Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Better Snapshots for Beginners: Steady as she goes (part 1)

I got an unexpected compliment today. After posting pictures of a recent trip to my Facebook account a friend wrote on my wall, "Man - I need to take some photography lessons from you. B E A U T I F U L! :-)"

And I've got to say - I was tickled pink. I realize that it's completely possible that she was just returning the favour because I had commented on how lovely one of her photos was. But I'm going to take it at face value. A compliment on my photography! Yipee!!!

So I thought, heck, why not share my photography tricks with the world? (Read: the no one who reads my blog...yet.) So I'm putting together a little four (or five? or six? We'll see) part series on tips to improve your photos.

Here is where I warn you. I'm just a simple point and shoot girl. And the only photography training I've ever received was from the book Photography for Dummies borrowed from the library back in the dying days of film cameras. And I don't even own Photoshop much less have a clue how to use it.

Translation: if you know anything about photography you wont find this useful. My little tutorial is meant for average folks like me (or like I used to be pre-Photography for Dummies) who just want to take some good snapshots on their wild adventures. This is basic people.

But that said, it did help me go from blah to B E A U T I F U L! (in the words of my very generous friend, of course).

Lesson 1: Blurry Photos

Blurry photos used to be my A#1 problem. And you know what? They are sooooo fixable!Blurry photos are almost always* caused by shaky hands.

A picture of Mountain Man and myself taken by a shaky handed photog.


A photo of Mountain Man taken by me with the same camera under the exact same conditions.

Here are a few simple things that you can do to reduce the blur and create sharper images:

1) Press the shutter button correctly.

Many people actually jolt the camera when they press the shutter button. Next time you go to take a picture audit yourself quickly - do you start with your index finger resting gently on the shutter button? Or do you start with it posed in the air about a centimeter above the button? If you are doing the later you are probably shaking the camera when you snap the picture.

To do this correctly start by lightly resting your index finger on the button. When you are ready to snap your picture press the button down smoothly and gently. When you release the shutter keep your index finger lightly rested on the button.


Please excuse the crazy looking claw hand. Graphic designer I am not.

2) Support those shaky hands.

Once you are pressing the shutter button correctly the next thing to deal with is shaky hands/arms/body. A good strategy is to try to stand with two hands on the camera, the camera held fairly close to the body, elbows tucked close to your sides (so that they have the support of your body), and your legs in a solid stance.

Is this necessary to get a sharp photo every time? No. But under tougher conditions it can certainly be useful.

3) Tricks for tricky lighting

When faced with low lighting or certain flash conditions (we'll get into these in later posts) your camera may be more prone to blurriness. When you find yourself in these conditions here are a few tricks you can use to better your chances of getting a sharp picture.
  • Brace yourself as described above. Then lean your back against something sturdy (like a wall or tree trunk) for even more support. Essentially you become a tripod rather than a bipod.
  • Use the automatic timer so that you don't have to press the shutter button at all and completely eliminate any shake caused by hitting the shutter.
  • Use a tripod or perch your camera on a solid surface such as a wall or stump. They even make hiking poles with monopod attachments for your camera!
  • Combine the tripod trick with the auto timer trick so that the camera is completely out of your hands.
Next time I'll talk about focusing. Your excited, I can tell.


*Disclaimer. It may not be almost always. But I'm pretty sure it is.

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