11 July 2013

Eleven Ways to Reduce Camera Shake

Art Model, Leslie ©2013 Terrell Neasley
"A lot of photographers think that if they buy a better camera they’ll be able to take better photographs. A better camera won’t do a thing for you if you don’t have anything in your head or in your heart." 
~ Arnold Newman

How many times have you had to throw away a shot because of instability or camera shake. I just picked up the Tamron 24-70 f/2.8 with Vibration Control. Tamron is the only lens manufacturer that makes a stabilized 24-70mm f/2.8 lens (surprisingly) and its significantly cheaper than both Canon's or Nikon's. As for this post, I'm not getting into who's got the better lens. This one is on methods to reduce camera shake and options to stabilizing your camera. I'm having to assume you understand terms such as stops, f/stop, aperture, and so forth. You may have to Google some of them if you aren't familiar with the terms of ask me in the comment section. So here we go. Eleven methods to reduce camera shake:

1. Fast Glass - Usually we're talking a lens with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 or wider, such as an f/2, f/1.4, etc. Remember, the smaller the number, the wider the aperture. A wider aperture lets in more light, which allows for a faster shutter speed.

2. IS, VR, VC - Image Stabilization (Canon), Vibration Reduction (Nikon), Vibration Control (Tamron). These are additional features that some lenses have that allow more steadiness, especially when you are hand-holding the camera. Most of the lenses with this capability will claim 3 or 4 addition stops of control using an internal mechanism that compensates for lens movement and shake.

Art Model, Leslie ©2013 Terrell Neasley
3. High Shutter Speeds - This may sound obvious, but nonetheless its the main thing that allows you to get a sharp image when photographing a moving object. Movement has to do with time and the shutter controls time. A shutter speed of 1/60th or faster will usually allow you to hand-hold your camera to shoot a slow moving subject. If you are trying to freeze the action of a passing car, you'll need to be at 1/250 or better. Try freezing the action of a baseball as it comes off a bat and you better be at 1/500th or better.

4. High ISO - ISO regulates the sensitivity of the sensor to light. High ISOs means you are increasing the sensor's sensitivity to light so it takes less light to get the same shot. This is going to depend on the quality of your camera. If you have a Canon 40D, you'll max out at ISO 1600 before the image starts to look grainy. However, if you're shooting a Canon 5D Mark III, you can go upwards of ISO 12,800 with ease. That's a 3-stop improvement. Shoot the lowest ISO you can get away with, as a general rule, but make sure you get the shot.

5. Use a Tripod - This is the easiest way to stabilize your camera. You simply take it out of your hands and put it on a tripod. Just don't go cheap. I'll talk bad about you if you spend $2000 on a camera and put it on $60 sticks. Expect to fork over $200 on a good set of legs and decent ball head, but there are definitely deals to be found. I personally like carbon fiber tripods and use this Manfrotto as my main tripod.

Art Model, Leslie ©2013 Terrell Neasley
6. Flash - Shutter speeds get slow because there is not enough light coming hitting the sensor. Flash fixes this by flooding the scene with light thereby allowing a faster shutter speed. You can have flash guns (speedlights), or mono-lights on light stands. Your camera will usually sync up to 1/250th of a second with flash, but if you need to go faster, the latest flashes will have some sort of high-speed sync feature built in. I use Nikon SB-700's and Paul C. Buff Einsteins.

"I never have taken a picture I’ve intended. They’re always better or worse."
~ Diane Arbus

7. Rear Curtain Sync Flash - Wait...what?? Its called rear-curtain sync which is another feature on many flash guns. You're basically telling the flash to fire just as the rear-curtain (or second curtain) of the shutter begins to close. In the normal mode, flashes fire as soon as the shutter opens. The problem is that on longer exposures, that freezes the image initially, but since the shutter doesn't close right away, movement is still being captured on top of that frozen image. With rear-curtain sync, the flash fires right before the shutter closes, so the frozen part of the image is on top of the movement.

Art Model, Leslie ©2013 Terrell Neasley
8. Cable Release - Or Remote Shutter. This keeps you from having to touch the camera at all. When you REALLY need a steady shot, even hitting the shutter release button can cause camera shake and make you miss that clean shot.

9. Mirror Lock-up - Okay so you have a cable release. If you're doing some night time photography with pin-point stars in the skyline, you can still get camera shake simply via the camera's normal operating mechanisms, specifically the mirror raising and lowering. Mirror lock-up makes you have to hit the shutter button, (or cable release button) twice. One to raise the mirror and lock it in the open position, and then again to actually open the shutter and take the picture. The mirror comes down again after the shutter closes and the operating cycle ends. This is a menu function on most digital cameras.

10. Intentionally Underexpose - This is very interesting and goes against most rules. Its often frowned upon to say, "I'll fix it in post". But essentially, that's exactly what you want to do here. If you're sitting on a shutter speed of 1/30 and you need at least 1/125th of a shutter to stop the action, you're talking about a 2-stop difference. I'll take that. By manually going to 1/125th, you are cutting the light and underexposing the image, but the action is frozen. Okay, if you're shooting RAW...no problem. You can increase that exposure those two stops again in Adobe Camera RAW or Lightroom. The important thing is to get the shot, so if it takes fixing it in post, then so be it!

Art Model, Leslie ©2013 Terrell Neasley
11. Photoshop CC Camera Shake Reduction Feature - And finally, speaking of fixing it in post...this is exactly that. The latest version of Photoshop, Photoshop CC (Creative Cloud) has a feature that does an excellent job on camera shake compensating. Whatever algorithm this thing runs to make a determination on how the image should look is phenomenal. It doesn't perform near as well with an image that is simply out of focus, though. So if you're manually focusing or if the camera auto-focuses on a point other than the spot you intended, its not going to fix that so well. But if you have good focus, but simply can't be still, its got your back. So movement issues...yes. Focus issues...not so much.

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