Video Photo Tip ~ Sharp Shooting Part 1 of 5

There isn’t much that’s more disappointing than coming back from a shoot only to find your images are less than sharp. This is a very common problem with some very simple solutions. Over the next few video blogs I’m going to cover some basic techniques that, when practiced on a regular basis, will turn your images consistently sharp. After all it’s consistency that will set you apart for the novice photographer faster than anything else.

OK, unless you’re shooting at a crazy fast speed in bright sunlight, like 1/1000th of a second or faster, you need to be always thinking of stability. You need to be consciously thinking out loud (or in your head) “how can I make the camera more stable?” When the scene starts getting dim and the camera is asking for more time (a.k.a slower shutter speeds), it’s tempting to dial up the I.S.O. Do not be tempted. Unless you’re shooting with a super high end newer DSLR, there’s a good chance that higher I.S.O. will sacrifice quality both in resolution and noise artifacts in your images.

It’s also worth pointing out that is you’re shooting at a very low aperture, say f/4 or lower, there’s a go chance that you will have a shallow depth of field. Without getting sidetracked into a “depth of field” tutorial, the lower f-stop numbers will only allow sharp focus on the areas that your camera is focused on. Items in front of or behind the focus point will be less sharp, not because of vibration or movement, but because of depth of field. While this is a great technique, it unplanned it can lead to frustration. If you’re looking to have most the subject matter appear sharp in your photo us an f-stop of f/11 or higher (i.e. f/16, f/22, etc.) These higher aperture setting will require longer shutter release times, which will in turn demand PPP (what’s that you ask? read on) while executing the camera stability techniques we will be covering.

Steady shoots are all about Proper Pilot Performance (PPP). I’m trying to stay positive, as PPP is the opposite of Pilot Error (PE). So the first line of defense in a PPP is simple and straight forward – the trusty tripod. Tripods come in all sizes and prices ranges. You don’t need to spend a month’s salary on one. However, to offer the biggest bang for you buck look for these features;

  • height – will it be tall enough for you to stand (or sit) comfortably while working
  • capacity – will it easily hold your gear’s weight and size
  • weight – is it easy to transport, if you will be mobile. This may not matter in a studio setting

The next item to add additional stability is the cable release. The cable release allows you to fire the shutter release without touching the camera, which can cause slight vibration (a.k.a. PE) These come in various forms, usually to match your camera model. Third party substatutes are usually available as well at a much reduced price.

Alright, while a tripod and cable release might be obvious, what do you do when you have neither? Find something else that can offer stability; a post, a tree, a car. If you use a car or shoot from a car, turn it off to reduce vibration. And if you can’t turn off the engine because you’re moving, this will definitely fall under the PE category.

And if you have no cable release, set your camera up and simple use the shutter delay. This will give you enough time to get your hand off the camera before the shot occurs.

Some higher end cameras have a Mirror Up lock. This function, sometimes called M-lock, can be used to trip the mirror up long before the shutter is opened. These two steps usually happen together when shooting normally. By lifting the mirror up and pausing, this further reduces the vibration of the camera.

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