Happy Tuesday everybody! Though I know some of us would rather have stayed in bed this morning [me included], I am DETERMINED to make this week great and I will start that right now. And by the way, I don’t know if you’ve noticed but EGGNOG IS BACK! It is SO very tempting to sit here and write out a full explanation of why this is the best thing ever but I have to focus! Creating sharper images. Here we go!
This summer while working at Triple R Ranch, I had another staff give me a VERY interesting compliment. Every week we had this thing called “kudos time,” when all or our staff came together to give each other “kudos” [compliments]. Well, at one of those meetings my friend Jeff gave me QUITE the kudos: “Daniel just drives up on his golf-cart, spends thirty seconds taking photos, and somehow is pictures always look so sharp!” This statement, though very flattering, was… well… not entirely. I do not and never will claim to always take perfect pictures! I’ve practiced enough to get it right MOST of the time, but it’s only due to the concepts and techniques I will discuss below.
It did make me smile, though! I always keep taking pictures until I am satisfied with the result… and then I delete the hundreds that didn’t come out right [but don’t tell Jeff]. Even still, I have been training myself for a little over a year now, and I’m happy to say that I am ready to pass on a few tips to INCREASE your chances of capturing sharper images. As you practice all this stuff your image sharpness will improve. I can guarantee it.
I’m going to start with the most complicated of the five tips so that after this it’ll be a little smoother sailing for you. Before explaining the f-stop itself, you need to understand how your camera focuses on things. When asked to focus on some object, the camera focuses on a specific DISTANCE. Your camera finds the distance in which its desired object is most in focus and then locks its focus on that distance. If I keep this focus the same, all objects at that same distance will be in focus, and objects at different distances will get a little fuzzy. I know this can be kind of confusing. So, I’ve drawn a diagram below. The area labeled “Depth of Field” represents the portion of the world that is in focus.
“Daniel. You keep throwing out this depth of field thing. What is it?” Okay. Good point. Depth of Field. Remember how I explained that your camera focuses on specific DISTANCES? Well, let’s say you focus on an apple five feet away. The camera, although focused at five feet, has what we call a depth of field. Look at the diagram above again. Everything in that depth of field distance will still be in focus even though the camera isn’t directly focusing on it. Now, if you’re still stuck just stay with me! The last piece of this puzzle comes with those numbers. Your camera works in a range of f-stop numbers. Typically, you will find them between: 1.2 to 22 and you’ll find them here:
Well, the smaller you set that number, the smaller your depth of field will be. And likewise, the bigger the number, the larger your depth of field. So, let’s say that I set my focus at five feet. At 22 f-number, my depth of field will get much bigger. So everything from 3 feet to 9 feet away will actually be in focus because it falls into that depth of field. But at f-stop 1.2, only objects 4.8 feet to 5.4 feet away will be in focus. The smaller this number, the more of that cool blurry background affect you’ll get. DIAGRAM TIME!
WOOH! Okay. That is always so hard to fully explain. But there you have it. “How does this all relate to creater sharper images?” Oh! RIGHT! That! Think about it. The smaller you depth of field, the HARDER it is to get the right focus. At f-stop 1.2 you can create gorgeous background blur behind your subjects, but you’ll need PINPOINT accuracy or the whole thing will just look… blah. Sure, when you practice and get it right, it looks PHENOMINAL! But if you’re new, I’d recommend starting at around 2.8 and then slowly bringing it down. Keep practicing until you can LOCK the focus exactly where you want it. Like on the image below, I focused on the Erin’s eye and with an F-stop of 1.8, everything else in the picture blurred beautifully.
50mm 1.8 ISO320
2. Hold Your Camera with Two Hands
Compared to that last tip this should be a breeze! One of my favorite college courses I ever took was ceramics. There were days when I would go in to the studio around eight pm and I wouldn’t come out till about two the next afternoon. It was my place of peace in the midst of crazy finals, art history papers, and well-tuned introversion. In this class, we had three rules, which actually correlate exceptionally well with photography. I’ll explain all three before we’re done but here I’ll just need the first: When throwing a clay pot, both your hands should ALWAYS be manipulating the clay in some form. Even if one hand is simply supporting the other hand, they should each be doing SOMETHING. Otherwise, your pots come out all wiggadywanked. With a camera it is no different. You should almost always need to be holding your camera with two hands to maximize your stabilization.
3. Hold your camera CORRECTLY with two hands
You’re using both hands. AWESOME! #toolegit If you are doing this incorrectly though, you may not actually be doing that much good. To correctly place your hands, you position the right hand naturally at the shutter, with your fingers wrapped around the front of the camera. Most people don’t struggle with this part. It’s the second hand which is often placed a little off. To most easily demonstrate this concept, here are two pictures! The image on the left portrays how I typically see newer photographers holding their camera, and while this way seems more natural, it doesn’t offer nearly as much stability as the technique on the right. Essentially, you want your hand to be cradling the lens in such a way that you can press your elbow against your abdomen, adding further support to the camera as a whole. Make sure though that you still have your hand held in such a way that your point your pointer finger and your thumb can still adjust the focus ring.
4. Anchor your arms
Following that last point, anchor your arms. ANCHOR YOUR ARMS! Oh man this brings back ceramic memories [This is rule two of ceramics]! If you walk into a ceramic studio, you will notice that ceramicists will almost always keep their arms practically adhered against some other part of their body. Whether it be by smashing their bicep agains their abdomen or placing an elbow on a knee, this practice reduces shake and allows the artist to have complete control over the spinning process. How does this translate over? Well, the more firm your arms are when snapping an image, the less shake you’ll encounter, and the clearer your image will be! So, when possible, try to stabilize yourself.
5. Speed up your shutter
Just like with the f-stop image from before, you can find your shutter speed here:
However, although it’s placed next to the f-stop, shutter speed is MUCH easier to understand. It tells how long your camera’s shutter stays open. So, if your camera is reading 25, it’s telling you that you camera will be open for 1/25 of a second, and therefore, you camera will be taking in light for 1/25 of a second. Keeping it in terms of sharpness, the longer your camera let’s in light, the blurrier your image has the potential to become. Imagine. You’re photographing a football player running full speed. If I leave my shutter speed at 1/10 of a second, how much can that athlete move during that time? Well, depending on his speed, he could probably move a foot or so. My image will reflect that! So, depending on how much movement there is going to be, you may need to change your shutter speed to account for movement. A bride standing perfectly still could be captured with a shutter of 1/50 while an athlete should probably be photographed no slower than at 1/500.
But let’s say you’re using a lens that has some CRAZY zoom power. Like, a 85mm portrait lens. You are photographing a couple at their engagement, and so they aren’t moving at all! Why is a shutter speed of 1/50 still producing blurry images?! Annoying… but fixable. As a general rule, your shutter speed should never be slower than the millimeters of your lens times 2. If you’re using a 50mm lens, keep your shutter faster than 1/100. If you’re using an 85, stay faster than 1/200 [There isn’t a 1/170].
And there you have it! If you simply CANNOT get your image to look sharper try these five things.
1. Raise your f-stop
2. Hold your camera with two hands
3. Hold your camera CORRECTLY with two hands
4. Anchor your arms
5. Speed up your shutter speed