Help, my pictures are blurry - Part 1: Camera Shake

Learn how to take tack sharp photos!

Sharp Shot 

One of the most common questions I receive in the comments and via email concerns sharpness. Readers are not satisfied with the quality of their pictures and seek advice. It is not surprising, considering that blurry photographs are nearly impossible to salvage and can ruin an otherwise exceptional shot.

In this article series, we will investigate the most common causes of blurred pictures:

  • Camera Shake: Caused by long exposure times. Image stabilization can only do so much; learn what you can do to avoid it.
  • Motion Blur: Fast moving subjects can cause blur. Learn what to do about it.
  • Wrong Focus: What are the focus techniques that will give you sharp pictures?
  • Depth of Field: What you need to know about it to get sharp shots.
  • Wide-angle Lens Focus: Some points you should know if you decide to go wide.
  • Telephoto Lens Focus: And the other way around.
  • Camera Issues: Many blame their tools for poor artistry. Sometimes the gear really is to blame; find out how to test your camera.

The Sigma 8mm Fisheye Lens

Fisheye, the widest lens choice, offers a tremendous creative potential.

Find out what you can do and what you need to know about fisheye lenses.

People through Fisheye Lens 

I am addicted to wide-angle photography, its creative challenges and opportunities. Wide-angle lenses require rethinking your composition constantly. Eliminating clutter with a normal lens usually entails leaving it out of your frame, thus simplifying your composition. This is rarely possible with wide-angle lenses. Instead, you take advantage of their perspective, making distant objects very small. Eliminating clutter thus, requires moving around and changing your composition continually. 

I like this kind of photography. It forces me to reconsider all my compositions and puts me on a much steeper learning curve. I also love the resulting pictures, since they differ so much from the way we see the world with our own eyes. 

Telephoto lenses are creativity inhibitors. Photographers at sports events never move. They “only” have to frame and shoot. Everyone can get the same shot, even when they stand a few feet apart. Creativity then boils down to the right moment and the right subject. 

Hybrid Off-Road Adventure with Rooftop Tent

Easter SUV Trekking through the Backcountry of Death Valley.

Ford Escape Rooftop Tent 

My 4WD Hybrid Ford Escape had already proven its worth on a 7,000 mile winter trip, crossing the Rocky Mountains twice in bone chilling weather with record snow falls. My sure-footed companion sips fuel like a compact car, yet offers the storage of a family van and enough ground clearance for backcountry adventures. Hybrids are fun, as long as you don't drown the battery in mountain spring water like I did. 

San Francisco Presidio and Golden Gate

Fort Point Military Band

We went to San Francisco twice last weekend, in anticipation of a big project I am working on and hope to complete before summer. 

I photographed the Presidio and Fort Point. I was very lucky, since Fort Point celebrated Living History Days with civil war actors in period customs. It was a lot of fun and while we were there, I also photographed some of the spectacular views you can find at the Presidio and the Main Post, from where the Presidio grew to its current spread.

I parked my car and walked across the Golden Gate Bridge to boost my Golden Gate Portfolio. 

Both locations are a lot of fun to discover and the pictures really turned out exceptional (all shot with the Canon 7D). Check them out and come back for more, the project is far from done.

Golden Gate South Tower

How much color is too much color

Color Comparison

Which of these do you like best?

Confronted with an unprecedented range of software programs and sliders, digital photographers sometimes struggle finding the right balance. Browsing through the websites of my esteemed photography colleagues, I get the feeling that the opinions on color treatment seem to diverge, rather than converge. New software companies, like Topaz Labs, satisfy the need of the extreme end of the spectrum, while purists contest the unnatural appearance of these pictures. Composition and lighting alone used to make good photographs, but today it seems that color treatment becomes just as important. Since all our senses are overloaded every day, it becomes harder and harder to make a visual impact. Attracting a viewers attention may require a bold statement, but how bold is too bold and how much is too much? 

Are you a purist or a color fetishist? Which of the above pictures do you prefer? To make your decision easier, I have put larger versions below. Let's hear your thoughts!

Re-learn to see

Train your perception and improve your compositions.

Palace of Fine ArtsWe are born with the capability to see and we hardly contemplate about it unless we lose or eyesight or our focus. Yet the way we see greatly determines our “talent” as photographers. Low-level subconscious brain functions filter the information our eyes capture, before it reaches the slower and more complex areas of our brain where we make conscious decisions. Sometimes we must learn to un-filter information so that we can grow our talent and go beyond our previous capacity as photographers.

How we see

We are incapable to process all the information our eyes capture. Most of our senses have filters, that pre-process and classify information.

While you are reading this, you will not feel your left foot, until you start concentrating on it. This is of course assuming your foot did not send out alarm signals (pain) before.

Perception happens only in a very small field in the center of our vision. While you are reading this page, your eyes follow the words, despite the fact that your field of view is broader than this page. This is because your brain only recognizes things that you focus on.

We also have peripheral vision. In the peripheral vision, we quickly identify movement, but we have no clue what moved. We need to focus our attention, the center of our vision on the moving subject to identify it.

Our brain processes information from the center of our vision different from the peripheral vision. Our camera does not discriminate between the center and the edge of the frame.

On location: Hovenweep National Monument

Hovenweep National Monument

One of my favorite parks on the Colorado Plateau is Hovenweep National Monument.

Hovenweep is a delight to photograph. Its remote location at the border between Utah and Colorado and its overshadowing neighboring park, Mesa Verde, make sure that this park receives only a trickle of visitors when compared to other places. It is very unlikely that you get much disturbance during your photo session and if you do, you can easily outwait everyone.

Dani finally analyzed my feelings correctly, after I stumbled through Mesa Verde with an average mood one day and suddenly lit up with delight when we visited Hovenweep the other day. Mesa Verda does not leave much to creativity. You hold your camera into the hole and that is that. Photos either look good or they do not, but your influence on the outcome is limited.

Hovenweep is different. You can have fun with compositions, go crazy with foregrounds and backgrounds, try weird twisted angles, and never tire of the limitless options that this small park offers.

SilkyPix Pro - Professional RAW Converter

It is all about options, or why I really like SilkyPix Pro.

Silkypix Dialogs 

I have been using SilkyPix, and recently SilkyPix Pro, for a while now and always loved the sophisticated control and ingenious options that the converter offered. Resisting Change is natural and lies within the nature of all things. We have to invest some energy to dissipate on the learning process. Maybe that is the explanation for the monoculture of Aperture and Lightroom, but I am glad I made the effort.

Adobe Camera RAW 3, my previous RAW converter of choice does not support my new Canon EOS 7D camera. I decided not to upgrade Photoshop CS3 and skip a few versions, mostly due to Adobe's funky licensing policy. I ate up my licenses when I had trouble with my raid and re-installed a few times (with and without raid). Photoshop saw a new computer upon each installation and eventually claimed I had too many licenses in use, offering no recourse or help.

SilkyPix Pro does not seem to have this problem. I re-installed numerous times due to computer crashes until I finally got a new machine last fall. The people at SilkyPix (Roberto) are exceptionally easy to deal with in contrast to the call center reps I get at Adobe. I also downloaded the Lightroom 3 beta, but the support for the 7D isn't very good. The white balance looks off and the noise reduction for high ISO noise is insufficient. I assume that Lightroom 2.5 works well with the 7D, but I am not going to buy it and rather evaluate version 3.0 when it comes out.

Amazingly, the support for my 7D was there in SilkyPix Pro, even though I got my 7D when it had just come out. I had the same experience when my 450D had just come out. There was no update for ACR yet, but Silkypix 3 already supported it. Silkypix seems to be Japanese and they appear to have close ties to Canon.