How to get sharper photos

February 08, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

In this blog post we're going to be talking about how to getting sharper photos.  By sharper I'm talking about crisp focus.

Take a look at the photo below

Camera Shake

Even at the smaller web sized image you can probably see that the person isn't in sharp focus.  The major cause of the blur is camera shake.  The photo above was shot at 1/20th of a second.  Much too slow to be effectively hand held for most people.

Here is another example.

Missed focus point

The dog is the subject of the photo but if you look at the image you will see the  dog is blurry with only a very small section of collar in focus.  With animals and people we primarily want their eyes in focus.  The major cause for this is the camera was focused on something other than the subject.

The last example

(c)C. Swatzell2010

Depth of field too shallow

Here is another problem with focus.  Only a small portion of the moth's head is in focus.  The major cause of this problem is the depth of field is too shallow.  Even though this photo was shot at f/8 the distance to the moth was only about 12 inches giving us only a fraction of an inch of depth of field.

How to get sharper photos.

We have covered three common problems with photos that are not sharply focused.  Those problems are, shutter speed too slow, missed focus point, depth of field too shallow.  So now how do you get sharper photos?

  1. Use a tripod
  2. Increase your shutter speed
  3. Practice good camera holding technique.
  4. Check your focus point
  5. Increase your depth of field

Let's take a deeper look at each of these suggestions.


Use a tripod

If you have to shoot a slow shutter speeds because of low light conditions or for creative effect such as selectively blurring something like water, use your tripod.  When I shoot on a tripod I also use a remote cable release.  Using the cable release ensures I don't induce movement by handling the camera.

Increase your shutter speed

A common "rule of thumb" for hand held shooting is to use the inverse of the focal length of your lens.  For example if you are shooting at 200mm you should have a shutter speed of, at least, 1/200th of a second.  I have found that I may need to go even faster with longer focal lengths.

If you are shooting in lower light conditions this may mean you need to do something to increase the exposure.  Remember exposure depends on how much light reaches the sensor/film.  So if you increase the shutter speed, less time which equals less time the light strikes the sensor, you will have to do something to increase the light.  You can achieve this by opening up the aperture (smaller number) and/or increasing the ISO (sensor sensitivity).

As an example if I was shooting at 1/125th of a second at f/8 at ISO 100 with a 200mm lens I may get a blurry photo.  If I increase the shutter speed to 1/250th of a second, which is greater than the inverse of my focal length I can prevent camera shake, but my photo will be a bit under exposed (1 stop to be precise).  If I open up my aperture to f/5.6 I have the same exposure because I have opened up the lens by 1 stop.  Another solution would be to increase the ISO by 1 stop or ISO 200.

You can also use a combination of increasing the ISO and aperture.

Practice good camera holding technique

Think of holding your camera the same way as you would a rifle.  Not a shooter?  Here are the basics of good camera holding techniques.

Feet about shoulder width apart.

Weight on the balls of your feet.

Knees slightly bent.

Rest of your elbows on your body for stability.

Breath in and then slowly breath out while pressing the shutter.

Check your focus point

Make certain you are focusing on your subject.  If you are using auto focus the camera may chose a point you don't want.  Learn to use manual focus especially when in low light or close-up/macro photography.

If your camera has "live view".  Use it.  Put the camera on manual focus, activate live view and zoom in on your subject.  Check the focus to make sure you are focused where you want.

Increase your depth of field

If you are photographing a group of people or objects that are not on the same plane you will need to have a depth of field deep enough to cover the group.  Some lenses still have a depth of field guide on the lens barrel that you can check.  You can also check the depth of field through the use of the "depth of field" preview feature on your camera.

Depth of field can be one of the most difficult things to grasp but with a bit of practice and studying you can get a good idea of how to use it.


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