Thursday, February 21, 2008

Technique- Ways to Make Your Images Sharp

Unless they're trying to be creative, most photographers don't want their pictures to look fuzzy or like their out of focus. Early on I did not realize why my photos looked like they were out of focus when I knew I clearly focused on the subject. I eventually found out it was camera shake. As usual, there are some general rules which will help you avoid this situation.

The best way to get a very sharp picture is to use a tripod. Not only will it make for very sharp pictures, it basically forces you to slow down and think more about what you're doing. You can pose your picture much better. You can look through the viewfinder or in the display and look around the frame. Is there anything in the view that you really don't want in the picture? Once I took a great photo of a group of maple trees, being tapped for their sap, lining a winding road. When I got the photo back there was a piece of trash in the lower right part of the frame that essentially ruined the whole picture. This was before the days when software was available to easily fix this problem. If I had looked around the viewfinder before I snapped the shutter I would have noticed it. Easy to do when your camera is on a tripod. In my estimation, a tripod or something similar is a necessity for landscape photos and excellent closeups are difficult to take without a stabilizing method.

A similar device is the monopod. As the name suggests, it has one foot or leg. It is relatively stable, but not as stable as a tripod. It is a little easier to set up and some fold up, take little room, and weigh just about nothing. There are times when you need to use another method to reduce shake with the monopod, such as when you are using a long lens (a lense that makes a subject a Long way off look closer). There are a number of ways to do this. The typical ones should be used when you are taking any photo- take a breath and hold it, hold the camera as still as you can, and make sure you push the shutter release smoothly (that is, don't flinch when you push it or punch down so hard the camera jerks). Another is to spread your legs far enough apart that you feel very steady. You are basically forming a tripod using your two legs and the monopod. Additional methods discussed below can be used with the monopod, like the one in the next paragraph.

Most people sway in the wind when they are standing. Don't believe me? Put a long lense on your camera, look through the viewfinder at a subject, and try to keep the subject in the center of the frame. You'll find it difficult to do, especially for any length of time. Anyone who uses binoculars knows what I'm talking about. One way to prevent this is to lean against a sturdy object. One I often use is a tree. You can also put the barrel of the lense against the tree if the lense is long enough to do so and let you see through the viewfinder or see enough of the screen on a digital camera.

What if you put your camera on a steady object other than a tripod and either pushed the shutter smoothly or, better yet, put on the timer and removed yourself from the camera and let it do the work? You'd find your pictures turn out sharp. A number of items can be used. One that has been around for a long time is the bean bag. I made myself one with rice in it. I can set the "rice bag" on a steady object, put my camera on it, compose the picture, put on the timer, and let it rip. Using a bean bag is a great way to take photos from near the ground. Another object you can use is the top, trunk, or hood of your car if it is in a good location for the shot. I have done this for landscape photos when I forgot my tripod. Putting your bean bag under the camera helps protect that paint job! I have set my camera on a stump to steady my camera when taking photos. The number of steady objects you can use is just about endless, limited only by your imagination. Photography gear manufacturers are always coming up with new ones.

There is a rule when handholding a camera that will help you reduce the number of blurry images you take due to camera shake. The rule is that you should not have a slower shutter speed than 1/the length of your lense. Let's say you are using a 70-210mm zoom lense on the 70 mm setting. You should use a shutter speed of at least 1/70 of a second. At least on SLR cameras, there is not 1/70 second setting. So, you go up to the next fastest speed. In this case, it would be 1/125 second. If your zoomed out to the 210 mm setting you should use no slower than a 1/250 second shutter speed. Again, this is a general rule. Some people can hold a camera more steady than others and may be able to use a one stop slower shutter speed (for example, use 1/60 second at the 70mm setting on the zoom instead of 1/125 second- please see earlier postings if you need to learn more about stops and how exposure works). In addition, if you are steadying yourself, such as leaning against a tree, you may be able to shoot at a slower shutter speed than the rule requires. However, it is best to follow the rule and even increase the shutter speed a stop or two if you have enough light and you are not doing something creative that will require a slower shutter speed.

If you have to hand hold the camera and are not leaning against a steady object, spread your legs so that you are sturdy and try to put your elbows into your side. This will steady your arms and, therefore, your hands will not move as much. Remember, draw in a breath and hold it and press the shutter release smoothly to get a less blurry picture.


Costin said...

many interesting posts. I had the time to read them all. many thanks. I'm looking forward for your next posts (altghough this sounds a little crazy, because your last post was in February).
Nice pics also.


William R. Gates said...

Thanks Costin. Yes, I have not found the time recently to keep up with this blog. Hopefully I will in the near future.

Take care,

peenkfrik said...

Thanks for the monopod tip. Now I should try look for one....

William R. Gates said...

There are many items for stabilizing a camera, with a monopod being one. Perhaps I'll do a post on this subject. Meanwhile, try looking at a website for B&H Photography. They have good prices and are relatively trustworthy. Tell them who sent you. Take care, Bill gates