This month I would like to tackle two problem areas that have been around since the beginning of photography. The first has to do with blurred photos. The second has to do with photos that just don’t look the same as what you saw when you took them.
In the first case of blurred photos, there are many culprits to blame. But let me go back to when I was taking Psychology in college. We had a project in which we had a pen strapped to the top of each of our heads. It was pointed toward the ceiling. Above us was placed a piece of white paper that was clamped in a horizontal position so that that the point of the pen just touched the paper. We were told to stand for a full minute as still as we possible could. Then the paper was taken down and we could see the zig-zag pattern that the pen had traced onto the paper as our bodies constantly corrected our stance. We felt we had stayed quite still but the paper trail belied our thoughts. In this simple experiment, we were constantly correcting our upright position. No one is ever perfectly still. Therefore, when we are pointing a camera, we are constantly moving it. A hand held camera is impossible to hold perfectly still. Any camera movement can cause blur in the final photo. A telephoto lens exaggerates the problem and multiples the movement as it multiplies the apparent closeness of the object you are focusing on.
This lily was taken without a tripod.
This lily was taken with a tripod. Can you tell the difference?
When your finger triggers the shutter, there is some movement to the camera. If your camera has a shutter that moves, there is a jiggle. If there is a mirror that moves up as in SLRs, when you fire the shutter, then there is more movement. Add to this the fact that wind can blow some subjects or some subjects may move on their own and you have a compound problem. What to do?
While some things may be out of our ability to control, there are some that we can control. Let me work backwards by tackling the mirror problem. Most modern SLRs have a mirror-lock which you can lock up when you have the photo composed and ready to take. This will take the slap out of that mirror going up as you take the shot.
You can use a cable release to fire the camera which will cut down vibration when you actually trigger the shutter. If you have no facility to connect a cable release, then you probably have a self timer that you can use. This keeps your hands away from the camera as the shutter is released. Both of these little tricks can cut down camera jiggle.
This image of an osprey was taken with a tripod.
This image was handheld. Click on either image if you want to see a larger version.
For the camera itself, you should buy a good, sturdy, useable, tripod. A sturdy tripod does not shake easily, but is light enough that you will be more likely to take it along with you. If you do not take it with you, you will not use it. Simply put, a tripod left at home or in the car is of no use and does no good. A good tripod will help cut down camera shake a great deal. It is worth the trouble and cost. If you think you are holding a camera steady enough, just look at photos you take of the same subject at the same time, one with the tripod and one without. I guarantee that you will see a difference. If you ever plan to sell your photos or make large prints of them, you need to use the tripod. Lacking a tripod, photographers have been known to use a beanbag or rest the camera on a fence post. But you won’t find fence posts when you need them most. Trust me; a tripod is easier to handle than a fence post.
Another alternative, which is not as good as a tripod but better than not using anything, is to use a monopod. If you can get into a correct stance with your legs apart and the monopod out in front as the third leg, it acts somewhat as a tripod.
Some last notes are worth remembering. Using a shutter speed as fast as possible will cut down the blur. Also, remember to squeeze the shutter trigger trying not to mash down hard on it.
A famous photographer once said that if you are not satisfied with your photograph, you did not get close enough to the subject. That is most likely true. I touched on this in an earlier article. When the eye sees a scene through the viewfinder, the brain tends to pick out the subject that you are looking at. So when you snap your shot, you remember that subject while the camera remembers the entire scene in the viewfinder. This is a matter of practice and remembering to see everything in your viewfinder. If you have things in the viewfinder that you don’t need there, move closer to the subject, either physically or with a telephoto or zoom lens. Get in the habit of getting in too close and backing out if you need to. Most of the time you cannot be to close to your subject. Take a whole roll of film while making yourself get close to your subject. You need, of course, not to get so close that your lens cannot handle it. Back out until everything you need comes into focus.
Go to your nearest camera shop and look at the tripods. Ask the dealer about the ones that are sturdy and make sure they open and close easily. Also find out how the camera attaches and detaches from the tripod. Try them out and decide which is the easier for you? Price is always a consideration I know. But getting a good tripod that lasts you a very long time is a very good investment in the long run. Hey, Christmas will be here before you know it; maybe even a birthday for yourself. If you have any photographer friends, ask them for tips on tripods. There could even be a camera club in your area that would have knowledgeable members with excellent advice in this matter.
Then, get out there and use that new tripod to get some real close up shots of flowers, bugs or whatever. Remember the other tips and make those shots sharp as a tack. Other photographers will notice, and you will feel good about sharing your very sharp photos!
by Willis T. Bird