Visit MPB Visit MPB Visit MPB

Sharp shooter

Matt Grayson explains how to be a sharper shooter with your zoom compact.

Posted: 03/02/2011 - 16:13

Digital compacts are being released with bigger and bigger zooms every year. While this is an exciting new chapter in photographic accessibility, it also has its downfalls, and the main problem we’re faced with is camera shake. Manufacturers install preset modes to combat the issues, but these are generally quick fixes or cheap ways of getting around the problem.

There are a number of precautions you can take to ensure you gain a sharp image every time, without having to rely on the cameras’ systems.

In this article we’ll start from the beginning, working our way through the picture-taking process and ending up with the photo in an editing suite for some additional sharpening to get an image that can cut glass.

The Gorilla Pod makes a useful compact camera support on fences and posts.

Taking control
There are subjects that you are not able to get close to where you have to rely on a telephoto lens. It may be a dangerous and cordoned off animal, or one that’s wary of people or could be a sporting event or distant subject. And in such situations, when using a lens that magnifies, there is always the possibility of incurring camera shake.

For this technique I’m using the Pentax Optio Z10 – a small digital compact with 8Mp and 7x optical zoom, which is 38-266mm in 35mm terms.

Most compacts have some overriding features that enable you to reduce camera shake. It’s usually possible to increase the ISO rating to gain speed. Take care not to adjust this too high or the speed increase will be outweighed by noise that’s introduced. Play safe and stay to ISO400 or below.

Depressing the shutter button by hand can move the camera slightly, even when it’s tripod mounted. If you’re shooting a static subject you could try switching on the self-timer, which is a shutter delay, or use a remote release.

If the subject is moving you could use a continuous focusing system – it is surprising how many compacts have this feature. Moving subjects need a faster shutter speed, so the ISO may need to be increased to compensate.

For still subjects use the selective AF focusing area so that the camera doesn’t focus on an area slightly off from your subject, resulting in out of focus shots.

Despite the size of most LCD viewing screens, the true quality of the image cannot always be seen. If the camera has a zoom magnifier for its preview you can get a decent idea, but always be prepared for a shock when you check the pictures on your computer.

Out and about
A visit to the local wildlife centre meant a chance to put the theory to test.

Armed with the Pentax Optio Z10 and a Gorilla Pod, I ventured out on probably the wettest day of the year to photograph some creatures, from leaf cutting ants to birds of prey at the Tropical
Butterfly House, Wildlife & Falconry Centre in North Anston, Nr Sheffield. After looking around the centre for a suitable subject, I discovered a few Hawks in their covers. I set up the Gorilla Pod by wrapping the individually movable joints around the fence of the enclosure. I fixed the Pentax Optio Z10 to the Gorilla Pod and set the self-timer.

The image came out steady with no camera shake. I would have normally gone into the ISO settings in the main menu to set the ISO to the lowest possible, but on this occasion I purposefully pushed the ISO up to 800 to show an additional technique available during processing.

Unsharp mask lets you fine tune sharpness to get razor sharp results.

Back at the ranch
I uploaded the image to my PC and opened it using Corel Paint Shop Pro X2. You could use Photoshop Elements or Photoshop CS for the same features.

First I will amend my “error” of the high noise. This will often happen if your camera’s ISO is left on Auto, so it’s an easy problem to have occurred.

Go to Adjust and choose Digital Camera Noise removal which opens the image in a separate window to remove the noise. The Image I have has fine detail in the feathers so I don’t want to remove too much noise as this has a softening effect on the image.

The next step is to sharpen the image. Go to Adjust again and scroll down to Unsharp Mask so that you can choose your own level of Sharpening. Practice is the best approach to image sharpening so you can get the threshold to your personal preference. Start off by setting the radius to 3, Strength to 50 and Clipping to 3. Tweak the settings from there and settle on what you think is right.

Adding contrast to the image will bring more definition in the feathers, making the image look more detailed and sharper. Don’t go too mad with contrast. Setting it to a value of around 10 will give you an idea of what it does and you can adjust to your own tastes from there.

Another image-editing trick, to give the picture an illusion of being sharper than it actually is, is to select the background and blur it, keeping the point of interest in focus. It’s merely an optical illusion and shouldn’t be used as a fix, but rather as an enhancement.

Top tips for sharp photos:

  • Use a tripod for extra stability
  • Use the self timer to avoid contact with camera.
  • Get as low an ISO as possible.
  • Be patient.
  • Prepare – use a checklist if necessary.
  • Sharpen using image editor’s Unsharp Mask feature for ultimate control.
  • Contrast will add detail, but be careful.
  • Practice and try new things.

The end result of using camera and editing tools to ensure razor sharp shots from your compact digital camera.

Members photos with related tags: sharp

Add Comment

To leave a comment - Log in to Pentax User or create a new account.