Everybody with a camera likes to think they are suitable to be a pro photographer. “Mistakes? Not me!”, is usually the reaction to that question. And yet, I see so many people taking pictures that could have been so much better… If only they were taken with a little bit of thinking *before* the shot. Let’s take the example of a wildlife shooter (pro/beginner/anything goes). The idea of shooting wildlife has one drawback that is that you cannot direct your models like a fashion photographer. If you try to direct anything (say: a deer), you will lose your shot instead of getting a better one. So what settings will you use? High shutter speed, wide open aperture and high ISO. At least all the pics will be sharp, right?
Not so much. The high shutter speed may give you frozen wings on a bird in flight, but it requires a high(er) ISO to work on overcast days. High ISO means noise. Unless you have a pro camera like a Canon 5D Mk IV or a Nikon D5 (I forget many more), that noise is going to show, one way or another. People reading my blog know that I use Adobe Lightroom for everything. Including noise reduction (see here for some early tests). I shoot with a six year old Nikon D7100. At the time its ISO performance was one of the bets on the market for prosumer cameras. Today, I see way too much noise creeping into my low-light shots. Lightroom helps me get rid of most of it, but still… something leaves to be desired. Until I started looking at my ISO. To get decent (read salvageable) shots, my ISO needs to stay below 3200. Anything above that and it’s for “art”.
Once Lightroom has removed the noise, the pictures are much cleaner, but many tiny details are also gone. That’s the trade-off with software noise reduction. It tends to kill tiny details along with the noise. So, the natural reaction is to lower the ISO and shoot with longer shutter speeds. Remember that I am already shooting with the widest aperture, so I can’t go that route. Lower ISO makes better quality pictures. But also shakier ones. With my current setup I have almost given up shooting birds in flight on overcast days.
But overcast days are wonderful for landscape shots, and I love doing landscapes. I’m not the bossy type, and landscapes don’t need directing, so that’s a win-win for me. I take beautiful landscapes, even if I say so myself. Yet when I look at my landscapes, they often leave something to be desired.
A low ISO of 100 is great, shutter speeds around 1/50s and an aperture of around f/8 and everything should be great, right? Well, not so much. The “1 over the focal length” rule tells me that shooting at 10mm I should be able to get away with shooting at 1/10s without motion blur doesn’t do it for me. A 1/10s speed warrants a tripod for me. With some Image Stabilisation or VR I can get away with handholding at 1/15s but 1/10 seems to cross the limit. So, a tripod it is, perfectly stable and just the right height. No need for the centre column to be extended, just perfect.
Until I started pixel peeping ( looking at sharpness at 1:1 ratio). I noticed that even with a tripod my pictures were somewhat “soft”. Not enough to be noticed even in print, but still, this was nagging me to no end. Was there no way to get sharp shots for me? I might as well abandon photography!
But I don’t like to abandon anything.
I decided to add a cheap remote trigger to my setup. My infrared remote setup on this camera is kind of cumbersome, so a wired trigger is way easier to set up. Now my shots *are* sharp.
I guess that overestimating ones capabilities of keeping a camera steady is part of a problem that many photographers have. I see way too many pictures that could have been so much sharper if only they had used some stabilisation techniques in combination with a remote shutter.
The lessons? Don’t overestimate your own stability, use a tripod and don’t overdo it on high ISO .