Do you often compare your photos with others’ and notice that your photos just aren’t as sharp as everyone else’s photos? Achieving sharpness in portraits can make your photographs that much more compelling. In this post, let me share with you five practical tips that I personally use to get sharper portrait photos every time.
Once you implement these tips for how to take sharp photos, you are going to see the results immediately!
1. Make sure you gather enough light
Enough light is one of the main ingredients of sharp photos. Without adequate light, your camera’s shutter speed decreases, creating more opportunities for burry photos because your hands move while taking the shot. You can counter this problem by using a tripod; however, the better way to solve this problem is to just add more light.
You can add light using speedlight flashes, strobes or any kind of available light. The main point is to properly light the subject so your camera can capture enough details to get the maximum sharpness.
2. Focus on the edge to nail the focus
During a portrait shot, you can improve the sharpness by focusing on the edge of a high-contrast area. The spot where bright and dark areas meet is the location where your camera works best at detecting the focus.
For example, if you are shooting a tight portrait headshot, instead of focusing just the eyes, try focusing between the white of the eyes and the pupil to gain maximum sharpness. That’s one of the high-contrast areas where your camera pinpoints the exact location to focus.
3. Get the right shutter speed using the 1/focal length formula
Often it’s a slow shutter speed that makes your photo blurry. So the obvious question is “What’s the best shutter speed?” Although there is no definite answer, a good rule of thumb is using the 1/focal length formula.
Here’s how it works: Select the shutter speed based on the focal range you are using. For example, if you are using a 50mm lens, you should use a shutter speed equal or faster than 1/50 second. Or, say you’re using a 100mm lens; you should use 1/100 shutter speed or faster.
What about zoom lenses? Well, as you zoom in or out, make note of the focal length you are using and adjust this 1/focal length formula!
4. Increase the ISO
I would much rather you take a noisy-but-sharp photo than a blurry photo with no noise. It’s true! I often hear photographers worrying about increasing the ISO because of noise. To make this long answer short: You should always adjust the aperture and shutter speed first before messing around with the ISO. Increase the ISO only if you have no other option.
The main advantage of using higher the ISO using a faster shutter speed without adding extra light to your subject. It also freezes motion better. If the noise is starting to get noticeably bad, it’s time to consider adding light (like we talked about with Tip 1).
5. Use your lens’ sharpest focal range and aperture
As a matter of fact, every lens has a sweet spot that produces the highest-quality image! It’s usually between a certain focal range and aperture. Every lens is different, so to find the sweet spot, you must test certain sets of focal range and aperture.
First, pick some popular focal range to test (such as 24mm, 35mm, 50mm or 70mm). Take a test shot of a stationary object. In my experience, the sweet spot is usually around 10mm away from the widest focal range your lens provides. For example, if you are testing a 24mm – 70mm lens, the sweet spot could be somewhere between 34mm – 60mm.
For the aperture, choose a common f-stop (like f/2.8, f/4, f/8 or f/11). Do tests shot using the same focal range above. The sharpest aperture is usually one stop below the widest aperture in your lens. In this case, for a 24mm – 70mm f/2.8 lens, it could be somewhere around a f/4 or f/5.6. Of course, this is based on my experience — every lens is different, so test yours out!
There are certainly many more ways to get sharper photos, and I barely scratched the surface in this post. However, the five strategies above can help you achieve maximum sharpness in your portrait photos. Test them out and see the improvement of your photo sharpness.