Action can be portrayed by freezing the motion using a fast shutter speed or emphasizing it using a slow one. The speed at which the motion occurs dictates what shutter speed is needed to attain either effect and the speed at which the shutter can be fired is dictated by the light, chosen ISO, and largest aperture of your lens.
Zoom lenses, because of their versatility, are highly recommended. Those that fall in the 80-200 or 75-300mm range work well. When the action is happening across the field, at the opposite goal, or farther away, longer focal lengths may be necessary. As the movement gets closer, the zoom gives you the freedom to quickly recompose.
The most dramatic sports shots are those that capture action at its peak. Snapping the shutter as the soccer ball is kicked or when the Little Leaguer is sliding into second enveloped in a cloud of dust are just two examples. Get to know the sport you’re shooting and learn to anticipate when peak moments occur. Practice by following the movement through the viewfinder without actually taking a picture.
To vary the look of an action shot, try panning. The effect it produces is a sharply recorded subject against a blurred background. Follow the movement of the subject with the camera while gently squeezing the shutter. The slower the shutter speed, the more blurred the background will be while simultaneously adding more of a blur to the subject.
To impart a creative touch, try using slow shutter speeds to create a painterly effect. Shooting digitally gives you instant feedback so you can adjust the shutter speed on the fly until you get the desired effect. If there’s too much blurring, shoot with a faster shutter. If the effect is not as pronounced as you’d like, slow it down. Subjects that are vibrantly colored work well with this technique.