I was out and about taking a few photos with a friend and he mentioned to me that he wanted a better lens because all his photos were coming out really soft. I was a little confused because he had the same camera and lens that I had a few years back and I never had any issues with softness. He said “I want my photos to come out nice and sharp” and as we talked, I found out what settings he was using to shoot his photos. I shared a few tips with him and that night, he emailed me to mention how well his photos turned out.

Sharper Photos

These are the tips that I shared with my friend that day.

Use a tripod

Simple, a tripod reduces the vibration and movement of the camera. No matter how steady you think you are, I can guarantee that you’re camera is still shaking if you’re holding it.

Enable mirror lockup or Live View

On SLR cameras, there’s a mirror in the camera that needs to flip up to record the picture to memory (or film). Every time this mirror flips up, it causes tiny vibrations though the camera. It also makes the nice chunky SLR shutter sound.

Use a remote release or timer

All SLRs on the market can accept remote releases and can be either cabled or wireless. If you have a point and shoot, most of them come with a timer option. Both these methods allow the camera to take the photo without you pressing the button which could move the camera ever so slightly.

Increase shutter speed

The longer your shutter stays open, the more susceptible it becomes to movement of both the camera and the subject you’re shooting. By increasing the shutter speed, you’re reducing the amount of time the camera has to record the movement.

Shoot lots and lots of photographs

Put simply, the more photos you take, the more chance you will end up with one turns out well. Especially when you’re shooting action shots. If you can, set your camera to burst mode. This mode will allow your camera to take consecutive photos when you hold the release down. I *always* shoot in burst mode and when shooting events or action photos, often take more than one photo of the same subject.

Use the sweet spot of your lens

This is an interesting topic. Your lens will usually support an aperture of around f/4 – f/32. The general rule is the lower the aperture, the softer the image becomes, as it reduces the Depth of Field. If you reverse that, you would expect that the higher the aperture, the sharper the image will be. Not quite. Many lenses will have what’s called a sweet spot where it’ll capture the sharpest image. Most lenses will capture their sharpest images around f/8 – f/11. Play around with your lens to find out where it captures the sharpest images.

Lower your ISO

ISO increases the light sensitivity of your camera, it also introduces noise. On newer cameras, up to ISO 800 is acceptable and produces reasonable captures. If however, you’re trying to capture the sharpest image you can, you want your ISO to be as low as possible. Most cameras will go as low as ISO100. My camera manages ISO50.

Get enough light

You’ve just thrown up your aperture and reduced your ISO which means that you will need more light to expose your image properly. There’s no point taking a black photo so make sure that there’s plenty of light around. Use sunlight, lamps, flashes, magnesium ribbon; anything you can find to get a decent amount of light.

These are all tips that I apply to my own photographs. I hope that these tips help you achieve sharper photos next time you head out with your camera. As always, I would love any ideas, tips, corrections and feedback you might have. If these tips have helped you, share your photos. I love seeing work by fellow photographers, post them on my facebook wall or send me a link on twitter.

2 Responses

  1. It also helps to avoid the “shutterspeed valley of death”. Around 1/30 to 1/60th of a second the mirror flipping up resonates and shakes the camera slightly as it is exposing. Faster or slower tends to be better.

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