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Blurry Bokeh image

Common Beginner Photography Questions

As a begin­ner in pho­tog­ra­phy, you often won­der why a spe­cif­ic image looks the way it does. You maybe notice that only a bit of the sub­ject is in focus, or there is a col­or shift and you don’t know how that hap­pened. Oth­er com­mon ques­tions are around motion blur (mov­ing sub­jects are blur­ry, but sta­tion­ary things are sharp in the image) and cam­era shake blur (every­thing is not sharp with a dis­tinct direc­tion of the trails) or out-of-focus blur (every­thing is blur­ry, but with­out a trail). Anoth­er area of ques­tions are around the bright­ness of the image (too dark — under­ex­posed, or too bright — over­ex­posed).

When we look at the exam­ple images below, I state a ques­tion first, and if you want to get the most out of it, you can then think about the answer before look­ing at my answers. To make it hard­er to cheat, I’ll put the answers fur­ther down. 🙂

How many you can answer?

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1. The background is more blurry than I wanted

An image of a shell with a shallow depth of focus

You saw that love­ly shell; you got real close and took the shot. Only the front bit got sharp. But you want­ed the whole shell sharp!

What should you change the next time?

2. Moving things do not look like they are moving

an image of a helicopter with frozen blades

You got the cam­era out of the bag in time to cap­ture the heli­copter as it was start­ing. But you want­ed the rotor blades to look blur­ry, because they were mov­ing fast. Now it looks like the heli­copter is falling out of the sky!

What should you try next time to sup­port the impres­sion of movement?

3. Everything is sharp, but I only wanted the eyes to be sharp

Image for post
Pho­to by aver­ie woodard on Unsplash

 

You took a por­trait pho­to and noticed lat­er that every­thing is sharp, but this time you were hop­ing for that look where they only get the eyes sharp, like this one here:

 

Image for post

Pho­to by Richard Jaimes on Unsplash

 

How can you achieve this shal­low depth of field (DoF) effect and get only the eyes sharp?

4. My indoor photos look so orangy, what happened?

A christmas tree with orange color cast

At your lat­est Christ­mas gath­er­ing, you took an image of the won­der­ful Christ­mas tree. But when you reviewed your shot, you noticed a dis­tinct orange col­or cast. You remem­bered the col­ors a lot cooler.

Why did the cam­era pick up the col­ors so dif­fer­ent­ly than you per­ceived them? And what can you do next time to cap­ture the col­ors more natural?

5. There is so much grain in the image, what’s going on?

A hillside landscape black & white image with lots of grain

The ques­tion is already in the title.

6. The whole image looks blurry.

Blurry Bokeh image

The image has some­thing to it. Nice bokeh, but that was unin­ten­tion­al. You want­ed to get the lights in focus.

What do you think you have to do to fix that next time?

7. The image is not sharp, and I have these short trails.

An image with motion blurr
What hap­pened here?

Not much sharp in the image. What went wrong here?

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All right, do you feel you have all the answers?

When you read my answers, keep in mind that some­times there is more than one solu­tion. The exer­cise was not about get­ting every­thing right, but to get you think­ing about what cam­era set­tings have which spe­cif­ic effect on the result. You can also do that exer­cise with your own images at home.

Answers:

  1. You have a very shal­low depth of field (DoF) in the image, only a very thin focus plane is sharp. That is nor­mal­ly the case when you have a very large aper­ture (a small f/number), and you have a large mag­ni­fi­ca­tion. Here, you are very close to the sub­ject.
    There are sev­er­al ways to get more DoF and keep the same dis­tance from the sub­ject. You could use an advanced tech­nique called “Focus-Stack­ing”. Or the sim­ple solu­tion would be to stop down, that means you select a small­er aper­ture, that increas­es the DoF, more of the shell would be in focus. Just know that the cam­era selects a slow­er shut­ter speed when you select a small­er aper­ture (less light get­ting in through a small­er open­ing in the lens) to com­pen­sate for a good expo­sure, but with these close-up shots, you prob­a­bly have to use a tri­pod any­way to get a sharp image.
  2. Freez­ing motion in an image hap­pens when you have a very short shut­ter speed (e.g. 1/4000s). To get the rotor blades blur­ry — you can see the effect a bit with the small rotor at the tail — you should increase the time the shut­ter stays open, maybe start with 1150 sec­ond. The blade speed also changes, so you have to exper­i­ment with heli­copter images, they are not the eas­i­est sub­ject to cap­ture.
    When you slow the shut­ter speed, keep in mind that it increas­es the time the light hits the sen­sor, the cam­era now com­pen­sates with a small­er aper­ture to get a cor­rect exposure.
  3. You have the oppo­site sit­u­a­tion as in 1. If you want to have a shal­low DoF, then you need to get clos­er and select a large aper­ture (small f/number)
  4. When you do indoor pho­tog­ra­phy and have arti­fi­cial lights like the Christ­mas tree light­ing, the col­or of the light source can be a lot warmer (more yel­low-orange-red) than nat­ur­al day­light. The cam­era set­ting you want to have a look at is the “White Bal­ance” you can set it to a suit­able set­ting match­ing your envi­ron­ment. Nor­mal­ly you have set­tings for bright sun­light, over­cast, and sev­er­al arti­fi­cial light sources. The top­ic of white bal­ance needs more space to explain, I’ll cov­er that in a future arti­cle.
    For the more advanced: If you shoot your images in RAW for­mat, you can change the white bal­ance in post pro­cess­ing accord­ing to the dom­i­nant light source you had in the image.
  5. That was a mean ques­tion. I just put a more or less ran­dom image of my cat­a­log through a fil­ter of the Nik Col­lec­tion (Sil­ver Efex Pro 2), which cre­at­ed noise in the image to sim­u­late film grain. In the old film days, a fast film (high ISO/ASA) had a more grainy appear­ance, so you had to change film to a slow­er film to get less grainy images.
  6. The focus was way off on some­thing either very close or far away. That can hap­pen quick­ly if you nor­mal­ly shoot in auto-focus mode, and then you switched to man­u­al focus mode with­out notic­ing. In this extreme exam­ple you would have noticed your mis­take, but some­times it is dark and the focus is just a bit off.
    Some­times the cam­era is focus-hunt­ing and can not find enough con­trast in the image to deter­mine where to focus. You can hear the lens try­ing to find focus, that hap­pens often in low-light sit­u­a­tions. If you release the shut­ter before the lens was suc­cess­ful in acquir­ing focus, your sub­ject will be out of focus.
  7. This kind of motion blur hap­pens when you move the cam­era in the time when the shut­ter of the cam­era is still open. Basi­cal­ly a form of cam­era- shake blur. In the image you can see a cir­cu­lar trail, so I must have rotat­ed the cam­era around the lens axis. No clue why I did this, could have been acci­den­tal­ly released.
    To avoid cam­era shake blur, hold the cam­era still. Espe­cial­ly when hav­ing longer shut­ter speeds. The amount of cam­era shake depends on sev­er­al fac­tors. Just hold the cam­era still, and you will be fine. Or use a tri­pod. But with­out a tri­pod, try to select a faster shut­ter speed if you can’t hold the cam­era steady enough.

The top­ics touched sev­er­al con­cepts you might not be famil­iar with: Shut­ter speed, aper­ture, white bal­ance, ISO. I also assumed that you know how to change the dif­fer­ent modes of your cam­era to select shut­ter speed or aper­ture (and let the cam­era cal­cu­late the oth­er, leav­ing ISO alone).

I’ll explain that in more detail in one of the next arti­cles. Stay tuned!

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Hope­ful­ly, you had a bit of fun with the pho­to quiz, and learned some­thing, or at least prac­ticed a bit of men­tal photography.

Have fun tak­ing images!

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Frithjof Moritzen

Photography Club Enthusiast

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