In this multi-part Tip of the Week series, I discuss many ways photographers can attain the sharpest images possible. Factors that impact a photo’s sharpness include proper use of a stable tripod, the working aperture, what shutter speed was used in combination with the working aperture, the focal length of the lens, the ISO and how much ambient light was there when the image was made. Check last week’s tip for an in-depth tutorial on tripods.
As sturdy as a tripod can be, if it moves or shakes when a picture is taken, the photo will be soft. A cable release prevents the transfer of movement from the shutter finger to the camera body. The shutter is tripped electronically or, if you have an old camera, mechanically. Mechanical releases screw into the threaded shutter release button while electronic ones fit into a separate socket. Alternative ways to trip the shutter and not have to touch the camera are via the self-timer or a remote release. The self timer allows sharper images to be made in that the movement dissipates prior to the opening of the shutter. Although a bit pricey, a remote release triggered by radio or infrared waves also triggers the camera without touching the shutter.
Mirror lock-up is a feature I wouldn’t want to be without. I use it with long lenses, when I make macro images and when the slapping of the mirror may impact sharpness. Macro and long lenses both magnify the subject. As magnification increases, poor technique becomes more evident. Specifically needed apertures often necessitate shutter speeds between 1/2 and 1/60th of a second. These speeds are notorious for causing vibration due to mirror slap. To alleviate this, lock up the mirror and the slap is eliminated. This keeps the camera rock solid during the exposure.
When a camera’s shutter is released, the mirror flips up and then returns to its set position. This movement, be it ever so slight, sets the camera in motion and causes the photo to be soft. Shutter speeds greater than 1/60th and less than 1/2 a second aren’t impacted as heavily. The ratio of time the motion occurs relative to the amount of time the shutter is open is less. If you don’t have mirror lock-up, hang your camera bag from the tripod as the extra weight provides stability.
Filters are a great asset, yet they can also be a nemesis. They’re frequently changed, which makes them susceptible to fingerprints, smudges, dirt and dust. Before every shoot, do a thorough cleaning of both sides. Concerning filters, photographers can be fickle. We spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on a lens yet try to save a few bucks and purchase a cheap filter. Cheap glass translates to increased chances of flare. Don’t skimp on filters. Budget good ones into the price of the lens.