Eight Ways to Awesome Photos

Blurry Shot

One of the worst moments in photography is when you get things back on the computer from a shoot to see that dreaded blur instead of an awesome photo (or awesome photos)!  If only you had been able to stabilize the camera more.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been confidant enough in my own abilities to think “I can hand hold that shot”.

Blurry Shot

The truth of the matter is, most of us can’t!  So, avoid the blur whenever possible When trying to capture images where light is low, a sense of movement is desired, or any other scenario where shutter speeds drop perilously low, getting that camera stable is critical!  Here are eight ways to make that happen:

1.  Use a Tripod – Shots taken with tripods are inherently more stable than their handheld counterparts.  Nothing stabilizes things like an inanimate object!

2.  Use a Monopod – With the tripod police out in force more and more, they are being allowed less and less in a number of areas.  If a tripod isn’t permitted, a monopod may be an alternative worth considering.

3.  Use Your Surroundings – Okay, so the tripod wasn’t allowed, the monopod you forgot, but there’s still a chance to catch that shot.  The answer lies in using your surroundings.  Brace the camera against a tree, a fencepost, a car, or whatever is available.  They key is to make your camera stationary.

4.  Bump the ISO – As much as I try to avoid increasing ISO, the newer cameras available do a great job of smoothing, and even then, software post production options are also pretty advanced at cleanup afterward.  So, if you have to, go ahead and bump the ISO settings to shoot fast and still retain exposure accuracy.

Fireworks

5. Hold that Camera – I know some shooters who claim to be able to hand hold as slow as 1/30th of a second, and one of their “secrets” is a secure grip on the camera.  Make sure you’re holding your camera right and not flapping your arms out beside you, all fingers around the edges (like a camera phone), and you can get better shots.

6.  Shoot between Breaths – Yup, you can shoot between breaths.  It’s key to remember not to hold your breath, but rather inhale slowly, exhale slowly, and that momentary gap between breaths is a moment when your body rhythms are not moving at all, heartbeat included!

7.  Slide that Finger – No, not that one!  Your shutter finger is what I am talking about.  So many people tend to jab the shutter, but that pushes the camera and can introduce movement.  Make it a slow slide with increasing pressure, almost as if the shutter release is an afterthought.

8.  Watch Your Feet – Standing with your feet together like a ballerina is never a good idea when shooting.  Your center of gravity rises, and you are unstable.  When you are unstable, so is your camera.  The same holds in the opposite extreme, so keep your feet about shoulder width apart when shooting.

Pacific Sunset

If you like these tips, keep in mind, there’s 90 more tips just like these in my eBook Combo Kit where you get both 49 Photo Tips, Volumes I and II:

There are, of course, other tools and methods to help make your photos better, but these 8 ways to add stability are just a primer to get you on the right track to making the most of your time behind the lens!  Know of any other ways to help stabilize a shot?  Anything I missed or that particularly speaks to you and your own techniques?  Sound off in the comments or via email!

Got New Gear?

Holding an SLR


So, the presents have been opened, the lunch has been gobbled down, and the kids over-stimulation has sent them into a frenzy of running around outside.  Now what?  Well, if you’re here, it’s likely because you got some new gear for Christmas.  So, first off, congratulations on the new gear – I am sure that on some level, I’ll be green with envy.

The good news is that learning all about your new gear is all right here!  Because regardless of gear, some techniques work across platforms and are part of the “timeless technique” of the field.  One of the most basic of these is learning how to hold your gear properly.  This is one of those things that often isn’t covered in manuals, but if you stopped in here, you’re just in time to check out the videos I’ve prepared just for this purpose.  Check out how to hold a Point and Shoot, iPhone, or SLR camera below:

Point and Shoot Technique:

iPhone (or any smart phone):

SLR:

How to Hold Your SLR

Holding an SLR

As you can tell from the videos and articles, this is not just about Canon gear.  Anyone with any gear can improve their craft with sound technique and practice.  So, as we move toward 2013, keep this in mind.  More tk, and enjoy the holiday!

3 Elements of Buying a Tripod

Sunpak Tripod

More often than not, blur in photos is a result of movement in the camera.  This means that you are likely shooting with your shutter speed set to open and close more slowly than you can hold it in place to freeze the image in place.  So, it may make sense to think that all you have to do is increase the shutter speed to one where you can hold it long enough, right?  Well, maybe, but there are many scenarios where that option may not be available.

Shooting in low light is often a time when we find ourselves compromising our sharpness by trying to hold our camera slower than what we are capable of in order to capture an image.  Another example would be where you want to smooth the water of an ocean view, a waterfall, or some other water scene.  You may also want to introduce blur in one area of an image (say a race car), while keeping everything else sharp to convey the sense of speed and motion.  In these scenarios, you can do one of a several things to increase the stability of your camera.  One of the most popular is:

Add a monopod or tripod to the equation. 

The reason why the tripod route is popular is because it is also one of the best ways to stabilize a camera, because let’s face it… a stationary object is better at holding our camera steady than we ever will.  If you can’t use a tripod though, monopods are excellent secondary devices at minimizing the movement that may happen when shooting at slow shutter speeds.  Choosing a tripod is a matter of personal preference and there are many things that can tie into your decision including budget, weight, and portability. Let’s consider each of these independently.

  1. Budget: When it comes to budget, a tripod can be as cheap as $20, and can run upwards of $2000! Factors that will come into play include the weight element – carbon fiber is very sturdy, and very lightweight, but very expensive too.  Aluminum counterparts are heavier, and while equally sturdy, you can save money by going with an aluminum equivalent.

Snith Victor

  1. Weight: As just mentioned, weight can have both upsides and downsides.  If you are a landscape shooter, lightweight tripods can easily be blown over by even a slight breeze.  You can ensure stability by going with a heavier tripod, or by weighing it down (some folks use sandbags, camera bags, or other gear to help stabilize a tripod even further), but nothing is 100%.  As you get heavier weights, it also can be a detractor, because now that’s additional weight that you have to carry with you (or maybe it’s your photo assistant, but someone is carrying it!)

Sunpak Tripod

  1. Another factor that comes into play is size.  If you want something small and lightweight, then a tripod that has only 3 collapsing legs might not fit with an on-the-go lifestyle.  You can opt for something smaller and more compact, but stability will be compromised.  For instance, take a look at the popular Gorilla-pods  (I own one and love it).  These are super small, the legs can wrap around anything, but they are not the most stable tripod in the world.  The legs can be contorted, but it also means that striking that perfect balance can be trickier.

Manfrotto

 

It’s all about trade-offs when you go to choose a tripod.  Invariably, people will consider budget first and foremost in their decision (I know I did)… for which tripod to purchase, but I can tell you from experience, that you will quickly migrate from the $20 Wal-Mart one to a $100 one from elsewhere, and ultimately upgrade to a $300-$500 one from one of the big guns out there (i.e. Bogen, Gitzo, Vanguard, etc.).  My one recommendation would be to just go in to the more expensive class first, because you will save yourself a lot of frustration and money in the end.  Ultimately, your photos will be sharper and you’ll get much more gratifiying results because you got the right tool for the job – a tripod!