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Bridges At Night

Dec 22

In In The Field at 8:55am

While I was over in Europe, went out at the edge of darkness to do some shooting, and I learned something. (This is just me catching up, really. I’m sure lots of folks already use this technique.)

When confronted with dicey shutter speeds without a tripod handy, my traditional approach is to hold steady, obviously, and also find something to brace on. (My tripod was where it usually is, back at the hotel room.) For the above I rested my elbows on a railing. Then I went to continuous high on the drive, settled in, and started bursting the camera. Hits and misses, as always, but sheer volume dictated I would have a reasonable number of sharp images.

My wife Annie, who’s got a terrific eye, was right next to me, shooting quite a bit slower. She counseled me that I should go to a feature called mirror lock up, available on lots of camera models. (In Nikons it’s up on the ring where you dial in your shooting mode, labeled Mup.) In this mode, the mirror swings up and out of the way, and the shutter opening is not immediate, as in normal operation. There is a lag between the mirror bouncing upwards (which can be the cause of vibration within the camera, and loss of sharpness as a result) and the actual picture being taken.

Now, this was news to me, as I’m sure it is not to most folks. But, seeing as we’re heading into 2012 and I’m still working on my first rough draft of the nineties, it comes as no surprise.

It’s one of those bells and whistles features I generally overlook, mostly because I still use the cameras, as fancy as they are, about the way a blacksmith uses a hammer and an anvil. But, it was cool. I started shooting in that mode, while Annie started humming the theme from Space Odyssey. (Joe make discovery!)

Looking at our respective takes later, her results were consistently sharper than mine. So it was a good outing, and I learned something. A walk with Annie, camera in hand, beautiful sunset, and I learned something? Christmas came early.

More tk…

Shawn Des Jardins says:

on December 22, 2011 at 9:02 am

I enjoy being there at the right time to capture the ultimate picture as you have done with the bridge and tram.

Peter says:

on December 22, 2011 at 9:08 am

Thanks for that Joe,

This is one of those things that you do not even realise there is for you to use with new cameras. Never even heard of this option before – now through twitter, I realised and researched it more – will definitely use it on the next shoot.


Peter Kirring says:

on December 22, 2011 at 9:18 am

Zürich, Switzerland – right?

Merry Christmas Joe!

Steven Mackie says:

on December 22, 2011 at 9:23 am

Why are our wives always, always right? :)

Bill Bogle Jr. says:

on December 22, 2011 at 9:26 am

Yup, Annie rules! I was wondering how you would react to Siri on the Iphone 4s. I can see Siri saying in a rather firm voice to a question Close the pod bay door. Perhaps this technology stuff is getting too good.

BTW, is that F with the Motor Drive still in use from the acetate portion of Sketching Light? Talk about a hammer and anvil.

Have a great holiday.


Steven says:

on December 22, 2011 at 9:31 am

I always use the mirror lock up feature when shooting macro using a cable release. It definitely increases the sharpness of the images. I also turn off the vibration reduction since the camera is already held by the tripod (Scott Kelby trick).

christine pincince says:

on December 22, 2011 at 10:06 am

Well good for you JOE! and good for us to be reminded to use that feature also. More importantly, it takes a real man to publicly credit his wife with a great idea, in particular when it is in his own area of expertise. I have always admired you and your amazing talent and generosity with sharing all that you know and have several of your fab books, but today you have elevated yourself to hero status! Merry Christmas!

Naskean says:

on December 22, 2011 at 10:11 am

Thanks Joe. I know of this function but never use it. I’m gonna give it a try next time I find myself in this situation. It’s also comforting knowing a talented man such as yourself doesn’t know everything. It’s just impossible to be bored as a photographer! There’s always something knew to learn!!



Bill McCarroll says:

on December 22, 2011 at 10:17 am

Wow, I knew something Joe didn’t, that’s a monumental first for me!!! I guess I’m in good company with Annie. :-)

Chris says:

on December 22, 2011 at 10:24 am


Your post was very inspirational. As with everything else in life, we never stop learning. I’ve heard of this technique before, but that’s as far as it’s gone. I haven’t put it in practice, simply because I wasn’t sure what situation to use it in.


Alex says:

on December 22, 2011 at 10:24 am

…and I hope you both enjoyed your stay in Zuerich, I think its a fantastic city.

Joe McNally says:

on December 22, 2011 at 10:24 am

cool…good tip as well….thanks…

Joe McNally says:

on December 22, 2011 at 10:25 am

hey always, thanks for chipping in on the blog. And that F would need a makeover, but it will still work. yes, as Marty Forscher used to say, “You could hammer a nail with that camera!”

Joe McNally says:

on December 22, 2011 at 10:25 am

yep! great city!

Claudio says:

on December 22, 2011 at 10:34 am

Maybe it’s just me, but I have never tried to take sharp pictures at night hand-holding the camera. Not a steady gunslinger, myself. So this is what I have been doing since the Nineties:

Put the camera on top of a rubbish bin, on a bridge’s handrail – holding the neckstrap! – or on anything that’s higher than the ground; compose the image (live view helps); set the timer (10 seconds should do); click, wait, and the image will usually be quite sharp. Adding the mirror up (or the shutter delay option, on my D300) gives even more peace of mind.

Joe Howe says:

on December 22, 2011 at 10:48 am

I guess you didn’t go to bed stupid that night! :)

Jay Mann says:

on December 22, 2011 at 10:53 am

Thanks for reminding me, I never remember that feature when I need it. Hammer and anvil? I usually refer to my Nikon as a hockey stick.
Have a safe and happy holiday season.

Norm Shapiro says:

on December 22, 2011 at 12:12 pm

If your camera doesn’t have a mirror up option using the self timer might do the same thing.

Nat Carling says:

on December 22, 2011 at 1:02 pm

I like how Nikon implements this (as a 1-second-ish delay between raising the mirror and opening the shutter) – you still get to look through the viewfinder between clicks, which is swell.

I use this fairly often for long exposures, whether on or off a tripod – my challenge is that I don’t think there’s been a *single time* when I’ve used this feature and actually remembered to turn it off when I put the camera away. And of course, the next time I use the camera is invariably to take candid snapshots somewhere. Which come out great when people smile about a second before the actual exposure (when they hear the mirror snap up).

By the way (while we’re admitting to shortcomings), yes, I have the same problem every time I bracket exposures, too.

Rune Fimland says:

on December 22, 2011 at 1:21 pm

Mup I know, but using it with handheld camera was new. There are are always situation where you tear your hair of because you did not bring the right tools! Then you have to get creative. Lucky you, having a wife like that!
Thanks to hear for that tip!

Libby says:

on December 22, 2011 at 1:36 pm

One thing I have noticed especially with new shooters when they do things like this is that they manhandle the camera. They’re like a bull in a china shop. Be gentle, finesse the machine don’t force it. MLU is definitely great, and yes the self timer helps too. It gives you time to get your hands off the camera.

Joe I just wanted to say your book came yesterday and I am blown away. So many truths so well spoken in the preface. Those who read may finally realize that’s it’s not all about what I like to call the Magic Settings. Every image is its own entity and should be treated as such.

I want you to do the Circus book. Your truth, your vision. It would be great!

Linnea says:

on December 22, 2011 at 2:40 pm

Please tell my partner that I’m always right… Interesting feature. Thank you very much for sharing!

Jenika says:

on December 22, 2011 at 3:49 pm

Joe McNally, you make me laugh out loud, every time. You are awesome, I love your writing, I love your photos, and I love your attitude. Much health and joy to you in 2012.

Happy holidays, happy shooting.

Greg says:

on December 22, 2011 at 4:09 pm

What is it with photographer’s spouse’s? My wife too, has an outstanding eye for composition and detail… Though she prefer’s the operational simplicity of her iPhone, she routinely comes back with wonderful compositions. I now ALWAYS keep one eye on her, and what she is photographing… I see a lot of pros are in a similar situation…

Brent says:

on December 22, 2011 at 7:09 pm

Oh Joe…you’re get the hang of this photography thing someday! 😉 Happy holiday’s to you and yours.

Ron says:

on December 22, 2011 at 7:47 pm

Even my old, old Canon FTb had mirror lock up! That was in the ’70s! It works best if you can keep the camera stable while taking the photo. Never tried it hand held!
Digital cameras with Live View lift the mirror when Live View comes on so if you use that, there is no need for lock up.
Of course, some of the smaller four thirds cameras have no mirror, so again no need for lock up.

If there is nothing solid to put the camera on, I get the best results using your method, turn on drive and take several. I need to see where I am aiming the camera or it wanders.

Love reading your blog, keep it up.

matso says:

on December 22, 2011 at 7:56 pm

That’s true that we can be amazed by new tricks everyday but come on Joe :)! Mirror lock-up isn’t a new feature, It has been on cameras for AGES since the very beginning of SLR and medium format cameras, that new option comes back to the 50’s :) and not a fancy button, this is vital for any serious low shutter speed type of work (astro, micro, macro, lanscape, architecture, you name it).
the mirror of the 35mm SLR is very tiny, but you should feel the shake of a mirror up operation in a bulky medium format camera…

matso says:

on December 22, 2011 at 8:51 pm

one GREAT trick about this mirror lock-up is to have more natural looking pictures of posing people : as soon as they ear the mirror up noise, thinking it was the picture, they relax, and bam you get your portrait :)

Bob says:

on December 23, 2011 at 1:12 am

“mirror up” – great tip, even when you know it. Smart shooter, that Annie.

Merry Christmas to you & your family from Germany!

Kyle Jerichow says:

on December 23, 2011 at 1:41 am

Don’t feel bad, Kamila shows me new things (especially things involving photography) pretty much everyday… is always good to surround yourself with people smarter than you….much better to marry some that is smarter than you.

All the best,

Doug says:

on December 23, 2011 at 1:46 am

Wow, I knew something Joe McNally didn’t? :-)

Well, even a stopped clock is right twice a day. I’m sure you’ve forgotten a lot more than I will ever know.

joop says:

on December 23, 2011 at 7:38 am

Now if you could only find a way to remove those dust spots… :p

Ship Barber says:

on December 23, 2011 at 7:43 am

I’ve used shutter delay for on tripod landscape shots, but not for hand held. Thanks for another great tip.

Happy Holidays to you and Annie

Benjamin James says:

on December 23, 2011 at 9:46 am

The Muppet theme songs always starts playing in my head when every I think, “I should really MUP it for this shot”..

Dominik says:

on December 23, 2011 at 3:26 pm

Nice photos: this view is the view from my way home! BTW I enjoyed your presentation at the digital event at baden a lot?
alle the best


Cristian says:

on December 23, 2011 at 6:37 pm

…still laughing at the scene of your wife humming the Space odissey theme…. :)

Happy Holiday to you and your family from Italy!

Matt Timmons says:

on December 23, 2011 at 11:30 pm

What the F? Shooting multiple images (spray and pray, if you will) to increase the chances of getting a sharp shot?? That’s BRILLIANT! I just learned something new by reading this! Oh- the mirror lockup thing, been using that for awhile and it works well. Anyway, setting my shutter for “rapid fire” from now on!

Cheers Joe, happy holiday.

P.S. Please do a post with some of the historic shots from holidays past like you have done previously. Love reading those stories of who’s all grown up now. Best-

Mark Christopher Holloway says:

on December 24, 2011 at 12:10 am

I think it’s really great that you two are together and loving the same thing like that. Thanks for sharing. All the best to you and Annie.

Merry Christmas!

Matt Penning says:

on December 24, 2011 at 11:27 am

Great tip! Thank you, Joe for sharing much of your journey. I continue to learn much about photography and how to live through your writing.

I’m going to take my honey out for a night shoot now!

Kamila Jerichow says:

on December 25, 2011 at 10:24 pm

It’s not about being married to someone smarter than you, there’s no such thing! What is important is completing each other’s strenghts because together you are more :) Being married to someone who you can continuously learn from is a wonderful thing. Kyle teaches me new things every day, like the fact that peanuts are animals… you didn’t know either? See! But on a more serious note, I have learned SO much from him on a huge variety of topics – from of course, photography, through all kinds of life knowledge, different military topics, music, the fact that blankets make sparks when static, food (introducing me to mac n cheese and sushi, not at the same time!) to being my American culture guide and many others. And, amazingly, he manages to dig out bits of useful information out of all the things I tell him about :)

Jeri Mearns says:

on December 28, 2011 at 7:40 pm

Hi Joe, Got your book last week – I was one of those crazy (loyal) ones that had it on order at Amazon since Oct. 2010 – patiently waiting for it to be finished and shipped. So not disappointed. Last night reading the story of your plane trip with Barbara Walters I was laughing out loud. Your stories would make a great sit-com – Seinfeld’ish.

Then today I read about MUp – WOW! I jumped up from my desk, grabbed the camera and started playing with it. Thank you so much for your tips, your teaching, your stories, your photos, your videos, your humor – all that you share with us.

Merry Christmas – in Zurich. How wonderful.

Jack says:

on December 29, 2011 at 9:10 am

Switzerland is one of the most beautiful countries in Europe, probably I will visit it next year.

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