Photography Friday: How to Get Sharper Images

One common problem that those starting out in photography run into is having images that are not quite sharp. These images are just a little blurry and lack the crispness of a professional image. There are a few reasons for this and I’m going to give you a few quick tips for solving this problem.

Photo of Smiling Couple - Slightly Blurry

This image is a little on the soft side from motion blur. 1/15 sec at f/2.8

There are two main reasons that your images would be soft. The first is focus.

If you are working with a thin depth of field, it is possible that you have a small margin of error on the focus.

If you are using a manual focus, make sure that your viewfinder is calibrated to your eye. This involves making a diopter adjustment on your viewfinder until what you see looks sharp and taking a few test images to make sure they are sharp.

If you are using autofocus, set the autofocus point nearest your subject before taking the photo. If you only have or only use one autofocus point, you can prefocus by placing the point over your subject and holding the shutter down halfway before recomposing the frame.

If your focus is sharp and your image is soft, the problem is with camera shake.

Sometimes, when working in low light situations, there is not enough light to hand hold the camera because the shutter speed is too low.

If your images are looking blurry or soft, check your shutter speed. Depending on how steady your hands are, I like to use the Inverse Rule for shutter speed. If you are using a 50mm lens, the shutter should be 1/50 sec or faster. If you are using a 200mm lens, the shutter speed should be 1/200 sec or faster. This is because most people can’t hold the camera steady enough without introducing some blur from the motion of holding the equipment. But, never fear! You have options to overcome this problem.

1. Use a tripod

A tripod helps you to eliminate the motion blur. Locking down your camera to a sturdy tripod takes away the chance that the camera will be moving. A monopod is also helpful if you don’t have the space for a tripod. Any sort of stabilization will be helpful and really becomes more and more necessary the longer your focal length.

2. Use image stabilization technology

Canon calls it IS, Nikon calls it VR. Whatever the name, image stabilization compensates for the movement that happens when hand holding a camera and allows you to shoot a few stops slower than you normally would. Most of the time this technology is built into the lens, but some new cameras have it built into the body. It really works, but only to the point of 2 or 3 stops.

3. Increase your ISO

If your shutter speed is too low, you can also bump up your ISO. This technique can help in big ways because every step up in ISO you go gives you a step in shutter speed. So, taking your ISO from 100 to 800 would allow you to take your shutter speed from 1/15 sec (too slow for hand holding) to 1/125 sec. The downside to this method is an increase in the digital noise, or graininess, of your image.

4. Use a flash

Flash durations are typically much slower than shutter speeds to allow all the light to get to the sensor. Because of this, you can essentially freeze your subject with a powerful blast of light. The majority of the light recorded on the sensor will fall on your subject in that much shorter duration of time.

Image of Bride and Groom Entering Reception

A long shutter speed allows for some motion in the sparklers, but the flash freezes the motion of the subjects. 1/30 sec at f2.8

5. Photoshop

If you have already taken your photo and were not able to use any of these techniques, there is a last resort option in Photoshop in the sharpening filters and high pass filter. These will certainly not fix a bad image, but it could give a slightly soft image the illusion of being sharper than it is.

Any of these techniques will help get sharper images. Which are the most helpful ones to use in a pinch?

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