How to Take Sharp Photos

Ever return home from an epic day of adventure filled with amazing photo-ops only to download the images onto the computer and realize your photographs don’t appear sharp? Unfortunately, that has happened to me more times than I’d care to admit. You’d think by now with all the photographs that I take, I’d know better.

mountain reflections in a lake Grand Teton National Park, WY

Making our photographs sharp, clean and crisp is something most of us want, but isn’t always easily achieved. Camera shake, subject movement, and poor focus are usually the main reasons behind poor image quality.

So, let’s talk about some ideas to help capture sharper photographs.

6 tips for beginners to take sharper photos.

1. Is it me or the camera?

The first thing we need to consider is our vision. When was the last time you had your vision checked? Oh, how embarrassing to have learned this lesson the hard way. Amazing how much sharper my images appear with new glasses.ūü§ď Or consider the resolution on your computer screen. Computer screens can have a huge impact on how our images are displayed. So, let’s make sure it’s the actual photograph that isn’t sharp and not our vision or computer screen. Have someone else review your images and then check the images on different devices.

2. Holding the camera steady.

Camera shake is a common reason for blurred photos. While the best way to tackle camera shake is to use a tripod, there are times and situations where using one isn’t always possible … and then there’s lazy ole me who usually leaves the tripod at home. But there are other options such as holding your camera with both hands, keeping the camera close to your body, and using a wall, tree, or another solid object for support, all of which, can help steady and minimize shake. Also, be sure your image stabilization is turned on.

great blue heron

3. Make sure the equipment is clean.

Make sure your lens and sensor are clean of any dirt and dust. Eliminating smudges, dust, and grime can impact your photographs.

4. Exposure Triangle

Understanding the exposure triangle is huge; ISO, Aperture, Shutter Speed. The first thing we need to think about in our quest for sharp photos is the shutter speed we select. I’d like to think the camera gets it right when we shoot in auto, but that isn’t always the case. Plus, if we want to improve our photography skills, we really do need to move beyond auto.¬† Remember, the faster the shutter speed, the less impact camera shake will have on our image and the better chance of freezing any movement. But we still need to think about aperture and ISO.

Aperture impacts the depth of field, the range that is in focus in our image. Decreasing the aperture to F11 will increase the depth of field meaning that both close and distant objects will be in focus. By doing the opposite and moving your aperture to F2.8, we’ll need to be more exact where we focus. With a large aperture, only our subject will be in focus.

petrified wood

ISO – When I think back to the era of film photography, ISO was directly correlated to the speed of the film loaded in our cameras. I still think of it that way. To achieve the sharpest and most crisp image, shooting with an ISO of 100 or 200 is ideal, but lighting conditions may not always be ideal. We’ll need lots of light to shoot with an ISO of 100.

ISO has a direct impact on the noise and grain of our images. If we move up to an ISO of 1000, we’ll be able to use faster shutter speeds and a smaller aperture but we’ll suffer by increasing the noise and decreasing crispness in our photos. Depending upon our camera and how we intend to use the photograph, we can usually get away with using an ISO of up to 400 or even 800 without too much noise. A good quality DSLR/Mirrorless can easily go up to an ISO of 3200 or more. My Panasonic FZ300 is good up to 400 and then noise really starts to set in and I lose the sharpness to the image. Each camera is different which leads me into the next tip.

5. Sweet Spot

#phototips, #photographytips, #cameratips, #photography, #travel, #howto, #beginnersguidetophotographyCameras and lenses have spots in their aperture or zoom ranges that are sharper than others. In many cases, this ‚Äėsweet spot‚Äô is one or two stops from the maximum aperture or zoom. So instead of shooting with your lens wide open (ie where the numbers are smallest) pull it back a stop or two and you might find you get a little more clarity in your shots.

The same with zoom lenses. I know with my Point & Shoot as well as my Bridge camera, I don’t shoot with the lens zoomed in or out all the way and I also know F4 is my FZ300’s sweet spot (F8 equivalent to a DSLR). It just takes some trial and error to get to really know and understand your equipment.

6. Check focus

Always check what part of the image is in focus before hitting the shutter. Consider setting the camera to one autofocus point instead of several. This is especially important when shooting wildlife or people. Also, depth of field is something we need to consider. A large aperture like F2.8 will usually have only one autofocus point in focus versus a small aperture like F11 will have several of the autofocus points in focus.

Final thoughts

Practice, practice, practice! And remember, photography isn’t a science. It’s a creative art of expression. And in the end, what matters most about an image is how it makes YOU feel and the memories that photo evokes within you.

Happy shooting! ūüď∑

solitude

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How to Pick the Perfect RV

How do you pick the perfect RV for your personal needs? I’m not sure there’s an easy answer.

But before we get into the meat of the post, let me take a step back …. a few weeks ago my daughter wanted me to meet the parents of one of her friends. You see, these folks were contemplating selling their house and moving into an RV full-time, but didn’t know the first thing about RVing …. total newbies.

on the road againAfter a three-hour luncheon, I had inundated this couple with so much information that their heads were spinning. To make a long story short, eventually, I recommended that they rent at least one RV.¬†They wouldn’t have to travel far, just spend a couple of nights in a nearby state park and test things out. Figure out what they liked, didn’t like, and how they felt about the overall RV experience.

RVing is not for everyone, and buying the wrong RV can be a very costly endeavor. Remember, RVs are a depreciating asset. It’s really easy to get caught up in all the pretty bells, horns, and whistles on an RV Dealership lot, especially with an encouraging salesperson eager to spend your money, only to walk away with something that doesn’t fit¬†your personal goals and will lead to unhappy travels.

Try before you buy

An RV is a hefty investment. And, like any good consumer, you should do your research before investing in one. While RVs offer a freer, more fulfilled lifestyle, they can also be a significant strain on your bank account. If you purchase one frivolously, it could turn out to be a nightmare of an expense that you’ll be paying off for many years to come. Thankfully, renting an RV before you commit is a great way to find out if ownership is right for you.

classes o RV's

Various ways to rent an RV

More than 9 million Americans own RVs. More people are buying RVs today than ever before, but sadly,¬†roughly 90% of RVs sit unused for most of the year. The RV’s gather dust while ownership costs accumulate. A peer-to-peer rental networks like RV share.com or Outdoorsy.com can help owners and renters alike. Owners can rent out their RVs and supplement their income, and renters get to try before they buy.

RVing in Moab Utah

Considerations

You wouldn‚Äôt buy a house without making sure it met your needs first, would you? Therefore, it’s really important you do your research when buying an RV. Considering that some RVs can cost as much as a house or more, it makes sense to rent an RV first. Here‚Äôs why:

‚óŹ Renting an RV isn‚Äôt difficult or expensive. Depending on the type of RV you rent, you can find rates starting at $80 per day. It‚Äôs a small price to pay for the experience.

Grand Tetons National Park‚óŹ You‚Äôll start learning to see through the eyes of an RV’er. Whether you‚Äôre considering buying an RV to live in or to use for weekend camping, you‚Äôll need to know how to downsize and prioritize. Renting an RV for a few days will help you change your perspective and learn how to pack for RV living.

‚óŹ You‚Äôll learn a lot about how RVs work. This is knowledge you absolutely must have if you want to buy an RV. You need to know how to dump and clean the tanks, maintain the batteries, make minor repairs to appliances, use the slide outs and leveling jacks, and much more. Even a short weekend RV rental will enlighten you to the necessary skills you need to own an RV.

‚óŹ You‚Äôll figure out which type of RV is best for you. Can you imagine spending thousands of dollars on an RV, only to find out it‚Äôs too difficult to drive or too small to fit your family? ¬†By renting an RV, you‚Äôll get to try out a variety of different types and sizes, so you can determine what you like and don‚Äôt like.

‚óŹ You‚Äôll get some driving (and lifestyle) practice. Traveling in an RV is a skill in and of itself. You need to plan your routes and campground stays carefully; but you also need to be able to adapt to changes quickly. Taking a road trip in a rented RV will teach you how to be organized and prepared, and how to think on your feet.

RVing Dillon Colorado

How to Choose the Right RV to Rent

Before you rent, you should narrow down your list of potential RVs. There are millions of different RVs out there, each with their own features, floor plans, and price points. Ask yourself the following questions to help you find some good rental candidates:

‚óŹ Would you rather tow or drive your RV? Towables are more affordable, roomier, and can be left at the campground if you need to run into town for errands. On the other hand, motorized RVs are much easier to drive, and thus more comfortable for many.

Steamboat Lake Colorado‚óŹ How many people will travel with you? Small trailers and Class B vans are perfect for two people, plus they‚Äôre affordable and easy to drive.

Mid-sized RVs, usually between 25 to 30 feet, are good for three or four people. Anything over 35 feet in length is considered large and good for big families or if a couple is considering living in the RV full-time.

‚óŹ How important is privacy to you? RVs with separate bunks and bedrooms (like Class C‚Äôs and large Fifth Wheels) give everyone their own personal space. If privacy isn‚Äôt an issue, convertible dinettes and sofa beds might be enough.

‚óŹ Do you plan on dry camping a lot, or do you prefer campground stays? Maybe you’re not sure. If you like the idea of camping under the stars and away from the crowds, you‚Äôll want an RV that‚Äôs adequately equipped for boondocking. Features like solar panels, large holding tanks, and a good-sized generator are key.

‚óŹ Finally, how do you plan on paying for your RV? Generally, you won‚Äôt be able to finance an RV that‚Äôs 15 years old or older. So, while older RVs are more affordable, you‚Äôll need to either pay in cash or take out a personal loan to buy one. New RVs can be financed, but can cost close to $100,000 or more. If you‚Äôre looking for a middle-ground, look for RVs that are about 10 years old and come with financing. But keep in mind, some private RV parks have RV age restrictions. Usually the cutoff is around 10 years old. The park will want to make sure your RV still looks good before guaranteeing a site.

RVing in Moab Utah

Once you’ve narrowed down your list, start looking for two or three different RVs to try out. Experiment with different types of floor plans and features. Maybe you test out a large Class A with slide outs one weekend, then rent a mid-sized Class C the next. This way, you’ll get a sense of how it feels to drive different types of RVs and how well the layouts suit your needs.

Hit the road and explore

RVing is a great way to travel and see the country, but the lifestyle isn’t for everyone. I, personally, can’t imagine traveling any other way. Have you ever rented an RV to test out the RVing adventure? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

RVing Grand Tetons National Park

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Embracing Photography Failure

When I started this¬†blog¬†five years¬†ago, I was sharing photographs that were shot with a $79 Kodak digital point and shoot camera.¬† I didn’t know anything about photo editing or even that the photographs needed to be edited.¬† What came out of the camera got shared on the blog … as is.

great blue heron

Like any newbie blogger, I was excited to get that first follow, that first like, and of course, that first comment.  As the months passed, I eagerly continued writing posts filled with photographs.  The comments and followers increased and I developed friendships, friendships that continue to this day.

sandOne day, I received a message.  An email message from a fellow blogger?  Oh, how exciting, I thought!

That¬†excitement was short-lived as¬†I read … “If you’re going to post pictures on your blog, the least you could do is a little photo editing.¬† There’s no excuse for sharing a photograph with a crooked horizon especially since there’s free editing software like Picasa that’ll fix it in a second.¬†

Oh and quit posting the photos so little.¬† If you’re going to share photos, then share photos so we can see them.¬† Don’t expect readers to click to enlarge because they won’t.¬† Nobody has time for that.¬†

Aside from the poor pictures, nice blog“.

whooping cranesAll righty then …. I was heartbroken, mortified, and embarrassed.¬† How is it I was capable of building award-winning custom homes from conception to completion, and yet I knew nothing¬†about photo editing?

Quite frankly, my computer/technology skills¬†were basic at best, which drove¬†my business accountant crazy ūü§ď

Old school film seemed simple;  snap a bunch of pictures until the roll of film was full then take it to the drugstore to get it developed. Botta bing, botta boom!

poor photograph
FAIL – nice color, relatively sharp, but I didn’t keep panning and thus cut off his head

That message gnawed at me.  Editing?  Hmm!  Google and I became well acquainted.  Picasa was downloaded.  I started following blogs that focused on photography, along with all the RVing blogs I already followed.  As our RV travels increased, so did the photo-taking AND sharing.  A slow and steady photographic evolution morphed.

Great Blue Heron
Better РGreat Blue Heron     ISO 100     F4     1/800       56.9mm  (35mm equivalent 312mm)

I’ve been humbled by many of¬†your¬†complimentary comments¬†lately¬†about my photography.¬† Through A LOT of trial and error, I do feel¬†it has¬†improved as¬†have my editing skills, but the compliments and questions¬†still surprise me.¬† I consider myself a novice, a beginner, a work in progress when it comes to photography.

With that said, I thought I’d share a little behind the scenes, or shall I say, behind the lens with you all, and show you¬†a few¬†of my photo fails and successes…. a¬†post about¬†what works for me, using simple and inexpensive camera gear.

ducks in-flight
Camera set on ‘shutter priority’.¬† ISO 200¬† F4.5¬†¬† 1/1600¬†¬† 54.5mm (35mm equivalent= 305mm)

I’m still a comedy of errors behind the lens, and fully embrace my tried and true method of ‘point and pray’ style of photography.¬† So this isn’t a detailed ‘how-to’ post.¬† And if you consider yourself an accomplished photographer, I always welcome critique cormorantand recommendations.

I’m actually grateful for that critical email message …. well, maybe ūüėČ

I’ve gone through the camera envy stage, and still do.¬†¬†When I see¬†amazing images on a blog post, I’ll ask the¬†blogger about their camera gear thinking if I use what they’re using my photographs will improve.

Or maybe if I spend more money on camera gear, I’ll capture better images.¬†¬†¬†We all know this isn’t necessarily¬†true!¬† We’ve all¬†seen stunning photographs taken with an iPhone and some very poor¬†photos taken with a DSLR.

Therefore, camera choice is personal, and the best camera to have, is the camera that you carry?Pelican

So what camera(s) do I¬†carry?¬† I¬†predominantly¬†use what’s referred to as a “Bridge” camera.¬† A bridge camera is more than a Point and Shoot, but not quite a DSLR.¬† Thus, a bridge between the two.¬†¬† There’s no lens changing with a bridge camera but¬†there are a lot of¬†customizing options.¬† I have a whole¬†page dedicated to cameras¬†if you’d like more detailed information.¬† I realize, whatever¬†camera I use, it’s important to learn how to¬†operate the equipment and know its capabilities and limitations.

shore birds
FAIL – I set camera on ‘program’ mode. Totally wrong setting for moving subject.¬† ¬†ISO 400¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† F4.0
shutter  1/100   causing a blurry mess         55.7mm (35mm equivalent 310mm)     No cropping
shore birds
Moderate FAIL РISO 400   F4.0    shutter 1/250    still too slow for moving subject    30.1mm (35mm = 167mm)shore birds different day   ISO 100   F4.5     shutter 1/1000      70.5mm (35mm equivalent 392mm)        No cropping

The built-in zoom on my Panasonic is marketed as a 25-600mm lens which allows me to shoot a wide-angle landscape image one minute and then zoom in on wildlife within seconds.¬† I love this flexibility, but it does have its drawbacks.¬† The quality of the photograph will never be on par with a DSLR and the crop factor is limiting.¬† It’s all about resolution, pixels, and sensor size.

roseate

 

I’ve¬†used this camera for three years and have learned its strengths AND its weaknesses and I know when I zoom in to that 600mm capability, I will lose image quality.¬† I also know its aperture sweet spot is F4.0 and it’s best not to take the ISO over 400.¬† There are also times it has trouble focusing,

heron
FAIL – even though the heron is in the center of the photo and¬† camera was set to a ‘center’ focal point,¬† camera had trouble focusing on the heron with all the vegetation ¬†ūüėí¬† It’s the camera, not me!¬†¬†Panny and I have been at odds lately!¬†¬†¬† ISO 100¬†¬†¬† F2.8 (even at F4.0 camera had difficulty focusing)¬†¬†¬† ¬†1/800¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† 107.8mm (592mm)
egret
ISO 100    F5.0    1/1600       108mm (600mm)    Fail on placement of Watermark. Not thrilled with composition!

How close am I to the birds and what lens am I using?¬† Hmm!¬† I have no clue on actual distance but I can share lens distance.¬†¬† Since I’m using a bridge camera, there’s no¬†specific lens to talk about, but I can share an equivalence to a DSLR.¬† If you note the info on each photo, I’ve shared the mm number.

Since I have a cropped sensor camera, the number in parentheses is the equivalent if using a full-frame camera.¬† If you don’t understand sensor size or why my camera or an iPhone will¬†never capture the image quality of a DSLR, here’s an enlightening article that might clarify.

bird photography

How do I capture birds in motion?¬†¬†For a Point and Shoot, I set the camera to the “sports” setting.¬† My little Sony P&S doesn’t offer¬†a sport setting¬†but it does have a “pet” setting that does ok.¬†Then set the camera on “burst” mode.

Multiple shots taken spoonbillat one time is key, but note,¬†point and shoot cameras can¬†be slow to process multiple shots and take a few seconds to recover and be¬†ready to snap again.¬† I’ll admit, I rarely use¬†the¬†Sony P&S for birds. Too challenging.

For my bridge camera, I prefer to set the camera on “shutter priority”.¬† I’ve tried using the “sports” setting and “aperture priority”, but wasn’t pleased with the results.¬† Every camera and user¬†is different.

Because I’ve photographed so many birds with my Panasonic, I have a pretty good handle on how fast my shutter needs to be for specific birds.¬†¬† For example; cranes and herons in-flight, the shutter¬†can be as low as 1/800 but for ducks, I need at¬†least 1/1600.¬† And I always¬†have the camera set on “burst” mode, taking at least three shots at a time.

whooping crane

Yes, I do delete a lot of photographs, and I’m ok with that.¬† I also set the camera on continuous focus (AFC) and switch back and forth between a center focus point¬†versus multiple focus points.

cormorant
Cormorant¬† –¬† ISO 200¬†¬†¬† F4¬†¬†¬†¬† 1/800¬†¬†¬†¬† 46.5mm¬† (35 equivalent 290mm)

If my subject is holding still or I’m shooting landscapes, I’ll alternate between the IA (intelligent auto) and P (program) settings.¬† I do acknowledge that the camera can oftentimes be smarter than me.¬† Thus, I never feel badly using the camera in full auto mode.

Killdeer

Whenever I’m photographing wildlife, I take a ton of photographs.¬† Remember, digital photography¬†is free.¬†So why not shoot away! ¬†It’s not uncommon for me to shoot 300 plus photographs¬†in a day,¬†and if the birding is really good, I might shoot as many as 1,000.¬† Out of those images, I¬†expect to¬†like¬†maybe 25.¬† By the way, I only shoot that volume of¬†photographs when it comes to wildlife.

sunrise
Camera set on Auto – unprocessed, right out of the camera. ¬†I still can’t hold my camera straight!
sunrise
exact same photo, but OVER processed for fun!

Photo processing РThis past January, I finally graduated in the editing department.  I jumped from Picasa to Photoshop Lightroom.  I know some folks think processing/editing is somehow trickery, but processing is necessary for optimal imagery.

It’s no different from film.¬† The roll of film was processed and pictures were developed from the negatives.¬† You wouldn’t walk around sharing the negatives.¬†¬†It’s the same with Lightroom or any other photo editing program.

Some folks like to over process a photograph for dramatic effect.¬† Most of the time, I try to keep the colors in my¬†photos to as close to what I see, to reality.¬† However, even Ansel Adams¬†played around with developing/processing.¬† It’s just another way to let the creative juices flow.

sunrise
image¬†right out of camera – no processing.¬† I finally activated the “grid lines” on¬†my camera to assist me¬†in achieving a straight horizon.¬† You’d think by now, I could hold my camera level ūüėí
bird in-flight
Same image processed; a little cropping & color adjusting. Is the horizon now slanting the other way? Geez!

Lately, I’ve been shooting more purposely.¬† You know, thinking about composition, accessing settings, and striving for a¬†compelling image.

All I can say to that is the delete black bellied whistling ducksbutton is working in overdrive and the fails far outweigh the wins more than ever before.¬† Ah, but isn’t that part of the fun and challenge of photography?

Hmm, maybe I’ll return to that ‘point and pray’ method¬† ūüėĄ

But the big question is always, “Are we having fun yet?” You bet I am, and my recommendation is whatever camera you’re using, whether you process or not, keep posting.¬† Don’t let anyone derail your creativity.

Cheers to sharing photographs – the good, the bad, and all the in-betweens!

pair of great blue herons
This is the same image as the first image in this post only cropped differently.

Tony Northrup’s DSLR Book: How to Create Stunning Digital Photography

Panasonic LUMIX DMC-FZ300K