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Eight: Avoid "The Blurries"

Nobody likes a blurry photograph. On the other hand, there are several different kinds of blurry photographs, and in each case the blurriness is caused by different causes. In order to solve the problem (make the photo "un-blurry"), you have to be able to identify what's causing the blur. Take, for example, this photo of a Rainsong acoustic guitar's headstock - what kind of problem does this photo have?

First off, the headstock is blurry. The "RainSong" inlay is very blurry, as are the top two tuners. But you'll also notice that the bottom tuners are slightly more in focus, and the guitar stand, cardboard box and carpet are even more sharply focused. The problem, then, is that the headstock is blurry because the camera has focused somewhere near the floor.

Solution: Make sure you're focused on the right part of the photo. If you're using a point and shoot camera, make sure you focus on the headstock by centering the headstock in the viewfinder and depressing the shutter release down half-way. On most cameras this will lock the focus and allow you to re-compose the picture as long as you keep the shutter release depressed. All cameras operate slightly differently, so reading the instructions that came with your camera is important if you want consistent, predictable results.

The blurry look of this photo is very different from the one above. Where is the camera focusing in this picture? Well, ...nowhere. No part of this picture looks sharp, which suggests that the blurriness is probably not due to incorrect focusing, but rather from "camera shake". What this means is that while the shutter was open for the split second necessary for creating the image, the camera was probably moving a bit, causing motion blur.

1) You could try bracing yourself against someting solid (like a wall, table, or chair) to reduce the amount of motion in your body and hands while you take the picture.
2) You could use a tripod (or even a monopod) to give the camera an absolutely stable platform.
3) Make sure you are not shaking the camera when you are pressing the shutter release. Some people "hit" the shutter release in a quick, jerky motion. This may be enough to make an image turn out fuzzy.
4) Go somewhere brighter. More light falling on the guitar means the shutter doesn't have to stay open as long to let in the same amount of light. A faster shutter speed means less time for camera movement to become a problem. It's much harder to see the effects of camera shake in a photograph taken at 1/250th of a second than it is to see it in a photograph that was taken at 1/15th of a second.

Hey, cool looking bass. Too bad the photo is so blurry. It's not difficult to see where the camera is focusing in this one - but even though the pickup may have been a good place to focus, the picture would have been better if MORE of the bass was in focus. This effect of an image having only a small portion being in focus is referred to as having a "shallow depth of field". In this case, pretty much only the area immediately around the pickup is in focus. If the bridge and perhaps more of the body and neck were in focus (say, maybe to to the 12th fret or so), we'd simply have more visual information to take in about this bass.

1) If you can set the aperature on your camera manually, making the aperature smaller will increase the depth of field. The smaller numbers (f1.4, f2, f2.8, f4.0, etc.) represent larger aperature settings (literally, a bigger hole), while the larger numbers represent smaller aperature settings (a small hole - f16, f22, and so on). Selecting a smaller aperature will result in more of the bass (from foreground to background) to be in focus. The image above was probably done with the aperature wide open (small f-number, big hole).
2) If you have an "automatic" type camera (one which doesn't allow you to select which f-number you want to use), you'll have to go somewhere with more light. Your camera will sense the presence of more light, and (hopefully) compensate by making the aperature smaller, thus increasing the amount of depth of field. I say "hopefully" because some cameras may instead just make the shutter open and close faster.

If your camera decides to do to this, your picture will still produce an image with a shallow depth of field. For this and many more reasons, it's always nice to have a camera that allows you the option of controlling shutter speed and aperature manually. It may be a bit more to think about at first, but ultimately you'll have way more creative control in your picture taking.

Please keep in mind that the above three examples are not mutually exclusive - it's totally possible to have more than one source of fuzziness at the same time (eg., camera shake plus focusing on the wrong place plus too shallow a depth of field!). If you're not sure what's going on, try changing one variable at a time to see if you can isolate the problem (eg., try putting the camera on a tripod). That'll usually get you going in the right direction.


If you haven't done a lot of photography but you'd like to try experimenting with some of the ideas presented in these pages, you might find these diagrams useful. They can be a useful guide if you're just starting out. They're a little crude, and there's only a couple of them right now, but I'll add more if there's any interest. Click here to
go to the set-up diagrams...

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Well that's probably enough for now (I have a feeling no one's read this far anyway...). If you want to read more about all this image-control stuff, you can continue on to my mini-demo of Photoshop. It's not very long - only three pages (so far)...

Anyway, if you continue to try out and play around with the ideas discussed in these pagess, you'll quickly find yourself becoming more sensitive to the construction of photographic images. You'll probably also find yourself becoming more conscious of the "problems" in your own photographs, but this is actually a good thing. With some experimentation you'll discover your own solutions. This is one of my favorite aspects of photography - it's pretty hard to do, so I always feel like there's so much more to learn. Again, it's a lot like playing music.

I'll add more good/bad examples to these pages as I think of other bass-related photographic problems that might interest you. In the meantime, you can e-mail me if you have any comments or questions (I might be slow to answer but eventually I always do). Aloha!

to the photoshop pages...

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