Eric Stoner
Eric Stoner

Eric's professional photographic career spans over 25 years specializing in portraits, weddings and commercial photography using everything from simple lighting to very complex.

The Difference is in the Details: Tips to reduce camera shake for sharper images

October 08, 2013

Last month, my blog post was centered around getting the sharpest images possible. I wrote about many techniques, including the use of a good sturdy tripod and an electronic cable release to defend against camera shake, which commonly cause soft images. I’m going to go into a bit more detail this month and show you how these two items in particular can make a noticeable difference in the fine details.

So let’s talk briefly about tripods, shall we? A sturdy tripod can make a BIG difference especially once you start adding weight to it, like from larger lenses. In many cases, using a tripod is better than not using one, so choose wisely when you’re ready to make the investment. I say the word “investment” because you should expect to pay handsomely for a quality tripod. Inexpensive tripods are generally not designed to carry much weight, but that’s not to say that it won’t work – just keep your expectations low. When I answer questions from users about gear, my stock answer usually is: “it depends,” and this case is no exception. “Should I buy this really expensive tripod or is there one I can ‘get by’ with?” Well the answer is: “it depends on your needs.” If your only use, for example, is to shoot items you’re going to sell online, then don’t spend a lot of money. On the other hand, well, I think you know where I’m going with this! My rule of thumb is that I should plan on investing about as much as I would for an L Series lens. That’s just my benchmark.

So now that you have a decent tripod, let’s set the camera up and take some images. Below is a series of shots I took using a few different techniques for you to compare, side by side. Minor changes in technique can make noticeable differences in fine details. Pay close attention to the differences in sharpness at 200% magnification, from one technique to another.

Ok, here’s my set-up:

I photographed an 8.5x11 page from our Canon EOS System brochure 16 feet away with an EOS 5D Mark III and an EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM lens. My exposure was set at 1/25 at f8. I chose this exposure because camera shake is particularly prevalent at slower shutter speeds like this.

The first shot I made was about as simple as you can get. I put the camera on a tripod, focused and pushed down on the shutter button. Compare this to the second shot where I used a RS-80N3 electronic cable release to eliminate pressing the shutter button, which causes camera shake.

Click on the image below to enlarge

If you don’t own a cable release, you can set your camera timer to a two second delay by pushing the “Drive” button and turning the rear dial until you see the timer icon with a number “2” under it, as shown below. Set your shot up, push the exposure button and remove your hand. This technique will allow the camera to settle before it takes the photo.

The next photo was taken with the cable release while using Live View with Silent Mode 1 (pictured below). This technique has two benefits: first, you are able to see your image on the screen AND you have the ability to magnify the image up to 10X to check for critical focus! To do this, simply push the magnify button located at the top right rear of the camera. This is an amazing tool to ensure your focus is EXACTLY where you want it to be. The second benefit to Live View shooting is that the mirror inside the camera is in the up position while Live View is active, therefore eliminating the “mirror slap” during exposure that can also lead to camera shake.

Click on the image below to enlarge

The only change I made in this next shot was that I switched Silent Mode from Mode 1 to Mode 2. This actually makes a noticeable difference when used with a cable release because movements in the camera are further reduced until the shutter button is released completely.

Click on the image below to enlarge

The last image I shot was simply done using the Mirror Lockup feature (pictured below). This technique works in a similar way to Live View in that the mirror is locked in the UP position during the exposure.

Once activated, it will take two depressions of the shutter button to take the exposure. The first one moves the mirror to the up and locked position and the second press of the button takes the picture. I highly recommend the use of a cable release when doing this to further reduce camera shake.

Click on the image below to enlarge

You be the judge and decide which technique works best for your needs. In my opinion, using Live View in Silent Mode 2 yields the sharpest results.

Keep in mind that when shooting outdoors, the force of wind on your camera can adversely affect sharpness as well. I love that my tripod has a hook on the bottom of the center post so I can hang my camera bag to add weight and further stabilize my rig (see below).

At the end of the day, the goal is to get sharp images! I realize many of these techniques can’t be used for all types of shooting, such as sports, but I’ve shared some tips with you that have the potential for BIG results. So go out and test them yourself and have fun with it!

By the way, in a world of electronic viewing and sharing, don’t forget about the power of the print. You’ll see more detail in a print than you ever will on a screen AND you don’t have to swipe – just ADMIRE and ENJOY!

I hope this has been enlightening for you.

Until next time, happy shooting!

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