Home How-To Tip Of The Week How Not To Take Blurry Photos—03/01/10
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Monday, March 1, 2010

How Not To Take Blurry Photos—03/01/10

Eight simple steps to minimize motion blur

This Article Features Photo Zoom


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Blurry photographs can happen for a number of reasons, from motion blur to poor focus. Assuming you can get the focus under control, there are still many ways motion can cause trouble. If you follow these eight simple suggestions though, they’ll help you to minimize blur in your photographs.

1. Use a tripod whenever possible. Many of us may think of tripods only as long-exposure necessities, but tripods are useful for even fast shutter speeds and strobe shooting, too. I use a tripod for most of the studio portraits I make, and it does create a noticeable sharpness difference. Not only are the chances for camera shake minimized, but I’m able to focus more consistently and compose more precisely from shot to shot.

2. Use a faster shutter speed to minimize camera shake. Looking for a rule of thumb? How about this: when handholding a camera, never use a shutter speed slower than the length of the lens in millimeters. That means for a 100mm lens, never use a shutter speed slower than 1/100th of a second. A 50mm lens? Don’t handhold slower than 1/50th of a second. A long 1000mm telephoto lens? Good luck holding it steady: better use a shutter speed at least 1/1000th of a second. (To enable a faster shutter speed, you’ll need some combination of a higher ISO and a wider maximum aperture to allow more light into the camera, facilitating faster shutter speeds.)

3. Use a faster shutter speed to stop subject movement. A person sitting still can likely be photographed at 1/60th of a second without causing motion blur. If that same person starts walking or gesturing, a 1/125th of a second shutter speed may be more appropriate. If they’re playing basketball, running or jumping, chances are you won’t want to shoot with less than 1/250th or even 1/500th. The faster a subject moves, the faster shutter speed is needed to stop motion blur. Thankfully you can test it out by checking for motion blur via the camera LCD.

4. Choose the right angle. If a subject is moving in a generally straight line, when you have options for your camera angle you should try to position yourself where the subject is moving parallel to your angle of view—directly toward or away from the lens. At that angle, the changes in position are relatively minimal as far as the camera is concerned—meaning the appearance of motion is minimized. Focusing can be trickier this way, but once focus is nailed, your chances of motion blur are minimized compared to a subject moving laterally across the frame.

5. Pan with a moving subject. If the subject is moving perpendicularly to the lens axis, meaning left to right or top to bottom across the frame, panning may be just the ticket to keeping them sharp and minimizing unwanted motion blur. A racecar, for example, can be traveling 200 miles an hour but with an appropriate pan its motion relative to the camera can be eliminated. Sure, the background will be blurry, but this is just another way to add to the feeling of movement in the scene while keeping what’s most important—the subject—tack sharp.

6. Employ image stabilization. Many cameras and lenses now utilize gyroscopic stabilization that allows photographers to handhold at slower shutter speeds than previously possible. In many cases, image stabilization (or vibration reduction, or anti-shake) can buy you an additional two full stops of shutter speed. That means instead of handholding at 1/100th you can likely handhold as slow as 1/25th. This can be particularly valuable in low light situations, but remember that it doesn’t work with a tripod; In fact, it’s counterproductive.

7. Use a strobe. Did you know that while camera shutter speeds often top out around 1/1000th, 2000th or 4000th of a second, the duration of a strobe’s flash can often be as short as 1/20,000th of a second? That’s why high-speed photography (the kind that stops bullets and splashes and balloons mid-pop) utilizes strobes for illumination. The lower power a strobe, the shorter its duration. For example, an on-camera flash at full power may output at, say, 1/1000th at a second. At half power it isn’t necessarily less power for that same duration: it’s actually the same intensity for a shorter flash—in this example, 1/500th of a second at half the power. Either way, it’s a very fast burst of light that helps to stop subjects in their tracks.

8. Use proper posture. Bracing your camera with your elbows at you side can form a sort of human tripod. Taking a deep breath prior to shooting and slowly letting it out as you press the shutter release is also a helpful steadying approach. By bracing your body or camera against a stationary object, you’ll always create a more stable approach, and ultimately sharper image. Most important, be aware when you shoot that you’re holding your camera as steadily as possible.

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