Sunday, October 31, 2010

New Nikkor 85mm f1.4G...

LOVE LOVE LOVE, how this lens shoots, this is just a quick shot, 85mm shot at f1.4, D700

Saturday, October 30, 2010

My Passion

There are a few things I have discovered about myself as I go through life. I love photography and I really do love teaching someone photography.

Last weekend, I took my friends daughter and two of her friends to Santa Barbara for a photo outing. It gave myself and her a chance to get out of LA and photograph what we saw. It was a rainy and gray day in La and Santa Barbara was gorgeous and a perfect fall day.

I had been to Santa Barbara once and had vowed at that point to go back when I could drive around and capture what I saw. This is one of the images below, I still have some editing to do but worked on one image thus far.

I took them to one of the SB's local landmarks and we traveled down to the pier and walked around. The Courthouse, Designed by William Mooser III, the Spanish-Moorish style building was completed in 1929, after the 1925 earthquake ruined much of the city. It occupies a square block in downtown Santa Barbara. The benefit, it's a free tour, you can walk around the grounds and capture much of the building through images.

It was a short trip, all in all we spent around 5 hours traveling and walking around. The girls had a good time and it was great to get out of LA. Taking them home, I did discover that every Tuesday there is a farmers market at the mall, up the street from where we all live, so I'm going to be taking her again, just to get her out there to shoot. 

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Have been abducted by that thing called work... play will resume shortly!

So, I head back to work tomorrow, bit stressed about the whole thing, after having 6 weeks off to recover from surgery (which i'm really not done), I get to go back to the 8 hour days....sigh : (.
It's really too bad you can't just sit at home or do other things and earn a
I do love my job, where else in the world can I play with camera equipment all day, and not just what I own, but with equipment I want. Give me a Nikon, I can shoot, and tell you how to set it up.

The good thing is I do have a few new toys to play with when I get back....The bad thing is I have alot to learn once I get back, the photography world will pass you by if you do not pay attention. New cameras lenses, software. It can be a bit overwhelming.

Lately I've gone back to putting the camera in much of a manual mode as I can and tweeking it the way I want. There is a lot that you can miss, the trick is knowing how to adjust quickly.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Growing up; Mercedes

This is one of the photos I've recently shot of Mercedes. I have had the pleasure of watching her grow up through my lens. Since she was 8 we have been taking photos together. Now a teenager, starting highschool.

Beautiful girl, but definitely a teenager which is perfectly normal, we were all there at one point in our lives.

The funny thing is, and I always have to ask my mom how I was because in my mind, I was the perfect daughter and never did anything wrong, BUT I now know that is not true.

High school was a blur, filled with art class, choir and friends. I was not one of the cool kids. I was average. Everyone knew me because of the camera I carried for yearbook. (it was my moms camera). I didn't buy "a pro camera" until college. I shot with an old Minolta, fully manual camera until my junior year in college. I knew and loved that camera. Unfortunately, I didn't keep it. I now wish I had.

If someone asked if I would want to do high school over again, it would be a big "NO". I had fun, but to go back to the angst, the decisions of which college I wanted to go to, of being a teenager...I'll pass.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Rembering 9/11

World Trade Center one year after 9/11
Nine years ago, was the longest day of my life. My family one one of the lucky ones. The memory of that day will always be in my mind. I had just had knee surgery and was sleeping on the couch downstairs when my phone rang @ 9am. 

Below are two of the stories I wrote while working at the Repository in Canton, Ohio as a staff photographer.

Part 1

A smoke break saved my brothers life.

Tuesday, at around 8:40 a.m., my brother Joel and a few of his coworkers were taking a break during their second day of a three week training program at the Morgan Stanley financial firm in the World Trade Center, when the first building shook. Above them an explosion. Papers began to rain down on them, taking cover in one of the buildings, they decided to make their way back to the hotel.

Back here in Ohio, I was awakened by a message from my friend Kathy Sutton, who didn't know my brother was in New York. Half asleep, I heard the answering machine. All I remember hearing was World Trade and planes. Frantically, I replayed the message and redialed her number. All I could say was, What? Which Channel, "All of them," she said.

Turning on the TV, the first thing I saw was the second plane slamming into the building. I still cannot explain what I felt when I saw it. My heart stopped. I began shaking and screaming into the phone, Oh my God! Joel is there, Joel is there. I couldn't breathe. My hands were shaking. I hung up with Kathy and shouted, Oh dear God, please, please let him be OK! I called Joel's wife, Missi, in Pittsburgh. Both of us were in tears and were not sure where he was.

In 1996 and 1997 I lived in New Jersey, spending every weekend I could in New York. I had been to the top of the World Trade Center, watching the city crawl below. Its amazing how quiet the world was up there. All you heard was the wind. I was planning to visit during one of the weekends Joel was there. Unfortunately, I had to have knee surgery and wasn't able to go.
After talking with Missi, I called Joel's boss in Pittsburgh. Still shaking, I said my brother, Joel Newcomb, was in New York, and that I needed to talk with his boss, Autumn, and I had no idea what her last name is. They put me through. After reaching her, I told her who I was. She said she had not heard from any of them.

My worst fears began to engulf me. Autumn asked me to stay calm, and told me that as soon as she heard anything, she would call me. She gave me the name of Joel's hotel and room number, then gave me every single phone number of hers, telling me to call her if I needed anything, day or night.
Shortly afterward, I tried to locate my parents. I called the house. No answer. I called their cell phones. No answer. I couldn't think straight, or focus on what I needed to do. I didn't want to leave a message on the machine at their home, but I knew I had to. I don't remember what I said exactly, but my dad said later that he had to sit down as he listened to the machine. Finally, I remembered my mom was at the Alliance Country Club. Calling the pro shop in the clearest voice I could, I gave them my name and her name, and said they needed to find her no matter what it took because it was a family emergency.
Hours seemed to pass in those few minutes I waited. The phone rang.
Mom, theres been an accident, were the first few words I could say. The World Trade Centers been hit by planes. I began crying and told her Joel's training was in one of those buildings. She said she was on her way over.
I'm really not sure how much time passed. I still did not know where Joel was. The phone rang again. It was Autumn, Joel's boss. All I heard was, "Joel is OK".
Relief. My legs gave out. It was Autumn, she told me that Joel was outside having a smoke when it all began. Thank God he smokes, I replied. I hung up and tried to call my mom again on her cell phone, no answer. I called Missi, his wife and and told her. I called my dad. No luck. Pacing at the front door, I waited for my mom to show up to tell her the good news.
As she walked in the front door, I told her. We hugged and cried for a long time. I tried to call my dad again. Still no answer. I left another message. Better news this time.
Meantime, my friend Kathy showed up. We hugged as I told her Joel was OK.
Finally, my dad arrived home and heard the messages, and called my moms cell phone. As they were talking, Dad got another call: he clicked over, It was Joel.
God, its good to hear your voice, Dad said. Dad clicked back over on the telephone to let us know Joel had called. Hearing from someone that hes OK is a relief. Having him actually talk to someone in the family is unexplainable.

During the next few hours, we watched in horror as both buildings collapsed. All those lives. All those families who weren't as lucky as we were. We still didn't know where he was supposed to be in those buildings. I continually called his hotel in New York and left messages, each time, wishing I could just talk to him. I called Missi, his wife, again, to tell her he was safe, because Joel had no way to call her. They had just settled in an apartment outside Pittsburgh, so he didn't know the number. The only number he had was mine and my parents. Finally, they connected.
After making his was though the city and the chaos he got back to the hotel. He told me they had been in the second building that was hit, that it took them nearly three hours to reach their hotel. As we talked to him, Mom and I cried even more.
Joel said it was the fastest he had ever run in his life. He said that by the time the second plane hit, he and another trainee were near the church, which sits to the northeast of the trade center. Too close for comfort.
My brother is alive, and for that, I thank God every day. We found out later the training was on the 61st floor of Tower 2.
I still cry not for my brother, but for all those who werent as lucky. For those who still dont know. This has changed me in a way I'm not even sure of, as it has many people in our country. Maybe it has given me greater respect for life, not taking things for granted, realizing that petty things dont really matter.
My parents and I are driving to Pittsburgh on Saturday. We know Joel is safe, but all we want is to see him and hug him. For a very long time.

Bryant Park, the chars represented the number of people lost on 9/11
Part II
A year later...

One year ago, smoking a cigarette saved my brothers life. One year ago, I experienced the longest and worst day of my life.
We all remember where we were and what we were doing when we heard that the World Trade Center towers were hit by two hijacked commercial airplanes. Next, a plane struck the Pentagon. Then, a fourth plane crashed southeast of Pittsburgh.
It seemed as if the entire world were coming to an end.
I was in my living room, using the couch as a crutch, afraid that if I let go, my heart, mind and life would fall apart.
Last September, my brother, Joel, had stepped outside Two World Trade Center, the south tower, for a cigarette break. He began three weeks of training for his new job at Morgan Stanley that Monday.
Sept. 11 was his second day at work.
When my brother decided to return to New York a year later, he knew without question that I would be going with him. Its been five years since I've been in New York City. In 1996 I spent a year working in New Jersey and spent every weekend I could in New York, soaking up the culture, the people, the places. I had been at the top of the World Trade Center towers, where the only sound you could hear was the wind.
Today, my brother, his wife, Melissa, her sister, Tina Proudfoot, and I exit a subway station onto Canal Street, and head toward the site. Flowers, flags and photos of friends or loved ones cover a fence surrounding a church that sits next to Ground Zero. My eyes keep searching for something that is no longer there.
Were standing at Ground Zero.
Vendors line the street selling American flags, patriotic T-shirts, buttons, banners and photos.
Surrounding the 16-acre site is a 13-foot fence covered in a mossy green mesh. At one corner and side is a viewing area. We enter the site, and my brother tries to describe where he was, but he cant finish. We walk to an opening. Part of the way through, my brother looks out over the hole, a gaping space of what used to be the World Trade Center. He puts his arm around his wife. In the distance, bagpipes play "Oh Danny Boy".
Tears slide down his cheek as he looks back at me. I cant help but cry myself. I walk over to him and kiss his cheek.
Today, we realize how close he really was to the horror.
We search around the site, looking for the statue of the businessman eating lunch, only to discover its been removed due to the devastation, and the small park it was in, torn down. We wander around the city for the rest of the afternoon, visiting such sites as Times Square and the Empire State Building. We watch the city in motion. The scenery has changed a bit, but its the same great city it has always been. Later, we stop for dinner at Annie Moores, a small Irish pub near Grand Central Station, before we catch the train back to Poughkeepsie, N.Y., where were staying. When we were standing next to Ground Zero, it was very hard for my brother to try to describe what had happened to him on that day a year ago. But the more hours that passed, the more he talked about Sept. 11, 2001.
At dinner, Joel talked about the people standing, mesmerized by the unbelievable horror and hearing windows break from falling debris as he ran.
The noises were incredible and peoples reactions were incredible, he said. Its something you cant explain.
Joel said he saw both buildings get hit by the planes, and he felt the earth shake beneath him when they crashed to the ground. He talked about the surreal nature of an empty city.
Our return to New York City helped us put an end to a day that will be forever a part of our lives, a part of everyone's lives.
It was good for me, Joel said. It was good for all of us.

Wall St, covered in the Red White and Blue

Friday, September 10, 2010

Back in LA

Made it back to LA, still having some slight pain, I finally get to head back to work in just over a week. One side of my incision, has yet to close, so I put in a call to the doc today to see what I should do about that.

Physically I feel ok, I am still tired, but I have to assume that after someone cuts you open it will take awhile to feel like yourself again. I'm trying not to lift anything to heavy. (just in case).

I spent the day today helping my dad build his business website. Trying to KISS it. (Keep it Simple) so once he learns the back end, he can update it when he needs to. I am a self-taught web designer. I was given dreamweaver by a friend but not taught how to use it. So I taught myself and have since built more than 10 sites, and redesigned. Lots of nights pulling out my hair and chain smoking to get it all to work right when I first started, then one day it kinda all clicked.

It's taken some time, but I've got most of it down, now I just have to learn flash, php script etc's neverending. Although the benefit, I know I can earn money doing this for other people (if and that's a BIG if, I ever stop taking photographs) which is highly unlikely.

Since I was in recovery, I didnt get to do as much as I would of liked to while I was in Ohio, but I did get the camera out a couple of days and shot around my parents home. They love to garden and have fresh veggies which great for color and texture.

This photo was processed through photoshop and a few filters were added to give it the boarder and grainier appearance.

I used the same process, but change some of the hue in the filter. The wheel barrel, may have been sitting there 10 years and the vines have claimed it.

It's amazing what you can find to shoot in your own (or parents) backyard.

Monday, August 30, 2010

In Ohio

The surgery was scheduled almost three weeks before I needed to be in Ohio for my friends shower and bachlorette party. Thankfully the doc gave me the ok to fly. Told me I would not be comfortable but I could do it. Had to have a wheelchair through each airport. I had my backpack but it had to be light, still no lifting. Not even allowed to put the bag in the overhead bin.

Thankfully I had my iPad for the trip. Two movies later and a couple of chapters in the book on it I'm reading, I landed in Ohio.

My mom and one of my best friends met me at the airport. Ohio thankfully was not humid. Not yet.

After shopping Friday, we get to the familiar back yard and I dont have the camera I want but had to snap a shot of the back of the house; lots of texture and vow to get the other camera out and reshoot.

The next couple of days it would be busy, shopping for the shower gift, bachlorette party and then bridal shower, all done by sunday at 6. Busy weekend. I overdid it slightly and pretty sure I have and will pay for moving so much. Woke up Monday at 11:30am. Definitly caught up on my sleep. The parties were a HUGE success and the bride and groom to be enjoyed themselves, which is all anyone can ask for.

New direction...

I've decided to change things up a bit and rather just talk about photography, follow my world through a lens.

I've recently had the unpleasant experience of having uterine myomectomy surgery. This is very similar to getting a c-section and your recovery time is roughly 6 weeks. It's not a pleasant experience and the pain, well thank god for the epidural. Although your legs are dead weight and they use these massage things for your calves to keep from getting blood clots (odd machine fyi). You can feel the machines but you cant move the legs.

The first two weeks are the hardest. Really can't do anything, I was trapped in my apartment. Not only did the netflix stop working correctly and my cable box went out. Figures. I could do nothing. Thankfully I had a friend fly out and stay with me for the first ten days. She was able to get my box replaced and Netflix began working two days later.

There is no lifting, no stairs, you can't sleep worth crap...I spent one week sleeping in the chair I have in the living room, the good thing it has ottoman and it is really big and comfortable. The bad thing, I'm pretty much sleeping sitting up. Sleeping in a hospital is hard enough, every two hours nurses are coming in to check your blood pressure, and overall poke and prod. (it is a good thing, considering the alternative) but once you get home, all you want to do is sleep, and you can't. your body aches, you can't get comfortable. It's all around hell. I do not see how mothers that have c-sections do it.

My bed sits higher than most beds. So getting into it is not the easiest. Before the surgery no problem. Now I need a step I actually have a trunk on the end, just so my dog can get up there.

Unfortunately I could not have my dog for those recovery weeks, not even possible to walk him (being in LA, most ppl do not have a yard, I am one of them), so I have to walk my dog when he needs to go out. Which is a good thing for both of us. He spent the first 2 1/2 weeks with his second family and visited when he could. He just gets so excited to see me I have to protect myself and keep a pillow on my stomach. Yea he's really not trained completely; loves to jump, pulls on the leash when walking all of that.

The two days before I left for Ohio, I was able to have him, I could walk him and was able to spend time with him. Due to the extremely hot weather in the valley, he needed a haircut extremely bad, he begins to look like Sprocket from Fraggle rock if I let it grow too long.

It's the before and after haircut above.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Shooting Video with the D300s

Over the last two weeks, I have been shooting my first music video with the D300s. I have become a "Director, an Editor, a producer and a DP". I use these terms lightly because I DO NOT (and I stress this), do not feel I am.

I have friends that are editors and actors and I have a greater respect for what they do. Not having done this before, it is a lot of trial and error. Lots of error. Writing a treatment, a script and knowing your angles. It is exhausting and can be frustrating.

I'm not sure how those in the industry will receive the video once it is released but I am proud of it. Not having the school, the teaching of what I should do, I think it has turned out pretty good.

Through out the video, I used multiple lenses and tried as many angles I could, but going through the clips, I knew there was a few things I missed. SO we are working with what we have. Trying to find the best.

Here is a still shot, from the day.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Shooting Sports

“Buying a Nikon doesn't make you a photographer. It makes you a Nikon owner”. ~Author Unknown

Since high school I have been shooting sports for the yearbook, from football games and soccer to covering the Football Hall of Fame games, the Cleveland Indians and the Browns for news. The key to a great sports photograph: Capturing that moment; freezing that action, so you capture that spilt second in which the game changes.

Understanding the sport is very important.

Shooting sports was probably my favorite assignment. Each season, each sport would bring a new challenge. I don’t think there is a sport I have not shot. I have covered everything from volleyball, Swimming, Baseball, Softball, Basketball, Soccer, Football, Golf, Track, Cross-Country, Field-Hockey, Hockey, Boxing, Wrestling, Tennis, to Rodeos. I’ve had the pleasure of photographing some of the most well-known names in the sporting world; LeBron James, Omar Vizquel, Jim Thome, Tiger Woods, Hall-of-Famers, Jim Kelly, Marcus Allen and John Elway.

When shooting sports, not only is it an understanding of the sport and how the action occurs. Equipment is crucial. Having the right equipment is essential; also understanding how to use your camera for the action/sport will help get the images needed to capture the event.

Depth of field plays an important part of separating your action from the background. Shooting wide open will help keep the crowd, other players out of focus so that your eye naturally goes to the player in your frame. Typically f2.8 to f4 was great from the distance I was shooting at the sidelines.
I had three lenses with me when shooting sports when I worked for the paper; The 300mm f2.8, the AF-S 80-200 f2.8 and the 28-70mm lens f2.8. These were the types of lenses I used regardless of camera from the F4 to the D1. I would carry two bodies, the 300mm would be mounted to a monopod and the second body would be around my shoulder with the 80-200mm lens attached. If I only felt like carrying one body; the 80-200mm would be in a front Domke waist pack, ready to grab and change lenses.

Stopping the action

When shooting sports, the shutter speed was my main priority. When I used Shutter Priority “S”, the aperture would open automatically as much as it needed. I then controlled how fast I was stopping the action.

Typically with outdoor, day games, I would have a shutter speed of 1/500th or higher, depending on the ISO-ASA I used and the sport I was shooting. I would use ISO/ASA 400 on both the F5 and D1 during day games.

In the evening when covering sports, I would have to use at least 800 ISO-ASA. Shutter speed was @ 1/250th of a second, if lighting was really low it was @ 1/125th of a second. Motion blur did occur in some of the images, but I also would have a flash available when they were close to the camera. Because of the low-lighting, an f2.8 lens was necessary.

Focusing for Sports

After you understand the set-up on shutter speed, aperture and ISO, next is to recognize how the camera will focus, based on the settings.

AF-S, or single servo is designed to be used when shooting relatively still subjects, In the Nikon cameras, setting the priority on focus, means the camera will not allow you to release the shutter unless the subject is in focus.

AF-C is continuous; it is designed for shooting actions or moving subjects. The lens will continue to focus and if the options are set-up correctly in the camera, it can also track your subject as it moves through the frame. In Nikon DSLR’s; Dynamic mode is recommended. You then have a choice of 9, 21, or 51 point. You also have the option of 3D tracking. I have tried the 3D tracking while shooting pee-wee football and it performed flawlessly. It maintained focus and stayed with the action in the viewfinder.

Basic Set-up for Night Sports / Indoor Sports
ISO 800 (at least if night game up to 3200) 200-400 ISO if day game

Shutter Speed 1/250th
F 2.8/F4
Dynamic, 21 pt
Release + focus priority
Standard Color
Active D-Lighting: OFF
Keep in mind, things happen, not all of your images may be sharp, you may have motion blur depending on your subject and how fast they are moving. But having an understanding of how to set-up the camera is the first step.

Shooting sports, takes practice, just like playing the sport itself. The more you practice the better you become. Timing and knowing the game is everything. If you don’t know when to release the shutter to capture that moment; no matter how many frames per-second your camera can shoot, you will still miss the moment.

I don’t consider the “rapid-action” shooters pros. They are shooters that should have video cameras not DSLR’s, that don’t understand the game, their camera or how to choose that decisive moment to freeze the action. This may offend many, but let me ask you this…Film cameras allowed you to shoot 36 frames; that is it. 

How many of you would have been able to capture the action at the right time, the right second the right speed? How many photos would you have in those 36 frames that are usable and of quality? Could you walk away from a game shooting only one photo, knowing you “got” the shot?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Little Things...

I love traveling, I don't get to do it as much as I would like or enjoy to. I had set a goal for myself that I would go one place each year that was new and different. Last year, it was Joshua Tree. This year I haven't decided.

Most of my vacation time will be spent heading back to my roots and to my friends in Ohio. I have the pleasure of being in my best friends wedding.

I would love to head to San Fransisco, but I think the walking is out until I get my new knee. The bad thing about having a knee that has to be replaced, you are limited on what and where you can do or go. So until I get a new knee and lease on life here is one of my favorite travel photos from the Grand Canyon.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

New Nikon Lenses

AF-S NIKKOR 24mm f/1.4G ED and the AF-S NIKKOR 16-35mm f/4G ED VR (yes old info but better late than never)

I had the opportunity to shoot with both lenses and the 24mm lens is a fantastic prime lens, and the 16-35mm f4 lens, gives the FX format the wide angle zoom in a smaller format than the 14-24mm. The benefit, for those that live by filters, you can attach a 77mm filter to the lens.

Some Specs: 

Nikkor 24mm F1.4

  • Prime Wide-angle Perspective—Ultra-fast f/1.4 ApertureNatural wide angle of view, with extreme light gathering capability, delivers extraordinary performance, meeting a broad range of challenging assignments.
  • Nano Crystal Coat Further reduces ghosting and internal flare across a wide range of wavelengths for even greater image clarity.
  • 2 Extra-low Dispersion (ED) elementsOffers superior sharpness and color correction by effectively minimizing chromatic aberration, even at the widest aperture settings.
  • 2 Aspherical Lens ElementsAspherical lens elements virtually eliminate coma and other types of aberration, even when shooting at the widest available aperture.
  • Rear Focus (RF)Provides smooth and fast autofocus while eliminating front barrel rotation and lens length changes.
  • Exclusive Nikon Silent Wave Motor (SWM) Enables fast, accurate and quiet autofocus.
  • M/A Focus Mode Switch Enables quick changes between manual and autofocus operation.
  • Rounded 9-Blade Diaphragm Renders more natural appearance of out-of-focus image elements.

Nikkor 16-35mm F4

  • Definitive Wide-angle Zoom LensVersatile wide-angle lens, perfect for travel, land and cityscapes, and general photography.
  • Nikon VR II (Vibration Reduction) Image Stabilization Vibration Reduction, engineered specifically for each VR NIKKOR lens, enables handheld shooting at up to 4 shutter speeds slower than would otherwise be possible, assuring dramatically sharper still images and video capture.
  • Nano Crystal Coat Further reduces ghosting and interior flare across a wide range of wavelengths for even greater image clarity.
  • 2 Extra-low Dispersion (ED) ElementsOffers superior sharpness and color correction by effectively minimizing chromatic aberration, even at the widest aperture settings.
  • 3 Aspherical Lens ElementsAspherical lens elements virtually eliminate coma and other types of aberration, even when shooting at the widest available aperture.
  • Internal Focus (IF)Provides fast and quiet autofocus without changing the length of the lens, retaining working distance throughout the focus range.
  • Exclusive Nikon Silent Wave Motor (SWM) Enables fast, accurate and quiet autofocus.
  • M/A Focus Mode Switch Enables quick changes between manual and autofocus operation.
  • Rounded 9-Blade Diaphragm
    Renders more natural appearance of out-of-focus image elements.

All information from

Friday, January 1, 2010

All about the focus...

It happens to everyone. You take a great photo of an event. You preview the image on your computer and disappointment sets in. The entire photo looks blurry. What went wrong?
What is causing these blurry digital photographs? 

There are a few reasons, and it's not related to how the camera is working, but unfortunately the photographer behind the camera and the set up chosen on the camera.

When you use a lens with a long focal length, camera shake becomes more pronounced. 

When you have your lens set to wide angle (20mm) the lens is stable. When you look through the camera viewfinder, you should not see a lot of shake or movement.
When you zoom in on a subject and extend the lens. At a long focal length (200 to 300mm) you should see a slight jiggling when you look through the camera viewfinder. Currently there are lenses that help stabilize this, VR or IS depending on the system you own.
You can use a long focal length, so long as you set your shutter speed fast enough so that the camera shake is canceled out. The general rule of thumb is that you should not use a shutter speed slower than 1 over the focal length of the lens when you are holding the camera in your hands.
At 20mm, you should be able to get a clear photo with a shutter speed of 1/25th of a second. At 200mm, you have to increase the shutter speed to 1/250 of a second to get a clear photo. At 600mm, you had better be using a shutter speed of 1/700 of a second.
If there is not enough light to support these shutter speeds, then you have a few options.
1: purchase a camera that has vibration reduction (VR). VR is a mechanism within the lens that helps minimize shake even at long focal lengths so you can hand hold a slower shutter speeds.
2: place the camera on a tripod, which also helps eliminates camera shake.

3: Increase the ISO the camera to increase the sensitivity of the sensor

4: Open the aperture to allow in more light (if possible)

Slow Shutter Speeds
Slow shutter speeds will cause blurry photos every time. You might wind up with a slow shutter speed and be unaware of it if you have your camera set to aperture priority mode. In the "A" (aperture priority mode), you select the aperture and the camera determines the appropriate shutter speed to get a good exposure.
Say you have your camera set with a focal length of 100mm, an aperture of f8.0 and a shutter speed of 1/125. You are taking photos in bright daylight, and with these settings the photos should appear clear.
Now the sun dips behind a cloud. Your focal length is still 100mm, your aperture is f8.0, but the camera has adjusted the shutter speed to 1/60 for the correct exposure. Now your photo might appear blurry.
If all of these numbers seem overly complicated, here's the general rule to use: try to avoid shutter speeds slower than 1/125 of a second when holding the camera by hand. This covers all the focal lengths from 20 to 125, which is a pretty good range (a 3x zoom typically goes from 35 to 105mm).
Wide Apertures
When you use a wide aperture setting on your camera (f2.8 for example), you significantly reduce your depth of field. Sometimes, you can reduce the depth of field so much that the object you focus on appears clear, but another object less than an inch behind it is fuzzy.
Think of it this way: you take a photo of a flower with an aperture of f2.8. You have the focal point selected for the bottom of the flower. Due to the shallow depth of field, the center of the flower will be out of focus.
This problem is especially significant when you use a long focal length lens. As you increase your focal length, you further reduce the depth of field. So a long focal length and wide aperture will give you a shallow depth of field and compress you image more. The closer the subject the shallower the depth of field will be.

Think of it this way. 

You are photographing a statue 50 feet away, the focal length is at 70mm, your aperture is set to f2.8 and you shutter speed is 1/250th of a second. More of the image will be in focus, due to the distance you are from the subject. 

You then zoom in to 200mm, at f2.8, the shutter is reduced to 1/125th, VR is on, but you have compressed the overall image and have a much tighter shot of the statue, the background behind the statue is now out of focus.

Below are two images that show what changing your perspective, depth of field can do.

Top Image:
16mm, f9, ISO 200, 1/800th of a second


Bottom Image: Same settings
16mm, f9, ISO 200, 1/800th of a second


Here is a quick summary of the issues and solutions for getting sharper photographs.

Blurry Photos
Increase your shutter speed so that it is greater than or equal to 1 over the focal length
or Increase your shutter speed to a minimum of 1/60 to 1/125 when holding the camera in your hands
Get a lens with vibration reduction (VR) technology 

Increase the ISO
Turn on the flash (if needed) 
Use a tripod

If shooting with a simple point an shoot camera, keep in mind you are limited. The point and shoot cameras can only do so much and are limited in their adjustments

Settings I recommend:
ISO 200-400
Flash "On"
AF-S mode
Leave the camera in "Auto"

Most of the time the P&S type cameras are used for snap shots of friends and family. So the settings above will help ensure sharper and clearer images.