Advanced Techniques

Five Causes of Blurry Photos

Swirling dogwood blossoms, Yosemite. A deliberately blurry photos.

Swirling dogwood blossoms, Yosemite. I used a slow shutter speed (1/2 second) to deliberately blur the motion of these dogwood blossoms, but usually I’m trying to make my photos as sharp as possible.

It’s always disappointing to find out that one of your photos isn’t sharp – especially if it’s an image you like (and you weren’t trying to deliberately blur the image). Yet we all make mistakes. Even professionals like me sometimes take unintentionally blurry photos (as you’ll see below!). But after you’ve swallowed your disappointment, it’s important to figure out why the image is soft so that you don’t make the same mistake again.

There are basically five causes of blurry photos: camera movement, subject movement, missed focus, insufficient depth of field, and lens softness.


The January 31st Lunar Eclipse

Moon's Path: Lunar eclipse sequence, April 14th and 15th, Trona Pinnacles, CA, USA

Lunar eclipse sequence, April 14th and 15th, 2014, Trona Pinnacles, CA, USA

In case you haven’t heard, there’s a total lunar eclipse coming up on January 31st. The total eclipse will be visible in central and western North America, Australia, and much of Asia. It will also be a “blue moon,” (the second full moon of the month), and a “supermoon,” (with the moon closer to the earth than normal, so it will look slightly larger). This page shows where the eclipse will be visible, as well as the timing of the event.

In North America the eclipse will occur as the moon is setting in the west just before sunrise. The further west you go, the higher the moon will be during totality, and the longer the eclipse sequence you can see. People in the mountain states should be able to see the entire one hour and sixteen minutes of totality, while those of you in the northwest could see (with clear skies) all of totality plus all of the partial eclipse phase afterwards. Unfortunately, the total eclipse will not be visible on the east coast of the U.S. and Canada.


Why F/16?

Late-October aspens near Silver Lake, June Lake Loop, Inyo NF, CA, USA

Late-October aspens near Silver Lake, June Lake Loop, Inyo NF, CA, USA. I used f/16 to get everything in focus in this 2008 photograph from the eastern Sierra. (The shutter speed was 1/6th second, the ISO 400.)

I sometimes post my camera settings here on the blog, and I’ve had many people ask me why I often use f/16. Is that the sharpest aperture on my lens? (No.) Don’t you get diffraction at f/16? (A little bit.) Is it for depth of field? (Bingo!)

As many of you know, most lenses are sharpest at middle apertures – generally around f/5.6 to f/11, depending on the lens.

Better lenses will perform decently at wide apertures like f/2.8 or f/4, but usually the corners are softer compared to the middle apertures. On the other end of the spectrum, at smaller apertures diffraction causes all lenses to get softer over the entire image (not just the corners).


Eclipse Tips

Sequence showing the annular solar eclipse, May 20th, 2012, from Manzanita Lake, Lassen Volcanic NP neutral-density filter

Sequence showing the annular solar eclipse, May 20th, 2012, from Manzanita Lake, Lassen Volcanic NP

The total solar eclipse in the United States is just over a week away (August 21st), and eclipse mania is sweeping the nation. There are many, many articles on the internet describing how to photograph the eclipse (this one by Todd Vorenkamp on the B&H website is the best I’ve found), but I’ll try to cover some topics that haven’t been discussed much elsewhere.


Focusing in the Dark

Lunar rainbow from Cook's Meadow, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Lunar rainbow from Cook’s Meadow, Yosemite; from June, 2011, a very wet year

Lunar Rainbows and the Milky Way

There will be a full moon this Saturday, and I’m sure many photographers will be heading to Yosemite to photograph the lunar rainbow. Astronomer and “Celestial Sleuth” Don Olson has updated his website to include predictions for when the moonbow will appear on Upper Yosemite Fall from Cook’s Meadow, in addition to his previous predictions for Lower Yosemite Fall.

I think there should be enough spray to make the rainbow visible on Upper Yosemite Fall this month, but probably not in June, when there will be less spray. The Lower Yosemite Fall bridge might work in June, because you don’t need as much water to see a rainbow from that spot, but I expect the bridge will be rather wet this month, which will make it hard to keep spray off the front of your lens. Of course the weather always plays a role, and there are showers in the forecast for this Friday and Saturday nights, so the moonlight might get blocked by clouds. But if you want to try your hand at either location, here are some tips for photographing lunar rainbows.

This is also the beginning of Milky Way season here in the northern hemisphere. The brightest part of the Milky Way can now be seen rising just after 10:30 p.m. here in central California, and will be visible in the evening sky through September.


May Showers

Spring sunrise, Gates of the Valley, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Spring sunrise, Gates of the Valley, Yosemite, Sunday morning

First, to my subscribers, thanks for your understanding about the email glitches yesterday. I really appreciate all the supportive emails so many people sent. Your kind words turned a frustrating day into a great one.

I haven’t posted anything new on the blog for awhile because I was teaching a workshop, and then working on our new website. The new site is still a bit of a work in progress, so if you find any broken links or other issues please let me know. But the new site better integrates the blog with the other content, makes it easier to add and update portfolios, and will work much better with phones and tablets, so I hope it will be a better experience for everyone.

Meanwhile we had a great workshop, with flowing waterfalls, fresh spring greenery, dogwoods, and some interesting weather and clouds. And the cool, showery spring weather has continued, which I love. I’m not ready for the summer heat, and always happy to have clouds and mist to photograph.