Sharpening Your Images and Balancing Contrast
Pictures that look all right when they're printed at snapshot size can sometimes look blurry when they're enlarged. If your images look out of focus or flat and uninteresting, here are some tips for making them sharper and snappier.
Shooting with a too-slow shutter speed is a common cause of camera movement. For pictures of still subjects, use a shutter speed no slower than 1/30th of a second for handheld shooting. For fast-moving subjects, use the fastest shutter speed possible, usually no slower than 1/250th of a second.
Autofocus is a great tool, but it's not foolproof. If you're shooting with auto-focus, check your viewfinder to make sure the lens has focused exactly where you want the focus of your photograph to be. When shooting with a zoom lens, you might find it easier to adjust the zoom (telephoto, normal, or wideangle) first, then focus the lens. If your lens does not change focus as it zooms, you can focus first at telephoto, then zoom to the composition you want.
Don't take pictures from a moving car, especially if you're driving! Using both knees to steer while shooting is a sure road to an accident, not to mention a great way to create blurry photos due to camera motion and vehicle vibration. If you're the passenger, you can get blurry motion shots this way.
On cloudy days or when you're using slower (ISO 200 or less) film in your camera, it's especially important to keep the camera still when you squeeze the shutter because low light and movement can produce blurry images. Brace your hands or your head against a solid object and breathe slowly as you squeeze (rather than push) the shutter.
FIGURE 13-2 It isn't always possible to get good contrast, especially in shots taken on the run, but as this photo of a child playing at the beach shows, having good lighting conditions makes your job much easier.
If you're using a telephoto lens, remember that the magnification of these lenses will amplify the effects of camera movement.
Unless you're shooting with fast film and fast shutter speeds, count on having to work with some sort of a camera support if you're using especially long telephotos.
Sunny weather or working indoors with exterior scenery visible through a door or window can produce photographs in which the brightness levels of your subject and background vary greatly. Pictures like these are about the contrast in the two areas, not about the subject. If the subject is bright and the background dark, this may not be objectionable unless you've lost too much of the detail in the background. To improve these images, try lessening the contrast by moving the subject into the shade. Or try changing camera position until you find a brighter background that you can place behind the subject. Digital photographers can compensate for overand underexposure by isolating areas of the image and using the dodging and burning tools available in such programs as PhotoShop and Photo-Shop Elements.
Many photographs don't work because the subject doesn't stand out from the background and foreground. Here are some remedies to this problem:
Move the subject into light that is closer in brightness level to the scenery.
Use flash to bring a dark subject (within flash range) toward the brightness level of the scenery.
Change your camera position until you've lined up the subject with a background that better matches it.
Use a longer lens and larger aperture to pop the subject out of the picture.
You must achieve a difference in tone between your subject and the background. If you're shooting black-and-white film, you're limited to making sure there's enough difference in tones so the subject doesn't blend into the background. Color film allows differences in color to separate subject, background, and foreground. Digital photography allows a great deal of control over tonal values and contrast, but it cannot give back highlight detail obliterated by overexposure.