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to help you
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Tips for Better Pictures

This is the first of several
e-tips
on how to take
sharper pictures
Today's e-tip:

A "solution" for Blurry
& un-sharp Pictures


(and why you might want
to consider going "naked")

I've seen many images where the photographer shows me a picture and exclaims how sharp it is. Often, the reality is, that the image is just not sharp. It doesn't have the "crispness" that is so apparent with a "sharp" image. Most lenses are designed to take sharp pictures. Some lenses are sharper than others, but most are capable of taking a sharp image. If you've ever looked at images in magazines, and wondered why your pictures aren't as sharp, then this series is for you.

Learn to take sharp pictures like the Pros!
The rules for taking sharp pictures are relatively simple, and you can do it!



A "Solution" to un-sharp pictures - part 1

Filters – Filters can cause a serious loss of sharpness. There are two reasons for this: quality and cleanliness.

Quality: The bottom-line is, that if you paid less than about $50 for a filter, you shouldn’t be using it! 

The only filters you should use should be "multi-coated". Multi-coating helps reduce most surface reflections. They have coatings that help reduce reflection between the filter and the lens. These reflections occur in the "air space" between lens elements and filter.  These reflections may or may not be obvious. The obvious ones occur as "lens flair", but even if you don't see the "lens flair", there may still be internal reflections that can and do reduce sharpness, color saturation and overall quality. Unfortunately, multicoated filters are more expensive than non-multi-coated filters. A quick review of B&H Photo’s web site reveals that a 58mm polarizing filter can range in price from $25 to almost $200. Some are multi-coated, while others aren't. A reasonably priced multi-coated filter on their site is about $50.

I only use filters when needed – and I don't normally use a “protection” filter – you know, the 1A Skylight or UV filter that looks like plain glass and is used all the time to “protect” your lens. Why don’t I use a “Protection” filter? Well, I’ve not used one in MANY years, and in that time, I’ve done some pretty stupid things to my lenses – like driving away with a 300mm/f4 lens on my roof (it proceeded to crash onto the pavement!); like knocking over my tripod with a camera/lens attached to it, etc., etc. Each time, the lens needed some sort of repair, but I’ve never (knock-on-wood) damaged the lens glass. That's not to say it won't happen to you - but, in my 50 years of taking pictures, I've not known of anyone who had a situation where a filter "protected" their lens from damage! The salespeople in camera stores know that the easiest profit is selling a cheap "protection" filter - after all, who doesn't wa nt to protect their investment for only $20 :) ! But, these "cheap" filters aren't usually multi-coated and can degrade your images. The only filters I use are a polarizer (only when I want to cut reflection) and a graduated neutral density filter (for landscapes). Although I do use a UV filter when shooting at altitude, as it can help reduce the "blue" in the atmosphere at altitudes over about 5,000 feet and a 1A filter when shooting in "dirty" environments, such as the desert where sand is blowing, or by the ocean, where salt-spray is present, etc. (in this case, it really does protect your lens!)

I recommend that you “go naked” most of the time - only use filters when needed. Remember, everything you put in front of your lens has the ability to degrade your images. The choice to "protect" your lens is yours - if you do choose to use a 1A or UV filter, just make sure it's multi-coated - and clean.


Cleanliness: Filters tend to get much dirtier than lenses - I'm not sure why this is, but it's something I've observed over the years. In addition, multi-coated filters can be more difficult to keep clean, and you can scratch the coating if you don't handle them carefully. If you have a filter on your lens, remove it and take a look at it. I’ll bet that it’s pretty dirty! It's amazing how a slightly dirty filter can reduce the quality of your images! We recommend you clean your filters and lenses regularly with a clean high-quality micro-fiber cloth and a high-quality cleaning solution like ROR. We don't recommend using lens cleaning "tissue" - as many of these can scratch a lens - a much better choice is a good-quality, clean microfiber cloth. A few rules for cleaning lenses and filters:
  • Use a blower or lens brush first to remove any gritty dirt that may be on your lens/filter. You can use "canned air" (just be sure to keep the can up-right), a soft brush or inexpesive "bulb" blower.
  • Never put cleaning fluid directly on the lens or filter – you don’t want the fluid to seep into the edges where it can dissolve the adhesive holding the glass in place. Instead, put the cleaning fluid on a clean micro-fiber cloth and starting in the middle, clean in a circular motion working your way to the edges. You may need to repeat two or three times, each time using a clean portion of the microfiber cloth.
  • Clean your microfiber cloths in water only – don’t use soap or any other cleaning agents, as they can cause smearing on your lenses and filters. If you have to clean with soap, rinse it in clean-clear water multiple times until you are sure that all of the soap has been rinsed out.



The following images are of a tree trunk in my backyard. They show the 100% center cropped portion of the images. They were both taken with the s ame tripod-mounted camera (Nikon D700), lens (Nikkor 105mm/f2.8) and exposure (1/160 sec @ f8). The only difference was that one had a filter. Both RAW images had only a "levels" adjustment in Photoshop. The image on the left had no filter and the one on the right had a high-quality 1A Skylight filter with LIGHT fingerprint smudges on it.
 You can CLEARLY see how much sharpness was lost with only a few fingerprint smudges!
 

Effect of a dirty filter

If your lenses and filters aren't REALLY clean,
you can be losing a LOT of sharpness!!





Related products to help you take better pictures:

ROR and a Microfiber Lens Cleaning Cloth {Combo}
SAVE $1.50 on ROR and a Microfiber Cleaning Cloth. This is a great deal - it includes both a 1 oz bottle of ROR (enough to last MANY years!) along with a microfiber cleaning cloth design… 

ROR Spray and a Microfiber Cloth 2 ounce {Combo}
SAVE $1.95 on the 2-ounce bottle of ROR and a Microfiber Cleaning Cloth. This is a great deal - it includes both a 2 oz spray bottle of ROR (enough to last MANY years!) along with a microfiber cleaning cloth design… 

ProDot Shutter Button Upgrade - Black
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ProDot Shutter Button Upgrade - Red
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Sirui K-10x Ball Head
Fantastic quality combined with a great price makes this your best choice in an industry-standard ball head.

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Follow-Focus
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The Green Pod
THE GREEN POD is a product I've used for several years now that can be used as an alternative to a tripod to get really sharp pictures.  I find it to be one of the BEST inexpensive ...


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