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30-Second Landscape: Mehrlen Creek, Sequoia National Park in May


Watch on YouTube for full-size

Here is another 30-second landscape I made on my recent backpacking trip through Sequoia National Park. This clip features Mehrlen Creek winding through the Western Sierras.

This whole area of the trail was very interesting because it featured a gorgeous waterfall cascading gently over the slick granite rock formations. It wasn't a free-fall waterfall flying over a cliff, but instead the water just kind of poured down the steep rocks, finding the path of least resistance, guided by cracks and folds in the terrain. Truly stunning.

We made camp near this creek on our final night in Sequoia National Park and I had the great pleasure of spending some leisure time reclined on a seat of rocks next to this beautiful water feature. As I laid there with the soothing sounds filling my ears and the expansive vista filling my eyes, I felt like I finally understood John Muir's obsession with this area.

Soaking in the sights and sounds from my makeshift lounge chair, I had one of those rare moments of self-awareness where I realized that I was experiencing one of the happiest moments of my life. It may sound like I'm over-inflating a relatively mundane experience, but I truly felt a heightened state of happiness that only the deep wilderness can bring out in me. Being out there in the middle of the Sierra Nevadas, observing the wonders of light and color before me, with no cell phone, Twitter, Facebook, or any of the other usual diversions, I could truly enjoy the fruits of nature without distraction.

I can't wait to get back out there.

30-Second Landscape: Mehrlen Creek, Sequoia National Park in May


Watch on YouTube for full-size

I took a backpacking trip this past May with some good friends of mine through Sequoia National Park. Since weight is obviously an issue when backpacking, I decided to bring my lightweight Canon EOS Rebel T4i for some casual shooting. If I had my way, I would have brought my heavy Mamiya RZ67 medium format film camera, but then I'd have to hire a sherpa and I just can't afford that.

The Rebel T4i may not be my usual medium of choice, but the fact that it shoots video came very much in handy for this trip. After a fun session of photographing Mehrlen Creek at sunset, I decided to steal take inspiration from an idea borne from the great Chase Jarvis. He does these awesome 60-second portraits which are basically short tightly-framed video clips of interesting people not really talking or doing anything particularly entertaining. It's just about observing a person and seeing what their face has to say.

I thought I'd take a cue from Chase and start making these 30-second landscapes so that you can get a taste of what the world is like wherever I happen to be taking pictures. No narration or anything. Just the sights and sounds of nature.

Enjoy.

Photography Tips: Fixing Blurry Pictures

Skill Level: Beginner

Blurry pictures are one of the most common reasons a student will contact me for private lessons or an online photography course. It’s a problem as old as photography and still continues today despite all the technological advances with digital. Fixing blurry pictures involves changing the way you shoot, not getting new equipment or hoping Photoshop will undo the blur (it won’t). 

Often times a shooter will attribute their soft photos to their “crappy kit lens” or their entry-level camera. If only they had sharper glass and a better auto focus system, then blurry pictures would be a thing of the past. And with all the bloated lens reviews on the net comparing side-by-side images and MTF charts, it’s no wonder people assume lens sharpness is a big issue.

Well, it’s not. I can almost guarantee that your blurry photos are not blurry because of your lens. I have tons of students come to me with blurry photos and almost every single time, the blur is not due to a soft lens or bad focus.

Fixing Blurry Pictures

This photo is blurry (as can be seen in the 100% crop below)
but the culprit is not a bad lens or poor focus.
It's blurry because the shutter speed was too slow.

Fixing Blurry Pictures

When it comes to fixing blurry pictures, we first must establish that there are 2 basic types of blur in photography: out-of-focus blur and motion blur (let’s not get in to diffraction). Out-of-focus blur can be intentional and pleasing, like a blurry background in a portrait. Out-of-focus blur can also be unintentional and can ruin a shot. That would be like when the camera focuses on the wrong thing and so your subject goes out of focus.

Motion blur, on the other hand, comes from subject movement or camera shake during the exposure. And whether or not this results in blur is dependent on what shutter speed you use. You’ll get less motion blur with fast shutter speeds and more motion blur with slow shutter speeds.

In my thousands of hours of experience working with aspiring photographers, I can confidently say the number one reason for blurry photos is from camera shake at shutter speeds that are too slow. This is why blurry photos are especially common in low light scenarios, like indoors. The camera needs a slow shutter speed in low-light environments in order to create a correct exposure. Sometimes that’s the only way the camera can get enough light. But this slow shutter speed makes it nearly impossible to freeze camera shake and subject movement.

So the key to fixing blurry pictures caused by motion is to use a faster shutter speed. And how does one get a faster shutter speed? Well, it isn’t as simple as switching over to shutter priority mode and dialing in a faster shutter. You can’t take away light with a faster shutter speed unless you give the camera more light from the aperture or ISO.

To get your faster shutter speed, you must raise the ISO and/or open up the aperture. It’s that simple. Anytime the shutter speed is too slow, just raise the ISO or open the aperture and you’ll get a faster shutter. You may have to do this a few times. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Fixing Blurry Pictures

With a wider aperture and higher ISO,
my camera was able to use a faster shutter speed, 
resulting in a much sharper photo. 

Fixing Blurry Pictures

Now it may happen sometimes where you raise the ISO to its limit and you open the aperture all the way, and the shutter is still too slow. Now what? Well that’s why God gave us flash. Alternatively, you could get a new camera with a higher maximum ISO or a lens with a wider maximum aperture, but let’s not run out and drop a few grand on new gear just yet.

The bottom line is you need to know shutter speed, aperture, and ISO like the back of your hand. If you know those things well, you’ll be in complete control of motion blur and out-of-focus blur. That’s why I devote over half of my Introduction to DSLR Photography online course to shutter, aperture, and ISO. You really can’t know these things too well.

So next time you’re faced with blurry photos in low light, try raising the ISO and/or opening the aperture. Oh, and you sure as hell can’t be in full auto mode for this one!