Ever wonder why you got so many blurry photos in your phone? The reason is that you lost the sharpness of your photots. One thing that may reduce sharpness is movement.
Motion blur happens mostly if things move, when there isn’t enough light to freeze the movement. If a photo is blurry and the scene is bright, it is unlikely that movement is at fault. In bright sunshine, very few cameras have problems capturing rapid movements of things like sports, moving vehicles, dances or even airplanes. If you suspect motion blur, and you can change the light, try to make the scene brighter. However, often this is not an option, and you need to look for other solutions.
If your hands are not steady, that can cause motion blur. What one can try is to hold the phone against a steady object, like a wall, a fence or a rock.
If one holds the camera tight against something that doesn’t move, one eliminates any blur due to trembling hands.
Holding one edge against a wall may help, but the phone can still tilt, and that may cause motion blur. If possible, place the phone so two opposite edges are secured. One way of doing this is by pressing the phone against the corner of a wall, so the lens is over the corner, but most of the phone rests steadily against the wall.
Other ways of achieving this is to press the phone against a transparent (andclean) window, to press it against a hard grid or a fence with a hole, or to press it against an angle of two surfaces.
If your camera has a timer or a remote, you can arrange it in plenty of other positions. Set the phone to take a picture, when your hands do not touch it, and there will be no blur caused by shaking hands.
Here, the photographer uses some kind of remote control to take a photo of the glass and the wall.
When one doesn’t hold the camera in one’s hands, not only is the camera perfectly still, one can also get photos from really unusual angles.
One solution should be applied with caution: pressing the phone against glass.
Suppose you are in a dark aquarium. If you stand a meter away from a fish tank it is unlikely that you get a good photo. There will be reflections in the glass from things around you. The surrounding darkness will make the camera use a long shutter speed, which makes moving fish blurry. The fish may also be overexposed.
If you take the phone and press it gently against the glass, you will avoid reflections, the shutter speed will be adjusted to the light in the tank, and not the surrounding light, and the camera will not move at all. It will still be difficult to take photos of moving fish, but most fish have moments when they hover in the water without moving. Wait for that moment, and shoot.
Photo taken at one of the rare moments, when the clown fish didn’t move.
The caution, then? Why did I talk about caution? Everything sounds marvellous so far.
Well, there are plenty of drawbacks.
- You may inadvertently break the glass. That will make you look really stupid. If this happens with an aquarium, you will get soaking wet, and the fish will die. If it happens when you press the camera against the glass of a museum display with crown jewels or similar, you risk criminal charges.
- If you try this in a museum, you may set off an alarm connected to the glass, even if you do not actually break it.
- You may scratch the camera lens or the glass you press it against. Many phone covers add a distance between the lens and the outer edge, so if you use a cover, this risk is smaller.
- If you have flash switched on in an aquarium, the light may disturb the fish, especially deep-sea organisms. Always switch off the flash, when taking photos of animals. It is a matter of courtesy to the animal. Remember that the animal is at home, and you are its guest. (Using flash when you stand some distance away in an aquarium will just create a big blob of white light on the glass, and the photo will be completely
unusable,unless you are looking for a very odd effect.)
- If you keep pressing your camera against glass all the time in a public space, you block the view from other visitors. Show consideration to other people. If you are serious about using a mobile phone to take photos in museums or aquariums or zoos, perhaps for an article or a research project, talk to the staff, and ask to stay a few minutes after normal opening hours.
Low light contributes to motion blur for a physical reason. If there isn’t enough light, the camera will need to keep the sensor open for a longer time to let in more photons. During this time the subject may have moved a certain distance, so the photo becomes blurry.
This picture was taken in the shade with limited light. Nevertheless, the bird is reasonably sharp, as it sits still.
Here the bird got nervous and started moving away, and there is no sharpness left at all in the bird, while the immobile bench still is reasonably sharp.
If you can, add more light. If you take a photo of a cat playing with a toy, take the toy and the cat out from the living room, and place it on the lawn in bright sunlight. If you take a photo of the dress rehearsal of a theatre play, ask if they can add spotlights, if your photos turn out blurry. (Try to avoid taking pictures during public performances, as you may disturb other spectators.)
If you get blurry pictures a windy and cloudy day, or at dawn or dusk, try coming back in the middle of the day, when the sky is clear, and you get more light. (This rule can obviously not be applied if you try to capture sunsets, early morning light or a dramatic storm.)
Selecting focus point
Another possible problem with blurry photos, is when the phone focuses on the wrong subject.
This is unlikely to be a problem with distant objects, like a faraway building in front of a distant mountain. Most phones consider distances beyond a few meters “infinity”. However, when you want to focus on something close up, this can be a real problem.
Almost all current mobile phones have face recognition. This means that they identify faces in the picture and focus on them. If there are many faces, the camera will probably focus on as many faces as possible. In most cases, that is exactly what you want. However, in some cases, the system may not work. There may be some formation in the background that looks like a face, while the face in the foreground is in a profile without much contrast. It is always a good idea to check the indicators of found faces, to make sure that they land in the right spots. If the face recognition gets things wrong, you can often tap on the place where you want the focus to go to override the automatic functionality.
If you take a photo of a flower 50cm away in front of a hedge that is 100 cm away, it is very possible that the camera will choose to focus on the hedge and not the flower.
There are a few things one can do, and not all of them may work with all cameras.
The most basic solution is to make sure the main subject is in the middle of the frame. By default, most cameras try to focus on the centre of the frame.
This doesn’t always work, however. Many cameras try to identify the most “interesting” parts of a picture, and they focus there, regardless of what you consider interesting. Another problem can be if the subject is very thin or moving, like a grass reed, when it is windy. Besides, focusing on the middle may give a boring composition of the photo.
Many cameras allow you to touch the screen, where you want the focus to go.
Try this, and make sure you touch the right subject.
Always verify the photo afterwards. You may be sure you touched in the right spot, but the camera decided to change things anyhow. This is different from big cameras. If you have a DSLR where you configure all settings manually, and you master the technique, you will know what the camera records, and you won’t have to check it. With the all the automatic software of a phone, you are more likely to encounter surprises.
If it is windy, try to secure the subject, so it doesn’t move. If that isn’t possible, take many photos. If you take 20 photos, you may get one that is spot on and 19 to discard. Try to be as random as possible with the many
photos. If you always take the photo when the flower seems to swish past the centre of the frame, it may always be too far to the right, when the camera takes the photo with a certain small delay.
If it seems impossible to focus at the right distance, you can sometimes cheat by focusing at something else at the same distance. You can for example place a chair at exactly the same distance as the subject, but a little to the right or the left of the subject. Take the photo, pointing the camera at the chair. Then crop the photo to remove the chair. What you have left may be more than enough to create a beautiful picture.
In the photo above, the hoverfly is much more in focus than the grass behind it.
On the original photo, one can see that the camera actually focused on the flower, which happened to be at the same distance as the hoverfly. By cropping away the flower, the insect gets the viewer’s attention.
Another possible problem is when there is no focus at all. This usually happens when there is low contrast. If you try to take a picture of two flag posts a bit apart, some cameras may try to focus on the blue sky in between. As blue sky has no edges and shows no contrast, the camera may not be able to focus. The solution here is to make sure the focus area covers something with edges. You can tap on one of the flag posts or you can point the camera so the focus area covers the flag posts. That should do the trick. Many cameras usually do this themselves, but in some cases, it may be good to be able to help them.
But regardless of the sharpness, some photos may always be worth keeping. Your child’s first step. The last portrait of elderly relatives. If there is an emotional value with the photos, keep them, regardless of how bad they turned out. You will never get another photo of your child’s first step, and once your elderly relatives are dead, they will sadly never come back.