Sharp, crips, blur-free photographs don't just happen; they come from careful shooting, knowing what causes blurred photos and knowing how to use your equipment properly to eliminate that unsharpness.

If your equipment and your processor are both working right, your blurred photos are the result of camera movement, subject movement or failure to focus carefully.

The best way to focus a camera (unless you have a less-expensive camera, with fixed focus or zone focusing) is to slowly zero in on the sharpness in the viewfinder or screen with one eye open and the other closed or shielded with your hand from distractions.

As you turn the focusing ring one way, observe where the sharpest point seems to fall. Keep turning past that point until the scene goes out of focus. Then back up, to and past the sharpest point. Keep that up until you have the sharpest possible focus.

If focusing isn't your problem, could your subject have moved? It is possible to adjust your camera to a fast shutter speed to freeze the action.

Usually, a shutter speed of 1/125 second will freeze rustling leaves; 1/250 will stop distant bicyclists, cars and joggers; and 1/500 or faster will suspend subjects that are both close to the camera and whizzing by from one side to the other. But what if you don't own an adjustable camera? There are still some tricks you can use.

One is waiting to fire until the subject is at its "peak of action" (like a pole vaulter at the very height of his leap), or photographing an object coming toward you or going away. If the subject is moving from side to side, try panning, just as if you were shooting movie film, keeping the subject centered.

A far more frequent cause of photo blur is camera movement. To avoid it, first be sure you're in a nice, comfortable position with feet spread about 18 inches apart, both elbows firmly against your body and both hands gripping the camera. As you prepare to fire, squeeze the release-like the trigger on a rifle-don't jar it.

Never shoot handheld at speeds slower than 1/30 unless you absolutely must, in which case you should look around for a wall, fence post or other firm support to lean against while shooting.

When shooting a camera with a longer tele-photo lens, a general rule is to use a shutter speed no slower than the reciprocal of the focal length. In other words, a 135-mm lens requires a shutter speed of about 1/125 second or faster, a 240-mm lens a speed of at least 1/250 second, and so forth.

Finally, for those low-light shots when you're forced to use a slow shutter speed, many models and types of tripods available, from petite "tabletop" models weighing no more than a few ounces to heavy-duty supports capable of holding professional movie equipment. Find one with the features you want at a price you can afford, and make it an everyday part of your photo gear.