Capturing sharp photos is sometimes seen as the holy grail for some beginners. It’s easy to understand why. There’s nothing more frustrating than taking a photo that you think might be great only to find later that it is lacking sharpness. On the whole capturing sharp photos needn’t be difficult. You just need to make sure that you are not making some of these basic errors. So here are a few tips to help you capture sharp photos.
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Use the correct shutter speed
If your shutter speed is not fast enough for the subject that you are photographing, then they are going to be blurred. For example, if you are photographing a car that is speeding along, you are going to need a faster shutter speed than taking a portrait of someone. But you also need to be aware of how low you can go with your shutter speed and still hold the camera steady.
There is no one that can hold a camera steady enough even for 1 second. So try to aim for a minimum of at least 1/80th sec shutter speed. Of course this might vary slightly depending on how steady you can hold the camera. Some people may be able to hold a camera steady at 1/60th whereas for others it might be a minimum of 1/100th sec. Test this out when you are out and about next time.
Focal length = shutter speed rule
A good guide to ensure you are using the right shutter speed is the focal length rule. It is simply a matter of matching your shutter speed to at least your focal length when handholding the camera. So for example, if your focal length is 100mm, then your shutter speed should be at least 1/100th sec. There are a few caveats to this. For example, at slow shutter speeds, you still won’t be able to hold a camera steady enough for a sharp photo. Also, image stabilization these days allows you to break this rule slightly. But it’s a good way to get into the habit of selecting the right shutter speed.
Don’t raise your ISO
One of the biggest culprits in destroying your image sharpness is excessive noise. This becomes really evident the higher your ISO is. Cameras and post-processing software is pretty good at reducing the amount of noise in an image these days. But it still does have a negative impact at high ISOs. There is nothing wrong with increasing your ISO, and sometimes you have no choice but to do it. But always try to only raise it as much as you have to. If possible avoid increasing your ISO and use a tripod instead.
A good test is to take photos of the same spot in the same conditions at the different ISO levels. You can then review the photos to see how high would be acceptable for your camera.
Select the right aperture
Another big issue when it comes to sharpness is due to your depth of field. In other words how much of your photo is sharp from the foreground to the background. The greater your depth of field is (i.e. the smaller your aperture or the higher your f/number), the more of your image will be sharp. So you need to think about the subject that you are photographing and what the correct aperture would be. For example, if you take a landscape shot with an aperture of f/2.8 more of your image is going to be blurred. Try to get a basic understanding of the different apertures you are going to need in different scenarios.
Use a tripod
Wherever possible you should try to use a tripod. It is the best way to ensure your photos are going to be sharp. But it’s important to choose a good quality, sturdy tripod. Cheap, flimsy and poor quality tripods will suffer from vibrations in the legs which will mean blurred photos.
Another tip to remember is to make sure you “lock-up” your mirror when taking long exposure shots. The mechanical process of the camera’s mirror flipping over can cause vibrations that will make your long-exposure shots blurred. Alternatively, if you set your camera on “live view” mode it will have the same effect of locking the mirror up.
Lastly either use a shutter release remote or set your camera on a 2 second timer. The reason is that you need to avoid touching your camera the moment a photo is being taken as it can cause it to shake.
By using the tips above you will be well on your way to capturing sharp photos. With practice and experience, you will become better and better at ensuring your photos are sharp. But in the meantime, the tips above should help you on your way.
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Kav Dadfar is a writer and travel photographer who has written over 400 articles on photography. He is also a judge on the Wanderlust Travel Photography of the Year competition and a speaker at camera clubs and events. He has years of experience shooting assignments with his images having been used by some of the biggest brands in the world.
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