Blurry smartphone issue

Color balance

Why do my smartphone pictures look blurry?

Camera shake is one of the biggest causes of blurry photographs, especially in dim light situations. Tapping on the button on your phone can blur your picture. On the iPhone you can use the up volume button to take a picture while in camera mode. This allows a gentle squeeze on the camera and gives it more stability. You can also use the up volume on your headphones in the same way, helping you keep the camera very steady, or even held against a stationary object. If you do use the button on the screen, remember to touch it very gently, not tap it. Your pictures will be sharper. So remember, get close, stay focused and keep shooting.

Corrected for white balance in computer, not camera

Original submission

Why is the white on the label not white? Hale

Proper color is harder for a camera than your eye. We know to see white as white under sun, incandescent or fluorescent  light. The camera sensor responds differently with different type light sources. Most will get close with the Auto setting, but if you can select type of light as setting on your camera your color will be more accurate. Remember to reset to auto when you change scenes or the colors can get bizarre, which is OK if that is what you are aiming for. Try outside shots with camera set to incandescent  and watch for a blue overcast. You can also try different settings to just learn what they do in different light conditions. You will not hurt your camera. Most smartphones stay on auto, but let you adjust colors after the shot.

All is not lost if your color cast is off. Most colors  can be fixed in the computer. With one quick white balance correction identifying the white area as white, the image was fixed as shown on the right.

Shutter Lag

My camera does not seem to take the picture right when I push the shutter button. It also does not seem consistent in how long it takes, especially if inside. AS a result I miss lots of shots. How do I make the camera go off when I want? Jenny

Jenny, I have to assume you have a fully automatic camera, and probably a point and push type. The problem arises because the cameras are usually set to not take a picture until the camera has time to focus. It focuses faster with more light, hence the slowness when inside. On the DSLR cameras you may be able to override the delay for autofocus before shutter release, however you may well end up with out of focus pictures. Almost all point and push and DSLR cameras allow you to pre-focus by pushing the shutter button down halfway and holding it there. Then when you finish pushing all the way, it takes almost instantly. Practice getting in the habit of pre-focusing before the action you want to capture. A great exercise to learn the timing of your shutter is to try and catch a flag waving in the breeze when it is straight out. You can pre-focus on the flagpole and then practice anticipating when the flag will be straight out and time the final press to catch it. Usually takes about 3-5 tries, but you get the swing of things pretty quickly. If you see the picture you want, you missed it so learn to plan ahead and how quickly your camera takes the picture when it is pre-focused. Remember, get close, stay focused, and keep shooting.


Stage Exposure problems

When I take pictures of the kids at the school plays the set seems ok but the kids are always washed out and too bright. Zooming in helps some, but still too much light. I have a decent (not expensive) Canon point and push. How do I get the kids exposed properly?  Bill, Shreveport

Bill a common problem arising from the nature of the average meter reading of the camera. On automatic exposure (program mode) the camera is trying to average the scene lighting and will disregard some of the brightest and darkest parts of the images. Most stage lighting has much more light on the actors, by design. On newer cameras there are some settings that allow for face recognition to control focus and exposure. That will help if you are close enough for camera to recognize a face. If your child is playing a daisy or a tree trunk even that feature may miss. Check your manual and see if there is such a setting buried in the control menus somewhere.

Another solution is to move the camera to manual and experiment with f/stop or shutter speed to underexpose the entire scene. You may push most of the stage to be much darker but you will be able to get the faces properly done. You can also check to see if your camera has a “spot meter” function for exposure. If so you can put that on and put back in program mode.  Zoom in on a face, put the spot for the meter on child’s face and see what the camera says is the proper exposure. I suggest then switching back to manual and set the exposure like the suggested reading. This allows you to frame the picture without worrying about the spot being right on your child. The face should be pretty close to proper exposure anywhere on stage. This takes a minute or two to get set up, but then you are ready for the young thespian at any moment.

With concerts and major productions the lighting often changes so you may be better putting it on spot metering, put the exposure point on what you want properly exposed, push the button halfway down and while holding it halfway down (locks in the exposure) you can reframe your shot and finish pushing the sutter release down to take the picture.  Good luck and remember, get close, stay focused and keep shooting.

New Lens Purchase

My wife got a new camera last year. Under $700 Nikon dollar with a zoom lens. I want to buy her a new lens as a gift but am confused. I see lenses that are kit, prime, zoom, DX, FX, different brands and have no idea what most of that means. Does Prime mean better? Brian, Pineville, LA

Brian, great, but not simple question. First some basics. A kit lens is simply the one matched with the camera body at time of purchase. You can buy a camera body only, but most entry level comes with a general purpose zoom lens as a “kit”. These are generally same brand as camera and quite serviceable, take great pictures, but often not the top of the line. They usually zoom from mild wide angle to mild telephoto and many are happy with that for the life of the camera. A prime lens simply means it is a fixed focal length, not a zoom. This has nothing to do with quality. To change what is in the picture you need to move closer or farther away. Some call this a “sneaker zoom”. They usually have better optics and larger aperture settings to allow for lower light shots and shallower depth of field. They are often also lighter since they have no need for the zooming mechanism.

The DX and FX on Nikons refer to the size of the sensor. Think of the sensor as piece of electronic film. Like film, sensors come in different sizes with the DX being about 2/3rds the size of the FX, which is about the size of a frame of 35mm film. This has a profound affect on lens design. Every lens needs to create an image that will cover all four corners of the sensor/film recording the picture. Lenses throw a circular image so the rectangular sensor has to fit in the circle. With the smaller DX sensor (which is what your wife’s camera has) the lens can be smaller, lighter and less expensive because it is hitting a smaller target.

A FX lens will work on a DX camera but it is only using 2/3rds of its capacity. It throws a circular image much larger than your sensor. FX lenses are more expensive, heavier and harder to make since they have larger pieces of glass to create the larger image. If you put a DX lens on an FX camera the four corners will be dark (called vignette) because the smaller circle is only designed for the middle 2/3rd of the sensor. The main reason to buy a FX for a DX camera is if you plan on moving up to FX Camera body later.

With a DX sensor being smaller there is a “crop factor” rating on lenses. This simply means any given lens will act like a longer focal length on a DX camera. The range will be from 1.2 to 1.5 times as long. Great news if you are looking for more telephoto power. A 200mm lens works like a 300mm on her Nikon. This is not so good for wide angle when a 24mm works like a 36mm.

The f/stops (amount of light a lens will let onto the sensor) play a large role in price of a lens. A Nikon 50mm f/1.4 lens is almost three times as expensive as their 50mm f/1.8. A f1.4 gives you some options like shallower depth of field and faster shutter speeds in low light situations, but you need to decide if those are important enough to justify the extra money. The non-Nikon brand lenses have gotten quite good. They have all the fittings and computer chips to function on the camera you just need to read reviews and see if there is a difference. Check out or for lens reviews

The real question in buying her a new lens is what do you want it to do that the kit lens does not do. If you are going for longer telephoto for kids sporting events you can look at some of the Nikon zooms. If she wants to take more pictures in low light situations without using a flash consider a prime lens with a lower f/stop. Remember, on her camera a 50mm will shoot like a 75mm on a film or FX camera. A 35mm will be very close to a standard lens. A favorite lens of mine is the Nikon 18-200 DX zoom. A bit expensive, but may be all you need for everything other than very low light situations. Also there are different kit lens zooms and many appear on eBay when people find they overlap with existing lenses that they have. Plenty of options. If you can find out what she, or as I suspect you, want to accomplish, write back and I am glad to continue the dialogue.   Remember, get close, stay focused, and keep shooting.Type your paragraph here.

Ray, you may have exceeded the capacity of the camera. Great juxtaposition of classic NY fixtures, but your real problem lies in the relative brightness of the building lights. They are already "blown out" meaning they are past the limit of the camera to accurately record them at these settings, and the building is already too dark to see. If you exposed for the lights you lose most of the rest of the building and the walk signs. Taking multiple exposures and then merging them into a HDR (High Dynamic range) shot may work, but you need a tripod to get identical shots. To get that shimmer off the Chrysler Building you need to find more light on building itself. Sunrise or sunset (depending on angle of view) when the up lights creating the pattern are not as pronounced would allow the building and lights to be closer in brightness and you can set camera to include both. The signs may be in the shade, but a small flash would light them up without casting a shadow on anything else in the photograph. Remember, get close, stay focused, and keep shooting.

Maureen, you problem is very common. The camera only has so much range of light to dark that it can capture, and therefore it makes compromises. Your cloud structure is about the right exposure but your birds and leaves are pushed too dark. In these cases if your camera allows, you can force it to over expose what it has averaged out and bring a little more light to the bottom and the birds. The risk is losing the texture and detail in the clouds. With digital I recommend leaving it a little underexposed, like here, because you can bring out detail in the dark later on the computer better than you can tone down over exposed whites. Exposure specifically  for the birds may have been the better try. Your camera should allow for spot metering. On a smartphone you could try tapping on one of the birds to focus and expose the subject, and see if it blows out the highlights. See the discussion below on Ray's Chrysler Building photo for more. TBP

My vision was to frame a shimmering Chrysler Building with these less than glamorous "walk" signals.  Alas, as a night shot, not much light.  Didn't have a tripod.  How could I have gotten a more crisp, shining Chrysler Building and not ruined the rest of the shot?
Shot at ISO 6400,  1/30th, f/7.1,  51 mm (in 35mm equivalent).  Ray

My question is how to take pictures when the sky/light results in a dark picture. Do you just take it and edit the color later?   Maureen

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