There are few things more frustrating than thinking you have produced a great photograph and then finding something very wrong with it. You depress the shutter button, look at the camera’s LCD and you feel a flush of pride at capturing an amazing moment. But such a wonderful feeling is short-lived when you enlarge that image on the computer screen only to discover that the image isn’t sharp.
It’s an experience that can happen even to the most experienced photographers who are using advanced and expensive camera equipment. The reason for this lack of sharpness often has little to do with the quality of the lens or the features of the body. Instead, it’s often about technique and how you are handling the camera.
With that in mind, we offer 7 tips that will help you to achieve consistently sharp photographs.
Hold the Camera Correctly
Sharpness begins with camera handling. Whether using a large HDSLR or mirror-less camera, two hands are always better than one. With most cameras, place the left hand on the bottom of the body with your fingers on the base of the lens. Position your right hand on the handgrip, with your index finger placed gently over the shutter release button.
With a cell phone create a gun-like L-shape with your hand. When composing a horizontal shot, rest the camera on your index finger. With a vertical shot, rest the camera on your outstretched thumb. Steady the camera with the fingers of your right hand, using your thumb to snap the photograph.
Watch Your Shutter Speed
Photographing at too slow of a shutter speed is the most frequent culprit for soft images, especially when photographing under low light conditions. A good rule of thumb is to use a shutter speed that is no slower than the focal length. For example, if you are using a 100mm focal length, the slowest recommended shutter speed would be 1/100 second. Another guide is to simply double the focal length, which in the case of a 100mm focal length would result in 1/200 second.
You may need to increase your ISO under some lighting conditions to achieve these shutter speeds. However, it’s a much better choice to have a sharp image that has some noise rather than a noiseless image that isn’t sharp. You can always reduce noise in software, but there’s very little that can be done to fix sharpness lost by camera shake.
Using the Continuous Burst Mode
When you depress the shutter release button, you are introducing a little bit of camera shake. When you are using a fast shutter speed, it’s not an issue, but when you are working with shutter speeds of 1/60 second or slower, you can get shots that aren’t tack sharp. An easy remedy for this is to set your camera for the continuous drive high mode. Now, when you depress the shutter release button and hold, it will take several images in rapid succession, creating virtually identical copies. However, you will often notice that the first image will exhibit more of the vibration produced by your depression of the shutter release button, while the subsequent images will be noticeably sharper.
Manually Select the AF Point
Fast lenses with maximum aperture such as f/2.8 and faster are great for working under low light conditions. They also produce a very shallow depth of field, which results in beautiful photographs, especially portraits. But that same limited depth of field makes focus accuracy especially critical.
Instead of allowing the camera to choose the autofocus points for you, you should manually select a single or small cluster of AF points that are targeting the most important part of your subject. This will reduce the chance of another part of your subject or scene being use to detect autofocus. So, if you are creating a portrait, choose an AF sensor that targets the eyes to ensure that they are tack sharp.
Locking focus is often used in conjunction with the previous suggestion of choosing your own AF point. By locking focus by either maintaining halfway pressure on the shutter release button or using a dedicated AF lock button on the camera body or lens, you prevent the camera from refocusing in-between shots. As long as the subject or the camera doesn’t move, you can have confidence that each shot will be just as sharp as the previous one.
Known by a variety of different names, image stabilization is technology that is built into the lens or camera body that helps reduce the risk of soft images due to camera shake. They are often lauded for their ability to allow photographers to shoot at shutter speed 3, 4 or more stops slower than they normally would without it. In many respects, they are a valuable and effective tool. So, it’s to your benefit to use it.
However, don’t use it as a crutch, thinking that it will make up for poor camera handling. The manufacturer’s claims for performance assume that you are practicing good camera handling. If you are not, you diminish the effectiveness of the technology.
Use a Tripod
Though not all types of photography are conducive to using one, a tripod can be one of the best tools you have available to get the sharpest photographs possible. Don’t limit your yourself to thinking that you need a full-size tripod with you at all times. In many instances a small table-top tripod that can fit into your camera bag may be all that you need.
Whether large or small, a tripod provides stability, thus reducing the negative impact of camera shake.
With the exception of the tripod, these suggestions don’t require the purchase of any additional equipment or piece of software. It’s all about leveraging what you have just be learning to consistently use it properly. Hopefully, it will result in fewer moments of aggravation and frustration and replace that with images that are as sharp as they are beautiful.
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