How Shutter Speed Relates to Focal Length

When you shoot a photo on a bright sunny day at the beach, your camera automatically increases the shutter speed to some very high setting, such as 1/1000 of a second. At a high speed like this, you can take a photo while riding a mechanical bull

Figure 5-16 A tripod helps ensure the best possible shot when photographing under low-light conditions.

Figure 5-16 A tripod helps ensure the best possible shot when photographing under low-light conditions.

and not get a blurred photo. (Of course, people may wonder why you were riding a mechanical bull at the beach.) The point is, at high shutter speeds, the lens is open for such a short period of time that a little hand movement doesn't hurt the image.

When you zoom out with your digital camera, you increase the focal length of your lens. It is important that you understand that greater focal length amplifies any camera movement. Have you ever noticed the photographers along the sidelines of a football game? Most of them have cameras with telephoto lenses that are actually larger than their cameras. Most professional sports photographers use a monopod (a one-legged tripod) that is connected to their lens—not the camera. They need a steady platform because they are shooting at such high magnifications that even tiny movements are greatly magnified by the heavy lens. And they ensure quality shots under many conditions, including low light (see Figure 5-16).

A general rule in photography states that for hand-held shots, the shutter speed should be the reciprocal of the lens length (in millimeters). That means that if you shoot a photo using a 400mm lens, you shouldn't shoot at a shutter speed less than 1/400 of a second. Since your digital camera uses a zoom lens that doesn't have readouts in millimeters, let's rephrase the rule and just say that if your camera is zoomed out to the maximum and your shutter speed is set to a relatively slow speed (less than 1/125 of a second), you should consider stabilizing the camera.

When to Use a Steady Platform

You should consider using a steady platform for the following types of photography:

■ Low-light photography

■ Macro photography

What is a steady platform? It's anything that is steadier than your hand—and that could include almost any inanimate object. The most obvious steady platform associated with photography is the tripod.

Tripods are limiting. They take time to set up and position. Just because you own a tripod doesn't mean you have to use the tripod every time, but as you get used to shooting, you'll learn when to use and not use your tripod to get the best shots.

Benefits of a Good Tripod

Tripods come in all shapes and sizes, from large professional tripods that are sold in parts (tripods and heads) to little tripods that fit into your pocket. If you are thinking about getting a tripod, remember that the big expensive tripods are heavy. The one I use weighs about eight pounds.

That might not sound like much, but after I've lugged it around for about four hours, it feels like it weighs closer to 80 pounds. If you've never owned a tripod, start with an inexpensive, light plastic tripod that you can find at large discount stores. If after using it for a while you think that it is inadequate, try upgrading to a better one.

Alternatives to a Tripod

You don't have to use a tripod to stabilize your camera. You can also use a monopod (which is much lighter and can be used as a walking stick), a beanbag, and even your hat to steady your camera.

Here are some alternative ways to stabilize your camera:

■ Brace one side of your camera against a vertical or horizontal object. If your are near or inside a building, a door jamb works great. Outside, fence rails and benches are my favorites.

■ If your camera has a neck strap, you can loop it around something (a post or your foot) and pull it tight to keep tension on it. This isn't the most stable platform, but it is better than nothing.

■ Some cameras have a feature that takes a fixed number of photos in rapid succession, and then the camera saves the one photo of the set that has the best detail. In my Nikon Coolpix, this is called Best Shot. How does the camera know which one is the best shot? By the size of the JPEG file—JPEG files increase in size as a direct function of the detail in the photo. Lots of sharp detail means a larger file.

Get Paid to Take Digital Photos

Get Paid to Take Digital Photos

Reasonable care has been taken to ensure that the information presented in this book is  accurate. However, the reader should understand that the information provided does not constitute legal, medical or professional advice of any kind.

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