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by Russell McMahon

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I take a lot of macro pictures, so using a tripod can be very inconvenient at times. And when I'm so close to an insect I find my hands shaking a lot even though I try to be as stable as possible. So I set the shutter speed pretty high (1/400-1/1000) that way I can just snap away and the pictures don't come out blurry. Are there any disadvantages to this? I know I get a lot less light this way, but I set my ISO to 6400 which helps a lot.

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Sometimes yes, sometimes no. It all depends :-) –  dpollitt Jul 20 '11 at 17:36

6 Answers 6

up vote 11 down vote accepted

No is the answer to the headline question:

  • A tripod gives you stability. As long as it is sturdy and triggered remotely, so that you do not shake the tripod, you are extremely likely to get the shot without blur.
  • A high shutter-speed increases your chances of not moving during the exposure because you have less time to shake during 1/1000s than during 1/100s, for example.

For macro work a tripod is highly recommended because the DOF is so shallow. Even your tiny movements may change the plane of focus and cause problems. That is why people often use it in combination with a macro-rail which lets the camera move back-and-forth in a precise and controlled matter.

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+ 1 for stability. In my feeble efforts at macro photography, focus is as much of a headache as anything else, and the tripod helps keep the camera moving (does nothing to keep the subject from moving). –  D. Lambert Jul 20 '11 at 16:34
    
To make up for the shallow DOF, I turn up the aperture a little bit to get more of the shot in focus. Are there any consequences of that? –  maq Jul 20 '11 at 16:40
    
That is what you need to do, close-down the aperture get the enough DOF. The catch is that you need the tripod even more and there is a limit, called the diffraction limit, beyond which everything gets softer. On your camera it should be between F/11 and F/13. –  Itai Jul 20 '11 at 16:49
    
Aperture should be between F/11-13? What would be the problem with going any higher or any lower? –  maq Jul 20 '11 at 16:50
    
Sorry I was not clear. The limit is between there. You should use any aperture up to that limit. So, F/2.8, F/4.... etc are all good. Going beyond, say F/16, your entire image will start going soft. On the other end, depending on your lens, most lenses are less sharp wide-open. –  Itai Jul 20 '11 at 16:57

To answer your question: Yes, it does.

But I think you're using a wrong problem-solving approach. Increasing the ISO value to 6400 introduces a lot of noise into your image and you're losing details.

Maybe you better buy a monopod to slightly support your hand and reduce hand shaking, while still being lightweight and easy to use.

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3  
It's not increasing ISO that introduces noise and loses details, it's cutting light via shutter speed that is to blame. He would have even more noise and less details if he kept ISO low at that speed (therefore underexposing). –  Imre Jul 20 '11 at 15:09
    
@Imre so a higher shutter speed means less detail and more noise, generally? –  maq Jul 20 '11 at 16:41
    
@mohabitar yes, unless you had overexposure to start with. Given that aperture and lighting stays the same, a faster shutter speed will result in less light to carry info on details and random noise be more significant compared to light. ISO boosting is actually a way of compensating some (but not all) of that loss. See also: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/12480/… –  Imre Jul 20 '11 at 17:09
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It is very incorrect to say that a high shutter speed increases noise and loses detail. A low ISO with a high shutter speed will have no extra noise or detail loss if the amount of light hitting the sensor is correct. It is the act of raising the ISO, that effectively tells the sensor that it needs less light, that causes the loss of detail and increased noise because the electronics then need to boost the info from the reduced light it receives to achieve a well exposed shot. To say that in general a high shutter speed causes more noise and loss of detail is false. –  Dreamager Jul 20 '11 at 23:37
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In general, if you're keeping all of your shots at the same exposure level, then the only side of the exposure triangle that affects noise/grain is ISO. –  Evan Krall Jul 21 '11 at 6:47

By using a high ISO value, you add much noise to your picture, which can be very disturbing, especially in macro pictures. In a dark environment there is no real way to get away from a tripod, but while capturing images in a bright environment high shutter speed will do the trick. There are no disadvantages by using a higher shutter speed in a bright environment (if you keep thee ISO value low). Depending on what camera and lens you use, you might want to take advantage of features like Nikon's VR to keep your images still, even with lower shutter speed. I managed to take a close up picture with a 108mm lens with a shutter speed of 1/13sec free hand with the help of VR and it is mostly sharp.

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Ah no wonder I've been getting such noisy pictures. i.imgur.com/zoEfh.jpg –  maq Jul 20 '11 at 16:41

A rule of thumb is to keep your shutter speed faster than 1/f, where f is the focal length of your lens in mm. For example, when shooting at 200 mm, keep the shutter speed 1/200s or faster. If you are using a crop sensor, then multiply the denominator by your crop factor (e.g. ~1/300s or faster for 1.5x crop).

If you have image stabilization, you can keep the shutter open for as much as 3-4 stops more. Thus, 1/200s would become 1/30s, though your mileage will vary based on the lens IS system and how shaky you yourself are.

If you do not have a tripod, you can open up the aperture (shrinks DOF) or increase ISO (increases noise). Sometimes these schemes are useful (e.g. ISO 200 -> 400 won't make much difference), but if you don't have a lot of light to start with, they can negatively impact your photo.

A tripod eliminates all blur due to camera shake (if it is a sturdy and well positioned tripod). Some people are as paranoid as to flip the mirror before taking the photo, in cases where the camera has this feature.

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With macro photography a tripod is essential. A high shutter speed will certainly reduce blur caused by camera movement. Ditto for subject movement. That's fine. But it doesn't matter if your focus is sharp if it is focused on the wrong thing. The key constraint of macro photography is the very narrow depth of focus, sometimes a matter of millimeters. To accurately place your plane of focus you really need to slow down, use a tripod, zoom in one your viewfinder and get the focus exactly where you want it.

Of course, that is the ideal, in a studio setting. If you are dealing with live insects, that are moving, perhaps rapidly, then you may need to compromise. For example, I find that using a ring flash at f/11 works well shooting hand-held. 1) The flash freezes subject motion. 2) The smaller aperture gives greater depth of field making the focus more tolerant. 3) And the inverse-square fall-off of the flash illumination knocks out the background which would otherwise be distracting at f/11.

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Depending on the situation, high shutter speeds may compensate for lack of physical support for the camera. However, this is not a complete solution, and is not a substitute for a tripod in macro photography.

  • The need to use a high ISO sensitivity leads to high noise and loss of detail.
  • The lens usually needs to be wide open or nearly wide open, making it difficult to achieve optimal sharpness with the lens and making it difficult to achieve deep depth of field. This is especially important with macro photography, where the depth of field is usually very shallow.
  • If the subject permits, a tripod can enable very long exposures at lower ISO sensitivity levels and with the lens stopped down to the optimal aperture. If the exposure is long enough (typically one second or longer), dark-frame subtraction can be used, further reducing noise without losing detail.
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