Last Friday Tanya, Nahla and I took a day hike along Ingalls Creek in the Alpine Lake Wilderness Area. When loading my pack at the trailhead, I decided the leave my tripod in the car – it was a bright sunny day, what would I need the tripod for? Actually, I needed the tripod for two things. First, I apparently forgot that I like that silky water look when photographing streams. Second, as the afternoon progressed, it got cloudy and much less bright.
So, what to do when you need to use slow shutter speeds and don’t have a tripod? Well that depends on the photo. In the case of low light, you can just increase the ISO and decrease your need for a slow shutter speed. Of course, this does have the problem of increasing noise. In the case of wanting a slow shutter speed for a visual effect, like creating silky looking water, a high ISO will not help. You have to find a way of holding the camera steady.
If possible, you try not holding the camera at all; set it on the ground or, when hiking, on your pack. However, this doesn’t always work well. It can be difficult to get the composition you want that way, though using the live view (if your camera is so equipped) can help. If you have to hold the camera, try some of these techniques:
- use the proper technique to support the camera and lens – support the body and lens with your hands, elbows in tight against your body, camera tight against your forehead, have your body braced if possible.
- You can also use the camera strap to help. In my case, I shortened up the strap and looped it under my elbow so there was just enough strap length to hold the camera when pressing my elbow after from the camera. This made the strap very tight and greatly steadied the camera.
- Shoot in short bursts, gently pushing the shutter button – often when shooting three or five images with one press of the shutter, later images may be more steady than the first one (when the button is first pressed).
- Shoot lots of frames – for the stream image above, I probably shot 20 or 30 frames to get one steady enough.
- Control your breath, make it slow and steady. Try to press the shutter button when exhaling.
- Shoot using a wide-angle lens – camera movement is less apparent with wider angle lenses than with telephoto lenses
- Use an image-stabilizing lens (nice if you have it; though in my case, the lens I was using does not have this feature)
With these techniques (except the last one), I was able to get a few decent shots without having the resort to software solutions (such as Focus Magic), which though good, do have limitations. But next time, I think I will bring my tripod, even on a sunny day.
BTW, the wildflowers are really out in force along Ingalls Creek right now. We saw lupines; red, orange and yellow indian paintbrush, mariposa lilies; and many more. This is a great time of year to do this hike.
Wind is often the bane of nature photographers. We are often photographing in fairly low light conditions at sunrise or sunset, and often want a wide depth of field, so end up using small f-stops. Most of us know that using high ISOs leads to objectionable digital noise. These conditions all combine to require a slow shutter speed. So what do you do if there is a breeze moving your foreground around. Not a problem with rocks as a foreground, but what about wildflowers?
The above photo of the Tatoosh Range was taken at Paradise on the Golden Gate trail last month shortly before sunset. To get both the flowers and the mountains in acceptable focus, I took one shot with the aperture at set f/16 and the ISO at 100. This resulted in a shutter speed of 4 seconds (I also used a split neutral density filter). There was a breeze and it was impossible to get a frame without some movement in the flowers.
I then shot another image with the aperture at f/11 and the ISO set to 1250. This allowed the shutter speed to be 1/8 seconds. This was enough to stop most of the flower movement; but as you might imagine, the noise was unacceptable.
To get the above image, I processed both photos in Lightroom and imported them into Photoshop. I used the low ISO image as the background layer, then added the high ISO image in a new layer and added a layer mask filled with black (making none of the high ISO image visible). Then, using a soft brush, I painted white on the mask wherever the flowers were soft due to movement from the breeze. The end result is the image above. Below are close two closeups that show the before and after effects of painting the high ISO image onto the low ISO one.
This technique to stop the wind doesn’t always work, but when it does, it can save a shot.