Ensure crisp images using these powerful fundamental tips
By Ibarionex R. Perello
The heart of any photographic system is its lenses. Over the course of our photographic lives, we can spend a lot of money and time purchasing and using lenses to create our images. Yet whether you're spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on your glass, it can be quite frustrating to find that these lenses, some of which are used by the pros, aren’t delivering the quality you expected. You could have the sharpest lenses ever created, but poor techniques result in a soft image that lacks punch. So, although cold, hard cash buys you a great piece of glass, it's practice and technique that produce an outstanding image. The following tips will help you make the most out of your camera and its lenses.
1Handholding The way you hold a camera has a huge impact on the sharpness of your images. If you hold a camera incorrectly, unintended camera movement leads not only to blurred images, but also to a reduction of contrast and image brilliance. While the results may not be immediately evident when viewing your photographs on a camera's LCD or casually glancing at a transparency, enlargements quickly reveal the failings of mishandling a camera.
To create a stable platform with your own body, hold the camera with both hands. Support the camera body (not the lens) by cradling it in your left hand and grasp the camera and shutter release button with your right hand. Press your elbows firmly against your body and raise the camera close to your eye. If you're using a digital camera with an LCD, avoid holding the camera away from your body with your arms extended.
Gently depress the shutter release button halfway and maintain pressure to achieve and lock focus. When you're ready to take the image, fully depress the shutter release button.
2Tripod A tripod provides a stable platform for your camera and is a key means for ensuring sharp photographs. Whether a small tabletop unit or a large carbon-fiber model, a tripod delivers the ability to create sharp images if you're shooting under low light before dawn or in bright sunlight.
The advantage is that a tripod minimizes the effects of handling the camera incorrectly or your own body movement. For static subjects, a tripod also allows for the use of smaller apertures for increased depth of field while allowing for slower shutter speeds that would be impossible to use if the camera were handheld.
You'll often discover a difference in image sharpness between photographs that are created with and without a tripod. Even at moderate shutter speeds, there can be a subtle but telling difference between such images, which becomes clearly evident when enlargements of 8x10 inches or larger are attempted. For optimal sharpness, try to use a tripod whenever possible.
3Shutter Speed Considerations The shutter speed used when shooting without a tripod plays a critical role in image sharpness. Choose too slow of a shutter speed, and the image reflects even the slightest camera vibration—even that of the shutter release being depressed. As a guideline, choose a minimum shutter speed that's the reciprocal of the focal length you're using. At an effective focal length of 100mm, select a minimum shutter speed of 1/125 sec., for example. At 200mm, raise the shutter speed to 1/250 sec. Be aware that some digital SLRs have a magnification factor that will increase the effective focal length of a lens, resulting in the need for an even faster shutter speed.
To maintain an acceptable shutter speed for handholding, you may need to increase the camera's ISO sensitivity or insert a faster-speed film. A film or digital camera with a low ISO of 50 or 100 may be insufficient and will require an ISO setting that's 400 or even higher. Although this increases the appearance of grain or noise, it can make the difference between a sharp image that you can use and a soft image that's useless.
With SLRs, the mirror movement within the body can result in adverse vibration. Usually at around 1/15 sec., the camera creates enough vibration to soften the image. Be careful using such shutter speeds even when the camera is mounted on a tripod. If that isn't possible and if your camera includes a mirror lockup feature, use it. The image in the viewfinder will be blackened, but the actual moment of exposure won't be impacted by mirror movement.