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We’ve all been there. You’re new to photography, you have a new camera, and you are producing some blurry images, but you’re not sure why. There are plenty of reasons why, so let me help you narrow it down.
If your camera is in “Auto” mode (or sports/action, macro, etc modes), including aperture priority, shutter priority, programmed auto, or even auto ISO mode, your camera is making the decisions for you. As you know, judging by the inconsistency of the images those modes produce, your camera can make mistakes. In some situations, it makes lots of mistakes. For example, when you’re shooting toward the sun (backlighting your subject), the camera will get confused by the bright sun and dramatically underexpose your images. The same concept applies to indoor pictures. Sometimes your camera will see a somewhat dark room and slow your shutter speed down so much that you can’t help but take blurry pictures.
If you’re confused about your camera’s modes and settings, you might consider starting with Improve Photography’s ‘Photo Basics’ series. One, in particular, that might be helpful, is this article about shooting modes.
Slow Shutter Speed
The first thing I look at, when I take a blurry picture, is my shutter speed. If it is too slow, a couple of things could happen. The first thing is what we call, “camera shake”. It happens
because your hands don’t actually stay perfectly still when you take a picture. You just don’t see evidence of it in pictures until your shutter speed gets too low. Practicing
better hand-holding technique can improve this problem and so can image stabilization (VR, VC, IS, or OS, depending on the brand). If you’re using image stabilization and you’re still above 1/50 of a second, you may have another problem. That brings me to the second point. No matter how good your image stabilization is, your shutter speed still needs to be fast enough to capture the action. In the same way your unsteady hand can cause camera shake, a moving subject can become blurry when your shutter speed is too low.
At times, however, you might want your shutter speed to be low. If you’ve seen images with blurred clouds, streaking lights at night, or smooth, silky waterfalls, etc. then you’ve seen what happens when people slow their shutter down on purpose.
ISO is the sensor’s sensitivity to light, but the higher you raise it,
the poorer the image quality. The amount of noise increases and your dynamic range, color depth, and sharpness decrease. Generally, on lower-end cameras, this can look pretty horrible. I loved my Nikon D90, but at 1600 ISO, it was atrocious. If you’re shooting indoors, this is another way your camera can compensate for the dark environment.
When you realize that you’re getting consistently out of focus shots, it can be incredibly frustrating. When you’re shooting with a kit lens, this doesn’t usually happen, but if you get a new lens, you might come upon this problem. Sometimes, a new lens needs to be calibrated to the camera body you have. I do realize that all camera bodies don’t have the ability to manually adjust the focus of a given lens, but if yours does have this feature, do some focus testing on stationary subjects (with a tripod) to see if this is your problem.
Depending on the focus mode you use and the way you use it,
you may just be missing focus. This just means either your camera is focusing on the background or the wrong subject, or it is just slightly missing. This is sometimes user error, but is sometimes the camera’s fault, especially in low light. For example, if you are taking a picture of a person and the focus is on their nose or hair and their eyes are slightly out of focus, it can ruin the picture. If this is the case, try using only one focus point at a time and use that point to focus on one of their eyes. You might have to reference your manual to figure out how to change focus modes and points. If this doesn’t work, try the other tips in this article.
Shallow Depth of Field
If you’re using a ‘long’ lens or a prime lens with a wide aperture, you might be dealing with a shallower depth of field than you’re use to. This simply means that there is less in focus, so you have to be careful. After you focus, you might just barely move forward or backward or your subject might move forward or backward, causing them to be slightly out of focus. This is an easy mistake to make and might take some practice. If this is the case, you might try narrowing down your aperture (an increase in the f-number). For example, if you bought a 35mm or 50mm f1.8, then instead of shooting wide open at 1.8, try shooting at 2.8 first and see if that helps. Side note: if you set your aperture to a high f-number, this could also be a problem. Many lenses are softer at narrower apertures (think f16 and higher).
Image Stabilization When Using a Tripod
I, personally, don’t own any image stabilized lenses, but I’ve got my eye on a few. I’ve heard, though, that if you don’t turn off image stabilization when you mount your camera on a tripod, that it can result in blurry images. This is the least common mistake, honestly, but it does happen. If you mount your camera to a tripod, just remember to turn off your image stabilization. It can usually be disengaged via a switch on the side of the lens. For some reason, the image stabilization algorithms can’t always handle it when a camera is on a tripod
Let me know if you have any questions.
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