Lately, in my picture taking endeavors I have been trying to concentrate more on some of the technical aspects of photography. When I am shooting hand-held, for example, I am trying to keep the shutter speed high enough to avoid noticeable blur in the photos. There is a guideline that indicates your shutter speed should be at least faster than the reciprocal of your focal length. For example, if you are using a 50mm lens, then the shutter speed should be faster than 1/50, which would typically mean faster than 1/60 of a second when discussing whole stops. That guideline was probably developed from some trial and error. The fact is that longer focal length lenses, such as telephotos are typically heavier and tend to magnify camera motion more because they are trained on some distant subject.
As I take pictures these days using my month-old Canon EOS-5D Mark II, I'm trying to pay attention to those numbers in the viewfinder. If my shutter speed doesn't meet that guideline and I'm shooting hand-held, I first see if I can open the aperture any further. If I am already at my maximum aperture, then I will adjust the ISO speed of the camera. The 5D Mark II excels at taking pictures with high ISO settings and keeps the noise level to a minimum.
Sometimes, you don't want to increase the ISO speed because you want the cleanest picture you can get. At that time, you need to suspend hand-held shooting and grab a tripod and a remote shutter release. I currently have a Giottos carbon-fiber tripod which is reasonably light and is strong and stiff. To the tripod, I have mated an Arca-Swiss Monoball Z1 SP ballhead. This is arguably one of the best ballheads out there. Ballheads are very quick and easy to use. This tripod and head combination is great, but it is relatively big and bulky, although it is not that heavy. This Christmas, while spending time with my parents in Florida, I wanted to take pictures of the lights. I didn't have my tripod because it would have been too much to carry on the plane. My Dad's Slik aluminum tripod really wasn't up to the task of supporting the 5D Mark II with battery grip and 24-70mm f/2.8L zoom. I then decided that I needed a compact tripod along with a smaller ballhead to complement my other tripod/head combination. I think that I have settled on a Gitzo GT1541T Traveler carbon-fiber tripod along with a Really Right Stuff BH-40 ballhead. The Traveler is a 4-section tripod that collapses to 16" when the legs are folded back over the center column. The ballhead should easily support my typical camera/lens combinations.
Besides trying to think about using a tripod more, I'm looking at the other techniques for taking sharper photos. One of them is using a remote shutter release or some other remote trigger. I've got two remote options at my disposal. The first is Canon's timer remote control. This is a wired remote control that also be programmed to take photos are specific intervals, can take a pre-determined numbers of photos, and a couple of other functions. Of course the main purpose of the remote shutter release is to ensure that you aren't touching the camera at the time that the picture is taken. My other remote method involves a couple of PocketWizard radio triggers. One PocketWizard sits in the camera's hot shoe with a cable running to the camera's remote control socket. The other PocketWizard is in my hand. I just hit the Test button to take a picture. Another technique to get sharper photos is to use mirror lockup, ideally in combination with a delay timer on the camera. You hit the shutter release button on the remote the first time and the mirror swings out of the way. Then after a delay determined either by the camera or the photographer, the actual picture is taken, but by this time the vibrations caused by the mirror moving out of the way have diminished. The other method that I can think of to achieve sharp photos is to use Live View. Until I got the 5D Mark II, I didn't have this option. But by using Live View and manual focus and Live View's 5x and 10x magnification modes, I can fine-tune focus on my subject. A tripod and several of these techniques are going to be absolutely necessary when I acquire a tilt-shift lens (either the Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II or the TS-E 17mm f/4L), I suspect.
I'm also trying to work on my photographic composition. So far, my photos have more of a photojournalistic style to them, and although the document something, they can be rather boring. I know one thing, photography is like many other things: there is always more to learn.