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Oct 2011 cover image hunting

Picture This: Keeping It Steady

Greater camera stability will enhance the sharpness of your images.


By Earl Nottingham

One of the factors that distinguish a great photograph from a mediocre one is sharpness — or lack of it due to camera motion. All too often, a potentially beautiful image is lost because the camera was moved ever so slightly during the exposure, just enough to keep it from being “tack” sharp. Even the highest-quality and most-expensive lenses will produce images that appear unsharp if the camera isn’t appropriately stable for a given shooting situation.

Camera movement, or shake, is generally caused by handholding a camera at a shutter speed slower than a person can reliably hold it steady. This is usually experienced in low-light environments such as the interior of a home or outside during the very early or very late hours, when the artistic quality of the light may be ideal but its intensity is low, requiring a slow shutter speed.

Movement also shows up when trying to handhold long telephoto lenses at shutter speeds slower than what is needed to arrest the movement due to the high magnification. The effect is the same as you would expect when looking though high-power binoculars or telescopes — pretty shaky. Close-up or macro photographs are prime candidates for movement because of the magnification and short distance to the subject.

While there are numerous ways of stabilizing a camera, the secret is to use a method that is appropriate for your given situation. Ideally, you’re looking for a compromise of stability vs. spontaneity — a method of holding the camera as rock-solid as possible and yet allowing it to move as needed to follow a subject.

This can range from something as simple (and practical) as bracing a camera against a door jam in the home or nestling the camera on a camera bag to more professional solutions such as a quality ball-head or gimbal-mount head on a sturdy tripod (see photo examples). A good tripod is well worth the investment and will save the many headaches guaranteed by the use of a cheap and flimsy one.

For shutterbugs who are trying to improve their photography, there is another reason to stabilize the camera. An anchored camera is a great learning tool. It enables the photographer to concentrate and give full attention to the small image in the viewfinder and make the minute movements needed for a well-balanced composition. It allows a more craftsman-like approach and is the difference between just “taking” a picture and “making” the picture.

Please send questions and comments to Earl at earl.nottingham@tpwd.state.tx.us.

Resources for tripods and other gear:

BOGgear: www.boggear.com

Manfrotto: www.manfrotto.com

Kirk Enterprises: kirkphoto.com

Wimberley photo gear: www.tripodhead.com

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