Blurry Pictures
Presented by Glenn Springer, TIF, RHCC

This article is about avoiding blurry pictures
Warning: after this, you're going to need more disk storage space
because you'll be throwing away fewer pictures!

Iris is just about to bring the camera up to her eye.
She's holding it correctly, left hand under the lens and elbows tucked in.


There are two reasons why people end up throwing away bad pictures: either they're blurry or they're too dark/too light. Today we'll look at blurry pictures.

Blurry pictures could be improved by something as simple as holding your camera correctly. If it's an SLR, put your left hand underneath the lens, wrap your right hand around the grip with your finger over the shutter release button, tuck your elbows in, and look through the viewfinder with your face up against the camera. If it's a point-and-shoot or an iPhone, hold it in two hands, as close to your body as you can and again, tuck in your elbows. You can spot a novice photographer from a mile away if their elbows are sticking out like chicken wings!



I focused on Kelly's eyes then while holding the shutter release halfway down, I recomposed the image before shooting the picture.

Same thing here on this flower at the Minden Wildwater Preserve

There are two main reasons that a picture is blurry:

(1) the camera wasn't in focus or
(2) something moved.

Let's look at focus first.

Most modern cameras, whether it's a high end DSLR or a point-and-shoot, are designed so that their autofocus works when you hold the shutter button halfway down. Almost all of them will let you lock in the focus then move the camera to re-compose the shot, but you have to be holding the shutter release halfway. Practice holding it there without actually taking a picture until you're ready. Don't just "fire" the shutter button, squeeze it halfway and wait for the camera to focus. Most cameras will beep or show you visually that they're ready. Now hold it, hold it, hold it, and shoot! When you do take the shot, just continue squeezing the button, don't jerk it. You don't want the camera to move much when you shoot.

All of the cameras have some indication on the screen or in the viewfinder of where it's focusing. Even the iPhone: tap the screen where you want it to focus. Wait for it to lock in before you take the picture.


Using continuous autofocus, I panned the camera with the bike. It's surprising how you can still get things in focus with a slow shutter speed. Practice, practice, practice!

This one was REALLY tough!

A difficult shot is to follow a moving subject like a boat or a car or a running kid (birds in flight are REALLY tricky!) - but it's really rewarding when it works! Check your manual for "continuous autofocus". The trick here is to be smooth. Like a golfer or a skeet shooter or a hockey player, you have to follow through: don't stop moving when you're ready to shoot, keep on moving until well afterwards. Try it, you might be surprised at the result!


Very fast shutter speed freezes the action! At the Minden Wildwater Preserve

This was shot with a very slow shutter speed to impart a sense of motion.

Moving subjects are blurry because they move while the shutter is open. The solution? Open the shutter for less time, i.e. a faster shutter speed! With a normal lens, you need at least 1/100 second. For telephoto shots, even more! To freeze water or that racing car or a flying frisbee, maybe as little as 1/1000 second. How can you achieve that?

Three things determine your exposure: the size of the opening the light comes in, how long that aperture is open and how sensitive the sensor is (the ISO). If you find your shots are blurry because of motion, you may have to increase the size of the opening (the f/stop) or the ISO. Read the manual that came with your camera to find out how to do that.

With everything comes a price, of course. The bigger the aperture, the more critical the focus; the higher the ISO, the more “noise” or graininess is introduced into the picture. But I’d rather have a grainy picture than one out of focus!


Ice Racing at the Minden Fairgrounds. This was edited in Photoshop to give it that funky look.


Sometimes I make my pictures blurry on purpose! It can add a sense of motion and action. At the Highland Yard race last summer in Minden

I moved the camera on purpose while the shutter was open to achieve this effect. This was a fall shot up in Dorset.


The other kind of movement is if the camera shakes when you shoot a picture. Go back and read about squeezing, not jerking the shutter release. Practice it. And go buy a tripod: that solves a LOT of problems. Read up on how to use the self-timer in the camera to take pictures without you touching the camera and making it shake.

You'll have fewer throw-away pictures if you practice these things to make your images sharper: let the autofocus do its job, be smooth when you release the shutter, and pay attention to the shutter speed. Digital photos don't cost anything: get out and practice!


I pointed the camera at the North sky and locked the shutter open for 2 full hours.
This doesn't work without a sturdy tripod and a locking shutter release.

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