Photography has been part of a graphic designer’s tool kit since inception. Over the years I encounter a lot of students and friends who asks me, “What’s wrong with this picture?” It goes something like this, they come with their pro-grade fancy-shwancy DSLRs with an equally fancy-shwancy 70-300mm lens and say, “this sh*t camera! Everything is blurred! I paid thousands of dollars for this piece of sh*t! They lied to me! Just look at this sh*t!”
I could say without a shadow of doubt, what’s wrong with that picture is camera shake. It’s not the camera; it’s how you use the camera.
WHAT IS CAMERA SHAKE
Camera shake is when movement, shake, and/or vibration of the camera results in an image that lacks clarity. In other words, blurred. Not out of focus. Because camera shake has nothing to do with focus. Amateurs are quick to blame focus for unsatisfactory photos, when the issue is camera stability or lack thereof.
WHAT CAUSES CAMERA SHAKE
Put simply, slow shutter speeds will cause camera shake. But that’s not the full picture because every person who wields a camera has their own level of stability. It’s an experienced thing. Lack of awareness of how shutter speed and movement are connected accounts for most cases of camera shake.
Generally, don’t handhold DSLRs at shutter speeds less than the focal length of your lens. If you have a 200mm lens 1/200th of a second is the absolute minimum, even then you’re on the edge of getting camera shake. Better 1/250th to make sure. If you have built-in stabilization you can reduce shutter speed by 2 stops on the scale. This is just a general rule of thumb. There are other factors of course like size and weight of your equipment relative to your hands’ stability. Do you have shaky hands?
As for point-and-shoot cameras, you have more leeway. Don’t handhold your camera at less than 1/50th or 1/60th sec without support. Built-in IS (image stabilization) helps and IS has gotten better.
Experience is your best friend. You need to know your equipment. Be ware of the shutter speed and learn camera handling techniques as discussed in the course.
LENS FOCAL LENGTH
This is one of the main culprits when it comes to camera shake. Beginners think that bigger longer lens is better. They don’t think in terms of usage—right tool for the right job, as it should be, because cameras are tools.
Try to look through a pair of sunglasses it’s easy to see a sharp stable image. Then try to use binoculars in place of the sunglasses. It becomes a bit more difficult to maintain a steady view. Now, look through a telescope. It’s impossible to see anything steady if your handholding it! That’s because of magnification. That’s the optical property of lenses that makes the image appear closer to you. In other words, it magnifies the image. Unfortunately, it also magnifies hand movement and all the little vibrations of your camera.
This is why it’s easier to take sharp photos at slow shutter speeds with a wide angle lens than a telephoto lens. As you increase those millimeters, movement also becomes more visible. 24mm stable, 300mm, well, shaky. You could only imagine how it will be for a bazooka 200-500mm lens! The longer the lens the more you should be concerned about camera shake.
STABILIZATION OR LACK OF IT
Photographic decisions are tied to exposure values—ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. When we talk of camera shake and whether to handhold the camera or not is tied to the shutter speed.
Again, camera handling techniques that I talk about in the course (grip, arm position etc.) comes into play. Proper camera handling leads to stability. More stability leads to less camera shake. Of course, proper camera handling technique cannot compensate for a very slow shutter speed e.g. 1/8sec. You just can’t hold steady enough at that shutter speed. This is when you need a tripod or have the camera propped up on something in your immediate environment.
Remember, cameras were not originally designed to be held with the arms extended out in front of the face.
As I’ve said, camera shake is primarily motion. More motion, more camera shake. More stable i.e. less movement, less camera shake. People can sometimes be “trigger happy” when it comes to shooting photos. They press down on the shutter button like a trigger happy terrorist in Paris!
No. Pressing on the shutter speed is like pulling on a gun’s trigger. That’s why we call it a photo “shoot”, we’re shooting photos. That’s why part of camera handling techniques is being relaxed. For lack of better analogies, using your camera is like using a pistol (marksmen or, ahem, terrorists out there can relate to this).
When you shoot or press on the shutter button, you need to draw your camera with calm nerves. Breathe in, hold it, with stead pressure press on the shutter button, then with a smooth steady motion release the shutter button. Don’t press the shutter button like you’re opening fire to a crowd of infidels!
You can take my course and graduate with all the knowledge you need to use your camera and make photos. But you still need to put what you’ve learned in practice. Technical knowledge is useless without actual experience.
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