Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Diagnosing Motion Blur

I want to thank a reader (one of two or three that I have proof exist) for sending in an image to look at and see what we can learn. Before we look at the image let me tell you how I think about blur in an image, so that we can be on the same page.

To me there are mostly three types of blur in an image. There is focus blur, motion blur, and camera shake. Now I'm not writing a text book here so if these terms don't match what you read in the last photography book you read, don't worry too much, I think you'll get the gist of what I'm saying.

Focus blur is a focusing error that causes the intended subject to be out of focus. This happens when the camera decides to focus on some thing that wasn't what you were really trying to photograph. If you have a DSLR this is easier to fix than if you are using a point and shoot where it can be difficult to get it to focus on exactly what you want it to.

Motion blur is caused by your subject or by some thing else in the frame moving enough while the shutter is open to cause blurring.

Camera shake is similar to motion blur since it is related to shutter speed, but the difference is important as we will see soon.

So let's take a look at the image and see what's going on. The image below was taken at a wedding, and the bride and groom have been cut off to protect the innocent of course, not because the photographer didn't know what she was doing.

In this image, one of the first things we notice, is that the child is blurred. He seems to really be enjoying his cake. So what we want to figure out is, why is he blurred? To answer that question we can just go down the list of possible causes of blurring.

Focus blur doesn't look like the cause here. Take a look at the child's shirt, and the cake table. We can see that whatever is holding still, seems to be in reasonable focus.

Camera shake also doesn't seem to be the problem here. We know this because again, most of the photograph is actually in focus. If this were a result of camera shake, nothing would be in focus at all.

That pretty much leave motion blur as our culprit.

Now that we know what caused the blurring here we can work on strategy's for reducing problems like this in the future. There are really only two basic things you can do to stop motion blur, and all of the techniques you can think of will come from these two basic things.

You could increase your shutter speed. This would mean widening your aperture, increasing your ISO, or increasing the amount of light. Which one of those techniques you use is entirely up to you, the photographer, and they are strictly artistic decisions, so there aren't really any right or wrong answers. Some will be easier or more less expensive than others, but that's a discussion for another post.

Cheaper and easier still in many cases will simply be to remove any sources of movement in the photograph. This photograph was taken indoors, and one thing that might help is to think about indoor photography carefully. One thing that you might want to keep in mind, is that unless you are carting around flashes and other lighting all the time, whenever you are taking pictures indoor, it's probably a low light situation. This is especially true if it's night time outside and you are relying on the lighting fixtures in a room. This will almost always mean lower shutter speeds and the risk of motion blur. Your best bet might simply be to remove sources of motion from the photograph, like pets, kids, ceiling fans, etc.

If you have a photograph like this one that is making you scratch your head, or if you would like to hear about strategies you can use to prevent problems in your photographs, send me an email and we can talk about it. Until then keep an eye out, or better yet, add my RSS feed to your reader, and eventually I will get around to writing a post about EXIF data. Don't know what EXIF data is? Well whenever there is a break in my college course work I'll tell you, and believe me, it can make diagnosing photography problems a snap.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Taking Classes

If you're interested in improving your photography quickly, some times one of the best ways is go ahead and take a class. With an actual curriculum and classmates you might be surprised how quickly you can learn to take better photographs.

I bring this up because Kelly Abbot of Complete Photo Solutions has moved to Gilroy and is once again offering classes in everything from digital photography, to working with digital images on the computer, to scrap booking.

If you don't live in Gilroy, well I guess no body's perfect right? But you can probably still find a digital photography course near by. Just do a Google search and you can probably find a starving photographer nearby trying to make a little extra money, that would be willing to share some knowledge.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Big Picture

The Big Picture is one of my favorite photography blogs. If you aren't familiar with the site, they are a regular blog that posts large, high quality photographs in series concerning different subjects.

One of their last series is called Dog Sledding, and its great. Check it out if you have a minute.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A Battle Scarred Camera

The verdict is in for my camera. It will not be getting fixed. Of course the one or two of you reading have noticed that I haven't been posting around here. When I get my camera back the posts should pick up a little bit. Oh yeah, my camera won't be getting fixed, but I will get it back. I just won't be able to use it for night work. So that's the news. See you future posts.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Kid Picks

This guy takes photographing kids to a whole new level. Before any one asks, of course there is some photoshop work going on here, but man, who cares? These are great!

Monday, January 26, 2009


I had a nice post about tripods planned for quite a while, even hinted about it in other articles. But I ran into the slight problem that at some point, explaining everything really just turns into condescension and insulting a reader's intelligence. So here I present the shorter, sweeter version of what I had planned.

Whenever a person starts trying to learn more about photography and tries to stretch their limits, they will eventually run into the need to take pictures in low light conditions. If a person's skills are going to progress they simply must be able to take pictures in the early morning, late in the evening, or even during the night. Despite the leaps and bounds made in low light photography in recent years, the fact of the matter is that these conditions still absolutely require a tripod. There's just no way around it.

Now I understand where most people are coming from when they think about buying a tripod. You're thinking to yourself "This hobby is already expensive enough, what else do I need to buy?" Well here's my take on it.

Before you buy that next camera, before you buy the next great lens you have you're eye on or anything like that, get yourself a decent tripod. I don't know any other investment that will give you the bang for your buck that a tripod can. It doesn't have to be a six or eight hundred dollar carbon fiber tripod signed by some famous photographer either. Just some thing with a detachable mount plate, and a smoothly movable head. In the world of tripods, like many others, you do get what you pay for, but most of us really can get by very well with a mid to low range tripod. Just don't go too low, you'll only end up frustrated.

If any one has any questions about this feature or that feature by all means, drop me an email using the link to the right, but other than that there's really not much to it. Get one, enjoy the photographs.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

National Geographic Winners

National Geographic Traveler had a photo contest recently. They got some really great submissions. Here are the winners.