Friday, December 17, 2010

Learning to Focus - Part 2

Camera Movement

Another seemingly obvious bit of advice is to not move the camera while taking the picture.
The small size and live view LCD screens on point and shoot cameras make it a challenge to hold those cameras steady. While electronic innovations such as Image Stabilization (to be covered later) are extremely helpful and work well, moving the camera can and will reduce the sharpness of your pictures. Take positive control and keep that camera still.

Shutter speed can overcome camera movement and will be covered in another post.

Composing the picture on the LCD screen on the back of the camera seems like a great idea. But holding the camera out at arm's length is an unstable posture. And then you push on the top of the camera to take the shot. Gravity, mass, balance and inertia are all working against your efforts to keep that camera still and capture a sharp picture.

I moved the camera before this 8 second shot had finished.

One solution is to use the view finder, if you have one. Placing the view finder to your eye adds a point of contact and helps steady the camera. If your camera does not have a view finder, well, I suggest you look for one on your next camera.

Otherwise, steady your arms by leaning against anything, put your elbows on a table, or your shoulder against a wall. Keep your arms close to your body.

Pushing the shutter release is the next problem. Tiny cameras held at arm's length will move as you take the picture. Remember (from part 1) to push the release halfway and wait for autofocus to do its' thing. This is when Image Stabilization works too. Now you only need a tiny bit more pressure to take that shot.
DSLRs have more heft and are easier to hold steady, that is unless you have been shooting all day, then it feels like a lead weight. I recommend using live view only when you need it, like to shoot over the heads of a crowd using that fancy swing out and swivel LCD screen. Otherwise, use the view finder to get that extra contact point. Keep your arms close to your side. Lean against something, especially when using slow shutter speeds. Prop the camera itself against the wall too for an additional contact point. One foot forward is more stable then side by side. The more stable you hold the camera, the slower the shutter speed you can get away with and the lower the ISO you can use.

Even your breathing can create camera movement. That is what makes the biathlon an Olympic sport. The athletes control their breathing to steady their aim. Photography is not yet an Olympic event but to get every ounce of sharpness, think about your breathing while shooting. Just before taking the picture, take an easy breath, let half out, hold it and snap the shot.

The message here is to think about how to steady your camera with every shot. It is something you can control. Do not rely totally on Image Stabilization, auto focus, high ISO and a fast shutter speed, not if you are aiming for the sharpest picture you can get.

More focus to come...

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