sensor. Generally speaking, lenses with focal lengths greater than 85 mm are known as telephotos however to shoot action close up you will need a lens with a focal length of 200mm or more, like the EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM or EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM. These telephoto zooms offer a range of focal lengths and are popular for shooting action shots that vary in distance from your shooting position.
Let’s look at some examples:
These images were shot on a commonly used EOS camera from the same position on the waters edge. In the first image a 18-55mm lens was used - a standard length for general shooting. The image shows a lot of surrounding seascape and you don't feel connected to the action, the subject is too small in the frame. However, in the second shot, a 55-250mm lens was used, homing in on the action and framing the kitesurfer. This image focusses on the small details, such as the individual droplets of the water splash he is creating as he takes a turn and his face. This close up shot allows results in the action filling the frame, eliminating any distraction in the background and bringing the viewer into the action.