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Stop The Shakes

A surfer in Lake Thun moves at a high rate of speed through a static castle and bridge in the background. To freeze the surfer in action, I used a 1/1000 sec. shutter speed at ƒ/4.5 with my Nikon D3 set with an 800 ISO because of the fading late-afternoon light.

Switzerland is the perfect country for travel photography. It has the most beautiful landscapes and townscapes that one can put in front of a lens. It also has seemingly endless miles of hiking, biking and climbing trails, as well as amazing train journeys to get you to unique vantage points. But just getting to the right position won’t guarantee a great shot.

One of the most common issues a potentially strong photo can suffer from is blur caused by camera shake, yet it’s something that can be eliminated easily by proper holding of the camera, use of a tripod, and understanding what shutter speed necessitates a switch from handholding to a tripod. Understanding what causes camera shake and what can be done to avoid it can help ensure that you capture the beauty of a place, and avoid returning home with disappointingly soft images.


Often the word "blur" is used to describe the areas of an image that are out of focus. Let’s not use that word in this case. Instead, let’s describe the areas that were not captured within the depth of field of the camera lens as they are: out of focus.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Selective focus—using the lens’ aperture to limit depth of field and direct attention to what’s important in the image—is one of the most important tools a photographer can use. Like many other professional photographers, I shoot in aperture-priority mode because I want to constantly be aware of, and control, my depth of field, while keeping an eye on my shutter speed to not let it fall below the minimum that’s required for a given situation.

Fodor’s Switzerland travel guide editor Jess Moss captures the action on the spectacular Jungfrau Railway by holding the camera correctly with the left hand underneath making focusing and shooting quicker. The shaking created by the movement of the train must be taken into consideration. A 1/500 sec. shutter speed or faster is suggested. This shot was taken with a 180mm lens on a Nikon D3x set at ISO 400 at 1/500 sec. at ƒ/4.

The motion of a subject can cause the blurring of what would otherwise be a frozen moment in time. Once again, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Some photographers, like fashion photographer Ellen von Unwerth often incorporate a sense of movement in their photos. Handholding the camera for a 1/30 or 1/15 sec. exposure can give a sense of motion, but not so much that it overwhelms the image. Other photographers will pan with a subject at these slow shutter speeds to keep the subject relatively sharp while blurring the static surroundings.

For my style of photography, I prefer my subjects to be tack sharp, so it’s rare for me to shoot at less than 1/125 sec. if there’s a person or other moving subject in my frame. Even a person standing still is still moving to some degree.

The photojournalist’s mantra is "ƒ/8, 1/250, and be there." Breaking that down, an aperture of ƒ/8 will normally ensure enough depth of field to have the subject of the photo in focus; the 1/250 sec. shutter speed will be fast enough to stop or slow down the action to define it; and "be there" means that the photographer is prepared (or lucky) enough to be at the right place at the right time to get the shot. For our purposes, we’re focusing on shutter speed.

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