Unwanted blur can mess-up a photograph to the extent that it is completely unusable.
When I first started advanced photography, I had a hard time adjusting to anti-blur techniques. Most of the time, my pictures would come out blurry because the camera felt too heavy in my hands after a while. I tried wrapping the straps around my wrists or around my neck to take steady shots. But my photographs would still sometimes come out blurry. The worst part is when you take a picture and it looks good on the screen, but once you take it on the computer and enlarge it, you notice blurs and shakiness.
This was a frequent case and I was frustrated with it. After a while of suffering, I tried different holding techniques and breath-control to reduce the shakiness and blur. And it worked!
As I integrated into the world-wide and local community of photographers, I gradually acquired priceless knowledge on the technicalities of a camera, which has made things easier for me. I deliberately use blur as an effect now, to add vibrancy and texture into my compositions. This article is not about using blur effects, but rather a preliminary approach to capturing photographs without unwanted blur.
Fast shutter speeds takes blur-free photographs
Shutter speed is commonly blamed for blurry photographs. This is because the lower the shutter speed, the more time your camera will give for the light to enter through the lens. In the case that you are doing a hand-held shoot, it is more likely for photographs to come out blurry with a slower shutter speed of 1/60th or less.
The ability to hold a camera without shaking it varies from person to person. This means the minimum shutter speed you need depends on your ability to keep it steady. To determine the shutter speed for you, you can try taking multiple photographs of the same subject with different shutter speeds. Start from the fastest and move towards slower shutter speeds. Transfer the pictures to a computer to inspect further.
Again, your shutter speed needs to match with the focal length of your lens. If you have a lens with a focal length of 200mm, your shutter speed has to be 1/200th. Similarly, for a lens of 20mm focal length, the shutter speed should be 1/20th. Only use slower shutter speeds than your focal length if your lens has an image stabilization feature. For subjects in motion, you may need higher shutter speeds.
The depth of field
The depth of field is widely responsible for blur in photographs. It is controlled by the aperture setting. Your photographs will have a shallower depth of field if you make the aperture wider. A shallow depth of field means that only a small area in your photograph will be sharp, and the rest blurred out. This type of setting is perfect for a portrait as you would want the face to be focused on while the background is blurred. For landscapes, this is a devastating setting. A wide aperture will blur out all the details, and the central focus will be on somewhere irrelevant.
To achieve a shallow depth of field, start with an f-value (aperture) of f/8 and go down from there. If you’re using an aperture as small/smaller than f/18, your photograph will lack sharpness. You also need to have a slower shutter speed to go with it.
The third piece of the puzzle is the ISO setting which is responsible for the brightness of your image. Higher ISOs are complemented by faster shutter speeds. But the end result may have grains and damaged pixels. Too much ISO (6400 or higher) can blur images as well. Besides, the digital noise in the image will make it less sharp and ruin intricate details. To counter this, manufacturers have developed advanced lenses and cameras that can take photographs at high ISOs with minimal noise.
Tripods for steady shots
A tripod may be difficult to carry for outdoor shoots, but it can be a lifesaver. It allows you to take pictures in lower aperture and ISO settings, while shutter speed can be set at any number. Always use a sturdy carbon fiber tripod. The tripod has to have the ability to hold your camera’s weight. Besides, cheaper tripods often tend to take blurry shots.
Word of advice: Be careful when you’re shooting a subject with moving elements that might ruin the picture. Example: A long exposure shot of a bridge with moving traffic. Turn off image stabilization as well.
Locking the mirrors
Lock the mirror inside your camera using the live view mode when you’re taking pictures on a tripod with long exposure. Your camera will flip the mirror every time you take a shot to allow light to hit the sensors inside. This has little to no negative effect if you’re using faster shutter speeds. In the case of the later, the picture will have vibrations overpowering the overall sharpness.
To avoid even more shaking and blur, use the self-timer or a remote to take the shots. The camera, even when mounted on a tripod, will shake when you press a button. A timer or remote can take care of that for you. Make sure you remove the straps while doing so. A fluttering strap can shake your camera as well.
If you don’t focus on the subject, your image will come out blurry. Make sure you have the lens focusing on the right area of the frame. To do this, gently press the shutter button to allow the camera to focus on the focus point.
Cameras have three modes for focus in them:
- One-shot: In one-shot focus mode, the camera focuses on your preset focus point and does not change position as long as you’re pressing down on the shutter button.
- Continuous Focus: This mode allows you to keep focusing on a subject even if it changes position.
- Hybrid: This is an unreliable mode that allows the camera’s AI system to track and focus on subjects. The focus stays fixed on the subject even if it moves.
Keep it steady
Holding the camera is just as important as the above-mentioned settings for a blur-free image. Here are a couple of tips that can get you started:
- Hold the camera with your non-dominant hand and tuck your elbows in.
- Learn to breathe slowly. Either hold your breath while taking a shot or exhale slowly.
- Lean against a surface or rest your elbows to provide more support for a steady shot.
The burst mode
A burst mode allows you to take multiple shots in a second. The first photo is usually blurred because of the movement from pressing the shutter. Similarly, the last one gets blurred due to releasing the shutter. The middle images are usually sharp and usable, and, most of the times, come out great.
Burst modes are best for shooting subjects that are in motion.
Auto focus in the latest cameras have incredible features and take incredible photographs. Nonetheless, they lack a human touch. While shooting a busy street in manual focus would be rather unwise, autofocus can help take quick and amazing pictures under such circumstances.
Manual focus gives the best results when you’re using a tripod. It allows you to focus on an area of your choice and make it the main attraction of the image. Landscapes and close-ups come out great when you use manual focus to adjust the focus point.
To get the sharpest image, use 5x/10x zoom with the live view mode on. Use manual focus to make adjustments. Switch to auto focus when you’re done shooting in manual. This keeps you prepared for unexpected scenarios where you need to quickly take a picture without having the time to adjust settings.
Cleaning the glass
The lens glass is exposed and gather smudges and dust. Keep a cotton cloth with you to clean it so your pictures don’t suffer. This is crucial especially if you’re shooting for a long period of time. Clean the lens glass before every session to make sure your hard work isn’t done in vain.
- Adjust your viewfinder to align with your eye.
- Clean your lens glass regularly. Make sure you use cotton.
- Gently dust the lens first before wiping it, otherwise dust particles will leave non-removable scratches on the glass.
- Press and hold for auto-focus to give it time to adjust
- Check your manual focus to make sure you're focusing on the right area of the frame
- Check aperture settings. Keep it below f/18
- Check shutter speeds. Keep it below 1/200th for regular portraits and landscapes and higher for subjects in motion
- Use burst mode for moving subjects
- Keep ISO settings lower than 6400
- Use tripods, lock the mirrors, and breathing techniques to avoid blur
Photography is a form of art, and your camera set-up is your tool. To master the art of photography, you need to have a clear understanding of how the hardware works, and the effects of different settings. To be honest, there isn’t much to it.
The only variables here are the shutter speed, aperture, focus, ISO, and that’s it. The combinations of different values for the above-mentioned variables create effects in different photographs. The camera has modes to help you understand and achieve your photography goals. These modes partially adjust some of the settings while giving you control over one. As a result, if you experiment with it, you get to learn the effects of the different settings for each individual variable.
If you are an amateur photographer your main goal should be to learn through fun experience. Don’t stress out over trivial failures. Try to take multiple pictures of the same scene with different settings. Inspect the outcomes on your computer to analyze the effect of that particular setting. I doubt any photographer with an eye for photography will take too long to learn the technicalities.