Camera Shake

Many new camera owners who have spent hundreds or even thousands of dollars to purchase a digital SLR camera, promptly try to reproduce a photo they’ve seen in a magazine. They travel to that scenic spot, fill up flash cards with the same shot and are disappointed when they see the photo on their computer screen. It doesn’t look nearly as good as the photo in the magazine because it’s not very sharp. Even a sharpening filter in Photoshop can’t fix the problem. Unhappy with the results, they complain about the quality of the camera.

The problem isn’t the camera or lens. The problem is “camera shake”. Most new photographers don’t even think about camera shake because they’ve never heard of it. To understand the concept, look at the night sky holding a pair of binoculars. Focus on the moon or isolate a star and you will find it impossible to keep your subject in the center of your view. To be sure, the moon and the stars aren’t moving; it’s your body movement that keeps you from locking on.

Holding a camera produces the same effect even at relatively fast shutter speeds. Any body movement when you press the shutter button and your photo will simply not be as sharp as it could be. See the example on the right.

You can get marginally acceptable photos when hand holding a camera if you follow this rule. You must use a shutter speed that is approximately the inverse of the focal length of a lens. That means that when shooting with a standard 50mm lens, you cannot use a shutter speed slower than 1/60 second. With a longer lens like a 200mm telephoto, your shutter speed must be at least 1/250 second. That means that using a camera indoors without a flash won’t produce a quality photo because there isn’t enough light available to use the minimum shutter speed.

You will never be able to capture a silky waterfall when handholding a camera. You’ll never get a good low light shot holding the camera.

The solution to “camera shake”? A cable release and a tripod. Buy the best tripod you can afford but don’t buy a cheap one. Purchase a name brand like Gitzo, Slik or Bogen/Manfrotto. Buy one with quick release capability. I highly recommend a ball head with a Swiss-Arca style mount and an L-bracket mounted on the camera. While this kind of equipment is not cheap, it is far superior to the pan and tilt heads. A cable release is much less expensive but just as important as a tripod. Even with your camera on a tripod, you will introduce “camera shake” when you put your hand on the camera to press the shutter button. Attaching a shutter release cable means that your hands will never be touching the camera when you expose the photo. No touch - no shake.

There simply is no excuse for “camera shake”. Buy a cable release and a good tripod and use them all the time. Yes, it may be extra work hauling the tripod around, but it is a must if you want to take professional quality photos.

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