Students sometimes ask why are my pictures blurry? It is really simple, either the camera moved or the object (subject) moved. There maybe times that you want an image to be blurry to express motion. This image of a running doe and fawn was taken on a tripod and the tripod was panned during exposure to add a sense of movement to the image. In most case though, you want to freeze the action of an image to define the ultimate moment of the scene. There are a number of reasons that images are blurry but the most important factor is the movement of the camera during exposure. If the camera moves, the image will blur. I know that most of like to think we are as steady as a rock, but we aren’t.
When shooting with a hand held camera, try leaning against a rail, building or tree to steady your body during exposure. It is actually more difficult to steady the camera when holding it at arms length and using the screen of a digital camera. It is easier to steady yourself while looking through the viewfinder during exposure. The exposure of an image is caused by light, shutter speed and aperture. Aperture is controlled through iris, the smaller the iris the less light strikes the sensor. However, smaller apertures provide an increased depth of field. Make your decision about aperture first. Shutter speed controls the amount of time the shutter is open and letting light strike the sensor. The faster the shutter speeds, the faster the action you can freeze. When photographing sports, you should have a shutter speed of 1/500th of a second minimum. Faster is better for freezing action. Adjust the ISO sensitivity so you can achieve the faster the shutter speeds.
Use a tripod whenever you can. Get to know your tripod, have a relationship with it. I believe a serious photographer needs two tripods. A large sturdy tripod used for scenic views and portraits at the best ISO sensitivity to capture the detail. This may require a slow shutter speed and small aperture and even the use of a cable release to make sure you have no camera movement. The second tripod is a mini tripod that you can pack up in your camera bag. Sometimes I just can’t carry a big tripod with me.
Take the time to know your lenses. Longer focal length lens are great for sports but very heavy. I can steady a 200mm lens at a shutter speed of 1/500th of a second. The more zoomed in you are to your subject, the more difficult it is to steady the camera. Larger lenses have image stabilization systems but they can be very expensive.
Test your own ability at each different shutter speed. Take hand held pictures of an object that doesn’t move. Take a picture at each shutter speed with each lens. Review the images and see which ones are blurry. This will give you a personal guideline of when you need to get out the tripod. Blurred motion can be great way to photograph moving objects but only if you can control it. Take the time to learn your own limitations so you can make creative decisions of when to use slow shutter speeds with bodies in motion.