Sharper Photographs with Mirror Up Mode

This is an update of an article originally posted on September 15, 2009

A sharp photograph is the result of accurate focus and a still camera. Good technique in photography helps achieve both. Using a tripod is probably the biggest help to keeping your camera still, but sometimes you can do more. Shooting in Mirror Up mode can help make super-sharp long exposures.

Even when your camera is on a tripod, the action of the mirror coming up and stopping suddenly can introduce a small amount of camera shake and result in a slightly blurred image. Mirror Up mode removes this issue by raising the mirror and waiting for you to trigger the actual exposure. On the larger Nikon bodies Mirror Up mode is a activated by simply selecting Mup on the Release Mode Dial. Conveniently this is the last option, so spinning the dial all the way clockwise will get you there without looking.

When selected, this mode requires two separate presses on the shutter release, whether it’s the camera’s button or a remote release, to make the exposure. The first raises the mirror, and the second makes the exposure and closes the mirror. I suggest you pause a moment between presses, to make sure you’re getting the entire benefit from this mode. Raise the mirror, wait a beat, and then gently trigger the exposure. Usually when my camera is on a tripod, time between exposures is not much of a concern, and I’ll use Mirror Up mode.

If the light is changing rapidly, however, and I’m bracketing exposures that I’ll later combine in the digital darkroom, I may elect not to use this mode and take my chances with a potential loss of sharpness, especially if I’m making a landscape with a wide angle lens and without a distinct foreground object. If you’re not sure if your DSLR has a mirror up mode, have a look in the manual. I heard recently that all Canon DSLRs have it, and I think most if not all Nikons do, too. Finally, remember to put your camera back on your preferred release mode when you don’t need Mirror Up mode any more. It’s a little odd to expect a quick click and get a black viewfinder!