How Good Technique Saves You Thousands of Dollars

Sometimes we want blurry images. Usually we don't.

I can always tell when firearms enthusiasts are in the audience. They’re the ones who sit up and grin when I explain that stance, grip, sight alignment, and trigger control can dramatically improve your photography.

Stance, grip, sight alignment and trigger control comprise the fundamentals of accurate pistol shooting, and they are also the path to sharpshooting with a camera. A lot of novice photographers believe there is something wrong with their camera or lens because images are not tack sharp. Most of the time, they are shooting at too low a shutter speed, and camera shake is stealing the sharpness.

As some of you already know, two factors control the amount of light reaching your camera sensor: the aperture (opening diameter) of your lens and the shutter speed (how long the shutter curtain in front of the sensor stays open). Adjusting the sensor’s sensitivity (ISO adjustments) gives you more flexibility, but your camera produces best image results at its base ISO. When you control camera shake at slower shutter speeds, you get sharper pictures in lower light, presuming your subjects aren’t moving too much.

Subject motion cannot be cured by good technique. Only a faster shutter speed would have improved the sharpness here. The real trick would be to keep some motion blur on the hand but get everything else sharp.

Your stance should be chosen for comfort and stability, based on your build. For a standing position, that’s usually one foot forward and your body slightly tilted over it. Keep your elbows close to your body. Brace yourself and/or the camera on a steady surface whenever possible – it will make a big difference.

Generally, we grip the camera in our right hand and place the left hand under the lens. A little bit of opposing pressure from your two hands can add stability. Too much pressure will make you shake. Grip the camera in such a way that you can reach key controls without too much motion.

For a firearm, sight alignment refers to keeping the front sight on the target. For a camera, I mean that we must learn how to keep our composition squared up in the viewfinder while we make adjustments and wait for the perfect moment. For many of us, keeping both eyes open reduces eyestrain.

But most important of all, you must learn to SQUEEZE the shutter release. Competitive pistol shooters engage in dry-fire practice thousands of times to develop a smooth control of the trigger. Do some experiments at home and you will be amazed at how much sharper your photos turn out when you squeeze rather than stab the shutter release button.

This image sold me on Nikon's Vibration Reduction feature. A shaky guy like me would normally need to shoot a 200mm lens at about 1/320th of a second or faster to ensure sharpness. This was shot at 1/60 of a second.

Naturally, a tripod mitigates the camera movement problem, but many of us do all or most of our shooting handheld, so mastering physical technique can make a big difference in the quality of our work. Vibration reduction systems help, but good technique allows you to take all the technological advantages even further.

Twice, I’ve bought new cameras because they promised an additional stop (doubling) of ISO sensitivity, which is important to my theater and dance work (low light and moving subjects). But I did so AFTER trying a monopod, bracing myself against a wall, and working with noise reduction software. Unless you’re an action shooter, don’t spend thousands of dollars to get an extra stop of “low” light capability, when you might win two stops by practicing squeezing the shutter release button rather than stabbing it.

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