Pragmatic Photography 101: avoiding blurry photos

If you’ve been reading a lot of the “How to learn photography” guides out there, you’ll know that they tend to be pretty overwhelming.  I found it easier to keep things simple, and to focus on the things that would get me one small step further in getting usable photos now.  Here’s my first to pointers for absolute beginners:

This photo is blurry because of “Concept 2” below, the shutter speed was way too slow.

Blurry Images:

When I first started taking photos with an point and shoot, I used to hate getting blurry images.  It drove me crazy that I couldn’t quite figure out why. If your image is out of focus, there’s pretty much no way to salvage it.

What two concepts make your photos burry?

Concept 1: Getting the camera’s lens to actually focus on the right object in the photo.

[Recommendation]: Single area focus mode & focus and recompose

I still don’t know what all the different focus modes do on my cameras, and that’s because I’ve rarely deviated from single area focus.  Basically this mode is one where the camera focuses on the focus point typically in the middle of the camera and that’s it.  For more entry level cameras, this method tends to be the most accurate as well.

At this point you might be asking yourself, “what if I want that thing to be in focus, but I don’t want it to be in the center of my shot?”  Well thats where focus and recompose comes in.  You typically “acquire” focus by pointing your camera something and pressing the shutter speed half-way down (if you push all the way down and the camera takes a photo, you’ve gone too far).  Then, while keeping the button pressed half way down, you can adjust where your camera is pointed to compose your shot before actually pushing the shutter button all the way down.  There’s a lot of confusing material out there, but this guy at Gmax does a good job of explaining focus and recompose on youtube.

[Assignment] : Take 3 shots where in each shot you are focusing on one of three different objects in the photo.  In shot 1, focus on something in the foreground (closest to the camera).  In shot 2, focus on the object in the middle, while in shot 3 focus on the object in the background (furthest from the camera).

Once you’ve mastered still objects, test how fast your reflexes are by trying to shoot something that is moving.  Find a crowded pedestrian street and focus on people as they walk toward you or cross in front of you.

Now for the fun part.  As fast as you can, go pull up these photos on your computer screen so you can see how you did.  What do you notice?  Are some photos in focus, which ones did you miss on?



[Additional Resources]

Concept 2: Making sure you photos aren’t blurred because your shutter speed is too slow

[Recommendation]:  Set your camera in shutter priority / and learn how shutter speed relates to movement and blurry shots

I realize this is technically part of exposure , but it is a common cause of blurry photos which is how a complete beginner is thinking about things, “Why are my shots all blurry?”  They don’t immediately connect blurriness with shutter speed.

So what is shutter speed?  A shutter is the object that blocks light from hitting your camera’s sensor, and to take a picture, the shutter moves out of the way for a set amount of time.  If it moves out of the way for a long time, lots of light will get it (photo would be lighter).  If it moves out of the way for a very short time, very little light will get in (photo would be darker).  So what does this have to do with blur?

Well, if your shutter speed is slow or open for a long time, then your still image will be ruined because the subject of the photo had time to move while the camera was still capturing the photo.  You would need a much faster shutter speed to capture a fast moving object without the blur.

[Assignment ]: First, figure out how to set your camera to Shutter priority mode.  This is a mode where you are going to be able to directly control the shutter speed, as opposed to your camera doing everything for you.  In shot 1, take a picture of something that is moving quickly (a car, jogger, etc), with a very slow shutter speed ( 1/25th, 1/50th).  In shot 2, do the same thing with a faster shutter speed like 1/125th , 1/250th, 1/500th.

When you check your photos on your computer, you should see the faster shutter speed photos are sharper!

[Additional Resources]


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