Give Movement to Action Shots

You can get that NASCAR blur in your photos by tracking your subject and slowing the shutter speed.

Ever wonder how sports photographers capture high speed events without making the athletes look like mannequins? Or how they shoot a speeding car in exactly the opposite way that you do -- with the background focused and the car blurred? After all, the car is moving, not the trees in the background, so how do they do it? One word: panning or tacking. Ok, I know that was three words, but I love that joke (the old "One word" answer followed by more than one word).

Panning and tracking are two similar photographic techniques
Panning is when you follow the subject with the camera, so the camera moves along with the subject. Tracking is when you're moving along side the subject, such as in a boat next to another boat, so the camera is still. Both techniques will keep the subject relatively in focus. But fast shutter speeds will keep the background in focus as well, making the photo too static to convey movement.

Dragging the shutter adds movement
In order to put the background out of focus, you need to slow the shutter speed. The speed of the shutter depends on how far away the subject is -- closer can allow faster speeds, farther allows slower speeds. Generally the range is 1/125 second to 1/8 second with the optimal values falling between, usually 1/60 to 1/15th.

Slower shutter speeds will blur the subject as well, which may be the desired effect. The above photo of Tommy on a carnival ride were taken at 1/40th of a second. You can adjust the amount of blur in the subject by further slowing the shutter. If the subject is on a boat or jet ski, you may want to go with a faster shutter speed (1/60th) to isolate the water droplets spraying through the air; if the subject is a gymnast, a slower shutter (1/15th) may be a nice effect to show the trail of her tumbling.

Use your upper body to pan the action
Keep your feet planted and move only the upper part of your body while tracking the subject. Start with your body twisted to one side and track the subject. When the subject is passing in front of you, snap the shutter. Keep tracking even after the shutter snaps. If you have any control over the background, try for darker one with no odd objects that will leave trails. But you don’t always get to choose. And keep an eye out for foreground noise as well: bushes, fences or Bubba's head.

To further boost your chances of success, use the viewfinder, not the LCD screen on the back of the camera. And don't zoom in too close: that will onlt boost your chances of missing the action or capturing the back half of the car. If you shoot at high resolution, you can blow up and crop to get the tight shot.

A flash can add flexibility
While a flash will freeze the action, coupled with a slow shutter speed, it may help you to isolate your subject, especially if it’s against a dark background. You can also use a rear curtain flash to get some motion in the subject while still freezing them in the shot. Adjusting your flash to rear curtain will fire the flash when the shutter is closing rather than when it's opening. Coupled with a slow shutter speed, you'll get movement up to the flash where the subject will be frozen. This will leave a trail behind the runner, rather than in front of him.

Choosing a Camera

First look at the most important features to you, narrow the field by reading what the pros say, finally, pick the one that meets your needs best.

While many people think about travel when they look for a camers, I would argue that most of the time you're shooting photos, you're traveling in one way or another. For this reason, I wouldn't let compactness override the features most important in a camera. After all, you're buying great pictures, not more space in your pockets. If your pockets are too full, buy a fanny pack.

Here is some good advice on choosing a digital camera from a poster at Fodor's message board:

posted by: toedtoes

First, go to's digital camera calculator for a list of about 10-15 camera choices in your price range.

Then go to and read the reviews of the cameras on the list. Cross off anything that doesn't get a "Recommended" or higher rating.

That should get you down to 2 or 3 cameras.

Now look at the differences and decide which one will give you more of what you want and less of what you don't want. For example, if you are down to 2 cameras and one has a 10x optical zoom but takes a proprietary battery, and the other has a 4x optical zoom but takes AA batteries, decide which is more important to you: more zoom capability or AA compatibility.I have found this to be the easiest way to sort through all the choices out there. By the time you're actually comparing cameras, you have less than 5 that you're looking at.

Good advice.