Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Ooooooh, your camera takes such nice sharp photos......

No, it doesn't. My camera is a tool and it does what I tell it to do. Your camera should do what you tell it to do too.

You need to provide your camera with the proper tools to get it to do what you need it to do for you.

The two things that will provide you with a sharper image are:

1. A tripod, preferably, a good tripod.

This is the most under rated piece of photography equipment there is. The single biggest difference between a "snapshot" and a "photograph" is the use of a tripod. You can lean on a tree, hold your breath, or glue the camera to your forehead, but none of this will improve your steadiness and the sharpness of your image like a tripod will. The rule of thumb is (please, no comments about the origins of "the rule of thumb") that your shutter speed should be at least equal to, if not faster than the focal length of your lens. If you are using a 100mm lens, then your shutter speed should be at least 1/125th of a second. If you are using a 200mm lens, then 1/250th of a second is the slowest acceptable shutter speed to hand hold your camera. Even at these speeds, a tripod will improve your image sharpness. A tripod will always improve your image sharpness, and there are circumstances where getting any kind of shot will be impossible without one.

"But I don't like lugging around a tripod."

So don't. Just understand that your images are not as sharp as they could be if you did, so don't be surprised when your shots are not as sharp as they could be, and you see sharper images elsewhere. Refusing to use a tripod is crippling your photo taking ability.

2. Good glass (lenses)

Imagine spending $1000 on a stereo system for your car or your home and hooking up $49 speakers to it. What's it going to sound like? It's going to sound like a $49 stereo system. Cheap speakers create cheap sound.

It's the same with cameras. Cheap lenses (including the cheap zoom "kit" lenses that come with most DSLR's) produce images with less sharpness, detail, and contrast, than their more expensive brethren.

Prime (fixed focal length) lenses have been the route to go, offering much better optics and apertures than the cheap zooms, but now, there are some very nice zoom lenses available that will give you excellent quality as well. There are too many options and systems available to make any specific recommendations, but do your homework. There is a reason why the Nikon 70-300 f4.5-5.6 can be had for $109 and the Nikon 18-200 3.5-5.6 ED IF AF-S DX VR is $679 and the Nikon 70-200 2.8 AF-S VR ED IF is $1,600. All lenses are not created equal.

I understand that everyone is not financially able to spend $1600 on a lens, but there are always many levels in between. There are a couple of very good third party lens manufacturers (Tamron and Sigma) that can also be options.


Anonymous said...

Great points - Lenses are so often overlooked in image quality and a good tripod, if well-cared for, is a one-time investment. If you want to run with the big dogs, you need the tools to do it.

(And perhaps it shoulda been the rule o'wrist!)

CancunCanuck said...

Hey maestro, want to come teach some classes to a poor girl in Cancun? I wish I had the pesos for a good lens, alas I am stuck with my little digi. I do like my camera, for outdoor shots, I just can't seem to get anything decent inside. I guess I have a lot to learn outside of the sunshine! Tripods are great if you have time to set up a shot, but since most of my photos are of a running child, I think it would be lost. :)

Thanks for the advice though, I have been looking at lenses that fit my camera, but they don't fit my budget, KWIM?

Anonymous said...

Way too many people believe it's the camera that takes the picture. I take the picture, damnit! Don't give the camera credit for my hard work and vision! Once, a pro downhill mountain bike racer asked me what camera I was using. I asked him if I bought his bike would I be able to ride like him. Heh heh :-D

I like the speakers to lenses analogy. That's very effective. And I am one of those people who doesn't like carrying around a tripod. For that reason, I love cameras that have built-in image stabilization. Right now I like mountain biking with the Olympus E-System cameras because they're so small and light and they have built-in IS.

Scott Bulger Photography said...

John, you are absolutely right. A tripod is not a practical solution in all circumstances and the new IS and VR lenses have been a great help for those of us that shoot high action highly mobile situations, or if weight is seriously an issue for carrying.

Unknown said...

Agreed. I always recommend to people that they buy a cheap(er) dSLR and more expensive, high-quality lens.

This is a better investment anyways. Good lenses hold their value very well, and can often be sold on ebay after years of use for a few hundred dollars less than you paid. Camera bodies, on the other hand, are semi-disposable since there's always a better generation every two years or so.

Anonymous said...


You hit the nail right on the head here! I hate the comment "Wow, your camera must take great pictures".

In fairness though, we all have to admit that the quality of the camera plays a bigger role then it did in the film days.


Clueless Rebel said...

I once heard a story of a photographer who dined with a famous chef. After dinner the chef was reviewing the work of the photographer and he commented that the photographer must have a really good camera. To which the reply of the photographer was "Yes I do. And you must have really good pans, because dinner was excellent."

Sarah McBride said...

another great post!
I am learning so much about photography just from reading your blog. Thanks for all the tips and helping us newbies improve!!

Ed Spadoni said...

Scott, great blog and a great post. On the subject of slowest possible handheld shutter speed -- I've read that with the crop factors of today's digital camera's, you actually have to compensate with an even faster speed. That is, a 200mm focal length on a 1.5x crop dslr means you need to ideally shoot at about 1/300 sec. But I don't see this consistently. What are your thoughts? Thanks.

Kassy - love the chef/pan story!

Scott Bulger Photography said...

I just want to reiterate that this is only a rule of thumb, thus allowing other variables to come into play and alter it one way or another. Obviously, with a 50mm lens and 1/60th shutter speed, trying to gt a sharp image of a car racing by at 200 mph is not going to fly. The rule of thumb, as designated, applies to stationary objects.

Scott Bulger Photography said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Scott Bulger Photography said...

Ed, excellent question. There is a lot of discussion about this topic. The best article I have read on the subject is here:

Click Here

It's kind of technical, but well written and makes a lot of sense.

Will Michael Photography said...

Amen, brother.

Allen Hughes said...


I don't know why I haven't stopped in before, but I'm glad I finely did.

Great advise and well said. If I may, I'd like to add another step in using a tripod.

I like to set my camera to automatic timer. The reason is that a lot of times the act of clicking the shutter can cause a slight movement.... By setting the automatic timer the camera opens the shutter itself, eliminating that chance.

Scott Bulger Photography said...

Allen, right you are. Personally, I like to use a cable release, but the timer will do the trick as well.

Thanks for finally stopping by.