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.

Lesson 34: When You’ve Got the Shakes

In Lesson 31, we talked about how adding the iPhone flash can help reduce the blur of slow-moving subjects.  What we didn’t talk about was another way blur can be introduced by movement–the movement of you holding your iPhone.

One way to reduce movement of your phone is to hold it very still.  For tips on how to hold it as steady as possible, see Lesson 6.  Sometimes, it’s hard to hold your phone still–especially if you’re shooting in low-light conditions when holding it still makes the biggest difference.  In those cases, using a tripod would be ideal, if a little silly looking.

In Lesson 25, we looked at using a telephoto attachment from Photojojo that includes a mini-tripod for your iPhone.  You don’t have to use the telephoto attachment to benefit from the tripod.  If you are taking landscape photos, especially in low-light, and you purchased the telephoto kit, try using the tripod without the telephoto lens to see how it improves your landscape photos.

There are other options if you don’t have a tripod for your iPhone.  For one, you can find a place to set the iPhone if you can balance it or prop it against something to eliminate your shake.  If you are a die-hard iPhone user, you may also find some of the various attachments for the iPhone that are helpful for keeping it stable.  For example, a car holder that doesn’t block the camera, a mount on your bike, or even the LifeProof life vest I showed in Lesson 19.  The large block size of the life vest makes the iPhone easier to grip securely.  It also makes it easier to stand on edge.  As a bonus–if your iPhone falls off its perch, there’s not much chance it will get damaged!

But let’s say you want to take a photo when there is no way to prop up your phone, or, the only place you could prop your phone would not result in getting the photo you want.  Another option is to use the “image stabilization” feature provided in many camera apps.  Unfortunately, not the default camera app from Apple, but, yes, it is one of my favorite features in the Camera Awesome app.

Unlike expensive gear that comes with image stabilization features that work mechanically, the Camera Awesome app uses the gyroscope in the iPhone to determine if the phone is moving.  If it is, it waits until a moment when you’re still before taking the photo.  This works great in that pushing the volume-up button or touching the shutter button on the screen creates most of the motion.  This setting allows the movement to settle before the picture is taken.

The downside is that the pause can cause you to miss the exact shot you wanted when your subject is fickle (like my dog) and decides to walk away while you’re waiting for the photo to take.  I highly recommend it when you’re taking photos of subjects that are either still or cooperative.

Here’s how to turn the image stabilization feature on in the Camera Awesome app (downloaded in Lesson 7):

Your Assignment:  Get out the Camera Awesome app and turn on the image stabilization feature.  Take some photos of a scene that isn’t moving.  Now, turn it off and take the same photos.  Do you notice a difference?  If so, you might want to make it a setting you use a lot.  If you happen to have very steady hands, you might prefer not to use it because of the delay it can introduce.