Alley in Pisa, Italy

by Lars Kotthoff

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I have a Nikon d3100 with 18-55mm and 55-200mm lenses. My issues are the lighting and the shutter speed for fast moving objects. My aperture is set to f/3.5, shutter at 1/1000th of a second, and ISO is 800. I am still getting blurry pictures. Any suggestions with this particular camera that works best?

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Given those settings, I'm inclined to think that the camera isn't the problem. You may want to look to your technique instead and see some of the related answers the site is suggesting. –  John Cavan Mar 5 '12 at 0:39
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Posting a sample picture would help. –  mattdm Mar 5 '12 at 0:52
    
Max out your ISO setting, you might have a lot of noise but it's better than not getting the shot at all. And slow down your shutter to 1/500th of sec. Maybe even slower. Shooting fast moving objects is more about anticipation. Also, make sure you have some kind of support, like monopod or tripod. –  Alen Mar 5 '12 at 2:32
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at f/3.5, your problem might be shallow depth of field combined with being slightly out of focus. This is especially likely if the subject is moving towards or away from you. –  Joe Mar 5 '12 at 7:42
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I think that without a photo we can only offer conjecture, which makes this question only marginally useful, right? –  Dan Wolfgang Mar 5 '12 at 15:13
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5 Answers 5

At f/3.5, your problem is probably shallow depth of field combined with being slightly out of focus. This is especially likely if the subject is moving towards or away from you.

Other sources of blur include motion blur and poor quality.

Motion blur comes from two sources: camera-shake, and subject movement. At your shutter speed and lens length, camera shake is most likely not the problem. Using a tripod can reduce camera-shake, but won't help with the blur caused by a moving subject. A higher shutter speed, and panning with the subject can alleviate this problem.

If the problem is subject movement, then whatever is moving fastest in the photo will show the most blur.

If no part of the image is sharp, or the wrong part is sharp, then the problem is most likely shallow depth of field and misplaced focus

Motion blur and shallow depth of field also look different. Compare your photo with examples of motion blur and shallow depth of field and you will be able to tell which it is, and if you can't tell, post a photo and we can help.

Finally, poor image quality may make an image not as sharp as you wish. This may be caused by using cheap filters, having your ISO set so high that the image is very noisy, having a dirty front element on your lens, poor lighting conditions, etc.

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I doubt this is due to shallow DOF. Since f3.5 is being used we know that the 18-55mm must be getting used at 18mm. If the gymnast is only 5 feet away that provides about 3.5 feet of in-focus area. A greater camera-subject distance will only increase DOF. –  Dan Wolfgang Mar 5 '12 at 15:18
    
That's true... but if the gymnast is significantly farther away, then the gymnast will be quite small in the frame, and most of the frame (even most of the gymnast) should not be blurry at that shutter speed. You would be at least as hard pressed to get camera shake at 18mm and 1/1000 shutter speed. –  Joe Mar 5 '12 at 19:14
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I would read Peter Norvig's article about dance photography: http://norvig.com/dance-photography.html It was very instructive for me. It basically outlines the various sources of blurring that you may be observing. Some tips that are readily useful:

  • Try to take pictures when action has slowed (at the peak of a gymnastic motion)
  • Make sure that you're not blurry because you aren't able to focus fast enough
  • Make sure that you're not blurry because there is not enough light.
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Those settings are more than enough to avoid motion blur. My guess is that you are not focusing properly. Perhaps try using AF-C focus mode or pre-focusing on a spot where you know the athlete will be. If it is motion blur, the athletes must be moving very fast and your only option is to bump up the shutter speed and ISO.

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Maybe you should learn to move with the subject. The best way to do this is to watch the gymnasts carefully before you start shooting, so you learn to forsee their movements.

Use a monopod like Alen suggested and a good SBXXX and go with the move of the athlete. The flashlight will help you to reduce your ISO level and freeze the movement.

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A flash won't necessarily be allowed.... –  mattdm Mar 6 '12 at 3:35
    
At 1/1000 second, a monopod or a flashlight is the wrong solution to the OP's problem. –  Gapton Mar 7 '12 at 5:55
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Indoor action is one of the toughest things to photograph. Fast lenses and full frame cameras with the ability to deliver high iso with little noise is the ideal here, but most of us cannot afford that.

But to get the most out of your equipment set your aperture as wide as it will go, if that's 3.5 then leave it there, if you can go down to 2.8, that's even better. At a normal distance your depth of field should be plenty to get what you need in focus for most cases.

Crank the ISO up to 1600 or higher depending how well your camera handles noise. Any dslr should handle 1600. Yes it will make noisier or softer images, but lightroom or other software can do amazing things with noisy images. In any case, I would take a noisy image over motion blur any day. Seriously, don't sweat 1600 ISO.

That should freeze the action well enough, for at least gymnasium level lighting.

If the problem is camera shake, getting a tripod or using lens image/vibration stabilization can help, or at least propping yourself against a wall to steady yourself.

It's not an easy type of thing to shoot, so practice makes perfect.

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