Phuzzy Photos

Patty is using her Rebel as an overpriced point-and-shoot camera. You can do that in good light. You can’t indoors, as Patty has discovered.

patty-pictures.jpgEarlier today, Patty wrote and asked about problems with photos she’s taken of her daughter playing hockey. I suspected they’d be fuzzy… and they are.

Patty is using the Canon Rebel XTi, the newer, better version of my camera. She is also using an image stabilizing lens.

The first thing I did was right click the original file she sent (not the one posted here online) and read the Exif data. Exif files, in every digital picture, contain most of the parameters which describe how the camera was set.

Patty’s shot was 1/25 sec, f5, ISO400. Her lens was zoomed to 43mm. The camera was set to sports priority, which tries to favor faster shutter speed.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough light for the camera to do everything asked of it!

In order to have a properly exposed photo, the shutter speed, aperture (size of the lens opening… that ‘f’ number) and sensitivity (the ISO number) must combine within the camera’s sweet spot. If the numbers are too high, the picture is overexposed. Too low and the picture is too dark.

Patty’s biggest problem is, to maximize the light, the camera set the shutter speed too slow. That’s why anything moving is blurry. I also suspect the image stabilization isn’t turned on, but I can’t be sure. That’s probably a switch on the lens. Sadly, it wouldn’t have helped with the hockey players.

The photographers rule of thumb is, never shoot slower than “1/lens length.” In Patty’s case, that’s 1/43 second. But that’s for still life. She’s shooting motion. The number needs to be even higher, which means faster (the shutter is open for a shorter length of time).

Here’s what I recommend:

  • Switch to shutter priority. It’s probably abbreviated Tv
  • Turn up your shutter speed to 1/150 (to start)
  • You need to compensate for lost light, because you’re now losing 2 f-stops by having the shutter open 25% of the time it was open earlier, so raise the ISO to 1600
  • Your shots will be a little grainer, but they should be a lot sharper (the grain won’t be a terrible problem unless you’re printing the shot in a very large size)

If this works (and it should), you can do some additional tweaking. If there’s still plenty of light, you can increase the shutter speed a little – from 1/150 to 1/200 or even higher. Or, you can reduce the ISO to 800, which will reduce the grain a little, but also reduce the brightness.

Earlier, I mentioned your image stabilization looks like it’s off. Even if it is on, ‘IS’ only helps stabilize stationary things, like the net or the walls. The only way to keep moving things from blurring is with faster shutter speeds.

Don’t be scared to shoot away. Take a few hundred photos at a game. Fill your card.

Look at the LCD screen from time-to-time&#185 and make adjustments to the settings. Faster shutter equals darker. Higher ISO equals brighter. Turn the knobs. It’s only bits and bytes.

The aperture can also be adjusted, but not in the mode I have recommended. It will try and open up the lens to compensate for the other settings.

Patty, I sure would like to show some ‘after’ photos, because I’m confident you’ll get this right the next time you shoot!

&#185 – I have shot alongside pros at sporting events a few times. I was very surprised when I first saw, they sneak peeks at their LCD screen too! In fact, the first few times I saw it, I thought I was seeing exceptions. Nope, everyone seems to do it.

6 thoughts on “Phuzzy Photos”

  1. All good sound advice Geoff.

    I was waiting to see what you came up with before responding.

    One other thing in addition to your instructions, would be to “pan” the subject. In other words, follow the person in the shot until the time is right and then take the shot. This will cause the background to blur, but it gives a sense of motion and speed to the main subject of the frame. You often see this used when shooting a car race.

    Patty might also consider joining a photo club. I know of a couple on the shoreline if she is in that area.


  2. Tom –

    In this case, panning with the subject (as you would in a car race) won’t help. She’ll still be shooting too slowly and her subjects won’t be moving in unison nor steadily.

  3. I fully agree that she needs a much faster shutter speed and more light or higher ISO.

    The shot in my mind was a single skater going at high speed passing in front of her, hence the car race analogy. Guess I don’t go to enough hockey games!

    Now I know why I like to do landscapes 🙂

    I know if Patty follows your advice she will see a vast improvment. Looking forward to seeing the “after” shots.


  4. Geoff, you and I have the same camera and many of the same lenses. I can tell you that shooting hockey is also problematic because the lighting doesn’t meter correctly – high ceilings w/ florescent bulbs reflecting off of ice – her automated setting never had a fighting chance.

    I have a high energy Vizsla (a dog – a hungarian pointer), and the best results I’ve gotten were in aperture priority mode, where I dial in as much light as I need to get 1/250 shutter speed or more. Anything below that is too slow.

    Last week, I shot over 1000 pictures at the 12 Hours of Sebring (a 12 hour sportscar race that runs from 10am to 10pm), and I was using the technique of panning as Tom suggested, with great results. This technique would have proved pointless with my dog, as his entire body is moving.

  5. Thank you so much for the suggestions. I can’t wait to try them….but alas, my daughter’s next hockey event isn’t for two weeks. I will definitely bring my camera along and try the settings you suggested. Luckily the rink I’m going to has better lighting than most, so maybe that will help. I still need to get a good book as I don’t understand what f-stops and aperture settings mean. When I said I was a beginner, I meant a real beginner!

    I’m in Litchfield county, so a shoreline photo club is too far, but I’m going to look in my area and see if our local continuing ed program has a photography class.

    By the way, when I showed my daughter that you had posted the shot of her celebrating after scoring a goal she said “Wow, that’s so cool….I’m on Goeff Fox’s blog!”

    Thank you so much – I’ll send you the “after” photos in a few weeks. I’m sure they will be much better, thanks to you and your reader’s suggestions.


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