Lesson 50: The Rule of Holding Still

I’m not sure I previously stated this as a rule.  Since we’re reviewing the basics, I thought I would state this more directly:  hold still.  Unless, of course, you’re trying not to hold still.  But, we’ll come back to that one later.

We talked about holding the phone early on.  We also talked about different ways to prop your phone so it would be still.  And we talked about using image stabilization to help compensate for shake.

These all amount to the same rule:  hold still.

Not holding still creates blurry images.  The lower the light, the more your movement will cause blur.  If you find you consistently get slightly out-of-focus images that get worse in lower light, this probably means you were not born with the innate ability to hold an iPhone steady while taking a picture.

To show you how the amount of light available and the amount of light required to get a good exposure affects the amount of motion blur in the picture, I took 3 photos.  The first is with the flowers right under the light.  It’s pretty sharp.  The second is with the flowers a foot from the light with the exposure selected for the bright side of the flowers.  Not much difference in sharpness.  The last is the same as the second except that I asked the camera to expose the dark side of the flowers properly.  To let in more light, the camera also lets in more shake–lots of blur.

When we talked about image stabilization, I mentioned that the camera essentially waits for a moment when you’re not shaking to take the photo.  Here’s a side-by-side comparison of trying to get the dark side of the flowers exposed properly with and without image stabilization:

And here’s a second example with the flowers exposed for the well-lit portion:

If you don’t like waiting on the iPhone to decide when to take the shot (which can lead to missed moments), in the default Camera app, you can use the camera button on the screen to take a photo and create a pause between pressing the button and taking the picture by setting your finger on the button, steady yourself, and then release.  The picture is taken when you take your finger off the button.  This does not work with the volume-up button or Camera Awesome (at least not on my 4S).

I also mentioned using the headset volume-up button to take the picture as another option on the 4S or higher.  This works very well if you have a way to set your phone down, but I find it easier to press the volume-up button on the phone case than to hold the phone with one hand and use the headset when I’m hand holding.

Don’t forget about keeping your body still.  Stand with your feet wide–making a wider base will reduce sway.  If there’s a stable object you can lean against, use it.  Again, the lower the light, the more you need to worry about stabilizing yourself.  If you’re shooting in bright light, you probably won’t have motion blur problems unless you are really moving.

Your Assignment:  Try taking a photo in your house.  Indoor lighting is notoriously bad for iPhone photos.  Take a picture of something perfectly still without image stabilization turned on if you’re using the Camera Awesome app (or another app that has this feature).  Do you see blur?  Try looking at your photo on a computer screen if possible so you can tell.  Or zoom into the photo to check for blur.  Sometimes it’s too subtle to see well on the phone.

If you don’t have any blur, try less light or exposing a darker portion of the subject.  The point is to discover what level of light is required before you start having trouble holding the phone still.  Once you get to where you see a little blur, try as many of the techniques above as possible to see which works well for you to eliminate the blur.  It’s good to have several things to use for different situations as well as to combine techniques when the light is really low.

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