Today we are going to address some questions from a friend in Bakersfield. Thanks Linda!

Q: Why does it take so long for my camera to fire when I push the button?

A: Digital cameras have a nasty little problem with slow shutter release times. From the time you “push the button” until the shutter actual fires can vary, but it seems like it takes forever.

Part of the problem is that people do not give the camera time to focus. Even film point and shoot cameras need time to focus before the shutter is released. To speed up that process, push the shutter release button halfway down to focus and then hold it until you are ready to take the picture.

For example, you have the whole family lined up for a candid portrait. Joey is messing around, Suzy is poking little Sam and Mom has her eyes crossed. To get everybody on the same page and give yourself time to focus, have everyone close their eyes. Push the shutter release button halfway down to focus and then tell everyone to open their eyes and giggle, say cheese, whatever to make them smile. As soon as they do that, push the release all the way down and voila! portrait. The release time will still be slightly longer than a film camera but that is just one of the oddities of digital cameras. You need to be aware of that and soon it will become second nature.

Q: Why do my pictures come out fuzzy?

A: There are many reasons your digital images may be coming out fuzzy. You may be trying to shoot too fast (see above) and the camera hasn’t had time to focus. You may be trying to handhold the camera in a low light situation and the camera is moving during the exposure. Or you just may be not holding the camera still enough, even in good light.

If you get good images some of the time and poor ones other times, it is probably something you are doing. If you never get images that are in focus, then there could be something wrong with your camera.

One of the drawbacks of having a lightweight little camera is they are hard to hold steady. Many people pull the camera away from their eyes the instant the shutter starts to fire. Not realizing that it takes time for the camera to complete the exposure. So after you make an image, hold still just an instant longer to make sure you are not ruining the picture.

Brace yourself against something, even if it is just your knees. If you sit down to take a low level photo, brace both of your elbows on your knees to hold your arms and camera steady. If you are standing and there isn’t anything to lean against, brace your elbows against your sides, move your legs apart, one in front of the other, take in a deep breath, let it out and then release the shutter. In essence you become the tripod except you only have two legs.

I see a lot of people holding the camera way out in front of them to see the LED screen when shooting. If their elbows are extended that is a good way to insure unsharp pictures. The body must be stable in order to have a stable camera which is crucial to making crisp photos.

In low light situations you may need a tripod to make sure the camera is still enough to take a sharp photograph.

If you are shooting macro you almost always need a tripod!

Q: Even with a tripod my photos are not a sharp as when I was using film. Why?

A: Digital is softer, less sharp than film. You can overcome this in a couple of ways. One is to set your camera settings to how much sharpening you want the camera to do and the other is to use a sharpening filter in the software you use to edit or process your images.

7219_toni seeger grave_soft

soft - no sharpening

 sharpening applied

sharpening applied

These two images of Toni Seeger’s grave in Johanesburg, Calif., show the difference between an image that has not been sharpened with a photo editing software and one that has had the Unsharp Mask filter applied. Notice how ‘soft’ the image on the left looks compared to the sharpness of the edges of the rocks and plaque on the right. You can also see a distinct sharpness in the little jar in the lower left-hand corner.

This doesn’t mean you have to run out and buy Photoshop CS4 to sharpen your pics. Most digital cameras come with some sort of software that allows you to adjust your images to the way you like them. You can adjust color, sharpness, brightness, etc.

If you decide to really get into photography in a big way, then eventually you will want to upgrade your software to accommodate your growing artistic needs.

We are very happy to help anyway we can and answer your questions, so keep those cards and letters coming in!

Any good photograph is a successful synthesis of technique and art.
— Andreas Feininger