“If nothing ever changed, there’d be no butterflies.”- Unknown.
Taking focused pictures is something every photographer wants, right?
But it’s not as easy to do when you have no idea how to use your camera or how your actions as a photographer can hurt or help the quality of your images. I had to learn about focus the hard way, through lots of blurry and out-of focus pictures that left me scratching my head wondering, “why doesn’t this look right?”
I didn’t know it was “focus” that was problem, I just knew my pictures never looked right to me. They were never clear, clean, or like the vision I imagined them being in my head. But then when I began to focus on my photography and learning how to get better, things began to change.
I say this to say that focus is a subject near and dear to my heart.
If your pictures aren’t looking as clear, crisp, and focused as you’d like, try considering these five things:
1. Do you have poor focus? This sounds obvious, but it’s not really when you, as photographer, have no idea what your desired subject is before taking your shot. Perhaps, unknowingly, you’re focusing on the wrong area when shooting. Or, and this was something it took me forever to learn, perhaps you’re too close to your subject to allow your camera to focus.
Another possibility is that your selected aperture is too high, producing too narrow of a depth of field.
To fix all these problems, take your time when composing your shots. Decide on your subject before shooting, set your focus on that, then shoot.
As you can see, in the above picture, I’m focused on the flower in the forefront. It’s this (focusing intentionally on that single flower) and my aperture that produces the blurring of the background flowers.
2. Has your subject moved? Unless you’re hoping to convey movement in your shots, make sure your shutterspeed is high enough to account for any movement. Generally, when shooting my kids, I try to stick to 1/125 and above. For stationary objects, like flowers, perhaps, you can choose lower shutterspeeds.
3. Is your ISO too high? The better your camera, the better it can manage the grain that inevitably comes with shooting at high ISOs. If your camera is not as great, try to keep your ISO as low as possible. To compensate for the decrease in light, and if possible, make adjustments with your shutterspeed and/or aperture.
4. Did your camera shake? Not as obvious when you’re starting out, but camera shake, either knowingly or unknowingly, can lead to un-focused shots. To fix, be mindful of form when shooting. Use both hands, keep the camera close to your body, and support yourself with some form of solid object, i.e., wall, tree, etc. Or, even better, shoot with a tripod (spoken from a photographer who has only used her tripod like two times in the past three years. 🙂
5. Is it your lens? If you have the money to invest in a good lens, do it, since lens quality can have a very big impact on the crispness of your images. Two years ago, I decided to upgrade from my kit lens to prime lens and I have not looked back. I now only shoot using my prime 1.4 lens because I love that it consistently and easily produces sharp images.
Another factor to consider when it comes to your lens and producing sharp images is cleanliness. Having a clean lens that’s clear of dust and grime is a must for clear and crisp images.
Also, one more thing to consider, if your lens is clean and you’re doing everything else right (see above) and are still not getting focused shots, get your lens professionally checked. It could be that your lens has a mechanical error preventing it from properly focusing.
What are your favorite tips/tricks for ensuring focused pictures?
“Earth laughs in flowers.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
You know what’s funny about me and starting new things? It’s funny that when I start things, or most things, I always have in mind that I will eventually quit them.
“There will be an end to this,” I often tell myself when I commence upon dietary restrictions, writing projects, and anything else that I feel uncertain about the meaning or worth of my efforts. This is why I can’t finish a novel or James Frey’s “a million little pieces” for the life of me.
I usually can’t just flow in murky waters. So what I usually do, when I can, is not commit to treading in these waters at all.
Or, usually, I’ll start with an exit plan in mind. So, for instance, when I said last month that I would be giving up chocolate. With that pronouncement, I already decided in my mind that I would only stay true to this commitment so long as a) I was not given free chocolate cake, b) I got eight hours of sleep, c) I didn’t stumble upon an “easy” chocolate recipe that contained ingredients I actually had in my pantry.
I never did get eight hours of sleep, so that commitment went out the window. Of course.
It is in my nature, I realize, to give myself leeway out of open-ended commitments that I think I can’t, or, rather, don’t want, to live up to. I do this because I take my commitments and life very seriously. I do this because I’ve been conditioned to think in absolutes and certainties. Everything means something. Every hobby must lead to a profession. Every good conversation must lead to a friendship. Every start must have a end, a good one, for me to stay motivated. This is my personality by nature. And it’s why when I don’t live up to my commitments, I feel bad and make excuses to explain, to myself, why I didn’t.
I am saying this now because it’s something that I now recognize as a problem. If you’re always looking for destinations, meaning, stated goals, and certainty, you lose sight of what it means to be alive.
You miss the unexpected joy and sense of relief that comes when you decide in the midst of new and unfamiliar territory that you are not lost, just wandering. And usually in wandering, you’ll find a new way back to where you wanted to go anyway, or you’ll find someplace better than you thought. That’s the joy of wandering.
This year, I’ve willingly wandered, drifted into new things– new fitness classes at the gym, auditions, new writing opportunities– without an exit plan or clear exit sign in sight.
And in doing more of this, old things in my life are beginning to make more sense. Like photography.
People often ask why I “do photography.” And when I buy new camera equipment, I ask myself the same.
I want to say because one day I’ll make money from this hobby, but that’s really a lie.
I think the joy of photography has always been, without me knowing it, the wandering part. Yes, I enjoy taking pictures of my children. But more than that, it’s one of the few things in my adult life that I’ve allowed myself to grow in without a clear goal in mind for the end. The journey itself is my “why.”
This is my life tip that can be applied to new photographers or anyone else listening. Wander in the craft and good things will come.
Knowing what good light looks like matters. But more important than that, especially when you’re starting out and none of that stuff makes sense anyway, is this: To get better at taking pictures, you must be willing to continue on when you aren’t yet taking better pictures.
I never had a plan to continue with photography when I started out four years ago. But I kept with it, through bad pictures and a lack of motivation, because I enjoyed the process. My pictures weren’t great, but I kept going because for once, with photography, this new thing I didn’t understand, my desire to tell my story was greater than my desire to give up.
Ah, the beauty of wandering.
Have you ever started something without a clear goal in mind? What was it and how did “it” end up?
Along with most of the East coast, we’ve been hit by snow.
Lots and lots of snow. More than we’ve received all season.
I’m usually an adult when it comes to snow. I hate it, or I don’t hate it, but I hate being in it. It’s cold and wet and gets in the way of my car pulling out of the driveway.
But my children don’t feel the same way. Like most children who see snow and see its better “half,” they love the snow.
So whenever it does snow, even if only an inch, they beg to go out in it, play in it. “It will be fun,” they say. And I usually don’t believe them but end up outside anyway, usually in my pajamas wrapped beneath my down coat and hopes that this “just be over soon!”
Months before today, I read a book called, “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin. In the book, she documents her year long journey to be happier. One of many, many lessons I took from the book is that part of being happy is sometimes faking happiness. It’s our attitude that sets the precedent for our behaviors, and, thus, our lives. If we live lightly, if we open ourselves up to enjoying the moments we dread, if we decide to lead with happiness..then so our lives will be, happier, light, enjoyable.
I have, over the years, become something of a curmudgeon, not necessarily towards my children, but towards everything and everyone else. I complain about things, things I hate, things that feel uncomfortable, things that make me feel too vulnerable, I’ve realized, because I think that complaining will make me feel better about that said thing.
But, you know what? Complaining only makes you feel worse. It makes you feel unhappy and hard and miserable.
So, today, in the snow, I decided to “fake it.”
I initiated this snow man, which is big, since I usually feign ignorance when my children ask to find accessories and body parts for their created friends in the snow. I faked it until I was able to let go and just enjoy this moment, this snow man, this snow. And…it felt good.
So, about the snow. I think I like it now. I think.
Happy Friday and Valentines all! Stay warm! xo.
Whether you’re celebrating or not, I hope your holidays are as bright as your dreams! See you in the new year! xo.
p.s. I’m now the staff writer at Vista Imaging Group. I’ve started a series for newbie photographers called “Just Clicktastic.”
Check out the most recent posts here:
I often do think of my childhood and my mother in mothering my own children. I am reminded, at times, of the good times, of trips to the park, of a mother who had perfected a French accent to humor us during bath times, and of mud pies made with southern dirt in the back of my childhood home. I think of these things, but often, I am reminded, too, of what I sometimes perceive as her failings.
I know that no mother is perfect, but sometimes, in the midst of beautiful moments in my own mothering journey I think of her, or really the perception I’ve carried of her all these years, and wonder why she did some things the way she did them.
Why did she say that? Why did she do that? What made her feel like that? I wonder this all from my lofty privileged position as spectator to her turn as a mother.
If nothing else, I said I would be different than her, or that’s what I said when I became a mom.
But through years in motherhood, I’ve realized that “difference” from a perception of a human being who was, after all, human, is tough.
I would like my children to not judge me against a standard of perfection, and so I then must learn as an adult to do the same with her.
She was human, after all. In the midst of being a mother, she was a woman who like me cried about losses and failings and struggled with doing this right and uncertainties that only she knew then. As a small spectator, I saw none of that, just myself, my feelings, and her looming existence as my mother.
I am different from her only in that I had her example to mother against and be mindful of. And so, when I take pictures and edit them and see my children and my motherhood in slow motion, it is her, sometimes, that I remember and ask, “What if she had a camera?”
What if instead of film that had to be processed and purchased and a camera that allowed only glimpses of moments in the moment of picture taking…What if she had my camera and could see us and herself and that moment of being a mother who was human, too?
I often feel that photography is one of the greatest gifts I have as a mother and woman.
It’s a gift because through it I am able to tell a story and, in editing, see it again and reflect in seeing it again. I often do reflect in seeing these images again, and on bad days, I decide that, “Maybe things aren’t so bad as they seem.” Maybe I should decide, in this moment, to be happier, more grateful, because as soon as the picture is taken, it’s over. Motherhood is fleeting. Childhood is fleeting. But memories of it all, sensations are not always.
Photography slows this down and gives me reason to slow down and see the best of this time as I will want to grasp it 10 years from now.
I am happier with my camera, and in seeing my motherhood played in a motion that’s slow enough for me to savor and enjoy and be mindful.
I am able to say, and wish of my mother to have said it, too: “This life is good. And for that, I’m thankful.”
In case you’re wondering, here she’s saying, “Mom! No more pictures!”