Freeze the Action in Your Summer Water Shots

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During the summer, we find ourselves in or near water a good part of the time. It’s always fun to capture the moment and freeze every water droplet, too. When trying to freeze motion, you need a fast shutter speed. Usually 1/1000th sec or higher will guarantee crisp sharp water droplets as well as a sharp fast-moving subject like this wake-boarder. Here, I used a tele zoom positioned at 95mm off the back of a boat. I also used a higher ISO of 400, even though the sun was shining brightly, to ensure I could get a very fast shutter speed. The exposure setting for this shot was F/9 aperture at 1/1250th sec shutter speed. You can set your camera to the action icon and the camera will take over all settings to give you the fastest shutter speed possible for your lighting situation. Or you can set your camera to “A” for aperture-priority and adjust your aperture until you see a desirable shutter speed when you look through your viewfinder at the settings along the bottom or when you look on your LCD panel on your camera. Next time the kids are splashing around at the pool or under a sprinkler, or you’re capturing tubing or wake boarding from a boat, set your camera to the fastest shutter speed you can to freeze the action. (Note: This will be the same setting you will use to freeze any sports motion).RT_DSC8263

"My Photos Are Blurry" — Solutions for Common Photo Problems: Part 1

DSC_2702_6x9So while talking with friends who are all new DSLR owners this past weekend, we discussed the solutions for the most common problems people have with their photos. So of course, it sparked an idea for a blog post. Here is part 1: “My Photos Are Blurry.”

The reason for a blurry photo is that the shutter speed is too slow to stop either fast moving action or camera shake in low light situations. The faster action moves, the faster the shutter speed required to stop the action; the longer your lens setting (telephoto), the faster the shutter speed required to stop camera shake since the shake is magnified (think about looking through powerful binoculars and how hard it is to hold them without the seeing shake); and finally, in lower the lighting conditions, the shutter speed slows down to let in more light, making it harder to hand hold.

So what to do? First, you need to understand what the ideal shutter speed is for hand-holding to avoid camera shake. The quick answer to to shoot at a shutter sped that is no slower than the reciprocal of the focal length setting of your lens. So if you are zoomed out to 300mm to catch sports, nature, wildlife or candid portraits, the ideal shutter sped will be 1/300th of a second or faster to stop hand shake blur. However, with today’s stabilized lenses, you can shoot a 2-3 or even 4 stops slower with no resulting hand-shake. Second, understand that it is almost impossible for anyone to hand hold the camera at any focal length setting if the shutter speed goes below 1/30th of a second. Thirdly, if action is moving fast, like soccer or basketball, you will need a shutter speed of approx. 1/500th of a second. If the action moves even faster than that, such as car racing or horse racing, you will need to shoot even faster (1/1000th, 1/2500th, etc.(.

Solution 1: Open your aperture to let in more light and the camera will pick a faster shutter speed.
If you set your camera to aperture priority, move the aperture towards a wider opening (e.g., F/6.3, F/5.6, F/3.5) and watch your shutter speed get faster. Hopefully, you will be able to get a shutter speed / aperture combination that allows you to have a fast shutter speed for the action or zoom setting. Be mindful that with an open aperture, you have less depth of field, so precisely focusing on the critical part of your image is very important.

Solution 2: If opening the aperture does not give you a shutter speed high enough to action blur or stop hand shake from slow shutter speeds as a result of low light or long telephoto settings, then the next solution is to boost your ISO higher. A higher ISO, will automatically provide you with higher shutter speeds. While your photo might have a little more noise or not as vibrant of color, you will be able to shoot the image. (Some DSLRs have really great high ISO capabilities, so don’t be afraid to try higher ISO settings).

Solution 3 (and my least favorite): If neither solution above works, then you can try to increase the lighting in the scene. One way is by adding flash. Flash will certainly freeze action and eliminate hand shake blur (as long as you are not in night time portrait mode). While flash can lead to an artificial feeling in your shot, hence my reason for it not being my favorite, it can do the job effectively and send you home with images of the moment. Remember, however, that flash can only cover a certain distance, and is sometimes not allowed at certain venues, so solutions 1 or 2 or a combination of both may be your only choices to correct the problem.

The image above would have been completely different had I used flash. So I boosted my ISO to 1600 so that the little bit of light coming into the room could be captured naturally. My lens was zoomed to 60mm, making the magic shutter speed 1/60th of a second. However, with my stabilized lens, I was fortunate to be able to catch the image at 1/8th of a second, the fastest shutter speed I could achieve with the given lighting, ISO setting and open aperture (F/4). The VC stabilization allowed me to shoot 3 stops slower than what would be normally required.

And of course, a solution that works the best for low light situations is a tripod. As long as there is no movement in your shot, a tripod will stabilize your camera and let you shoot at rather slow shutter speeds. Tripods are the most essential tool for landscape and nature photographers since a smaller aperture like F/11, F/16 or F/22 are required to achieve deep depth of field, but shutter speeds are naturally slower.

Next time you are shooting in low light, shooting at a longer telephoto zoom setting, or shooting action, consider the solutions above and you should find your images will be sharp as a result.

Lawn Angels: Blurring and Freezing Motion in Photos

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I set out to take two contrasting photos in order to visually demonstrate the effect different shutterspeed settings will have on your photos. Check it out! I got a shot that reminds me of snow angels! The shot above was taken at very slow shutterspeed (1/6 second), so the action is blurred. Most of the time when we take a shot that’s blurry, we delete it. Right? But take a second look. Sometimes there’s a story or an emotion that’s told because of the blur! My lawn angel spun until she was dizzy while I snapped away on the deck that gave me more of a “bird’s eye” view. The elevated position also allowed me to keep the lush green grass as a backdrop and eliminate from the shot the distracting cars and more in front of the house. I set my camera to aperture priority and selected a small aperture (f/18) and lowered the ISO to 200. These settings ensured that I would get a slow shutterspeed and blur the action.
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The contrasting shot above turns my angel into a statue, yet there is still a joy about the image since you can clearly see her face. But I may have to tell you that she was spinning or you might think she’s just breaking out into song or feeling the breeze. But whatever story you put to the image, it’s still joyous. To freeze the action, I moved the settings to the opposite end: the aperture was changed to the widest opening I could select (F/6.3) and I raised the ISO to 800. This ensured that I would get a faster shutterspeed of 1/200 sec.
So slow down a bit, literally, by capturing the movement in your active kids! Summer is the perfect time to try-jumping into and out of the pool, racing in the yard, playing jump rope, simply jumping, sliding into home plate, and so much more. And don’t delete the shots off your camera. Download them and take a closer look. You might be surprised at what you get. (PS-I am working on freebie cards for basic photo tips, so keep a look out for those).

Sideline Shooting

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Today was her last game of the season (they tied 1-1). And today was the first time I shot a game this season. Shooting any sport from the sidelines can be challenging. But I’ve found a few of the following tips to be useful. First, make sure your camera is set to aperture priority and select the widest aperture you can with your lens. This way, your camera will always choose the fastest shutter speed for you. Plus, you’ll bring the focus on your subject since the background will then blur out a little.

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Set your ISO a little higher (400 or 800 if sunny; 1000 if overcast) to ensure faster shutter speeds to stop the action. (If you have a point and shoot camera, try setting the camera on the sports mode). Next, put your camera on both the continuous auto focus and continuous shooting mode. If you have to lift your finger after each shot to take the next, you’re guaranteed to miss something. If you’ve ever had the opportunity to watch a pro shoot, you’ll remember that their finger stays on the shutter release until the ball is out of play! You almost feel as if you’re watching a video when you review their thousands of shots. For sure, knowing the game is a big help since you can anticipate where the action will be. But, if you’re sports-challenged like me, then following the ball through your viewfinder will naturally keep you where the action is and then start pressing the shutter as soon as your child enters the frame. You may also choose to follow your child, but then you sort of miss the game. Another good tip is to not stay in one place. If your child plays on the same side as where you are seated (left wing, e.g.), you may wind up shooting a lot of his or her back. If you venture to the opposing side, on your team’s goal end, you may have a better chance at getting a shot of them facing you rather than the back of their jersey. And of course, your positioning may need to change throughout the game, so be prepared to walk/run the field on a day you plan to take lots of photos. Crouch down once in a while to get a different perspective, and zoom in on details like cleats and balls to make a full story for your album, photo book, scrapbook or digital frame. And last but truly not least, make sure you have a lens that can zoom over a wide range so you can get in close when the action is far down the field (a lens that goes up to around 300mm on a digital SLR is ideal) and you can capture it all as the action gets close to the sidelines by zooming out to a wide angle setting. Additionally, while you still may want to crop in a little closer later on, the closer you are to start, the better quality your cropped photo will be in the end. (ISO 400; 232mm; 1/1250 sec; F/6.3)